The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance: News Stories Everywhere Claim Technology is Evil, Kids are Helpless

In today’s world of ubiquitous social media, it seems like every day you hear a news story about why social networks are bad for kids in some new way. While I was researching the topic, I came across an article titled ‘Are social networking sites turning teens into substance abusers?’ which seemed like the perfect starting spot for an analysis of media overreacting about kids’ online lives. The article cites a press release from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, which states that ‘Teens who use Facebook and other social networking sites on a daily basis are three times as likely to drink alcohol, twice as likely to use marijuana, and five times more likely to smoke tobacco than teens who don’t frequent the sites.’ While such statistics may sound like the standard ‘the internet is bad for your kids’ rant, this article actually did point out that rather than keep kids from the internet, perhaps something should be done by sites like Facebook to prevent teenagers from posting such pictures online. However unrealistic this may be, it is at least a different perspective than the norm. Another interesting point of differentiation from the standard discourse was that about 90 percent of parents interviewed in the survey believed that social networking had no effect on their kids drinking or drug use.

While this article does provide some interesting insight, the major issue that I find is that it directly relates social networking with drinking and drug use, completely ignoring all other factors. This type of technological determinism is criticized in Amy Adele Hasinoff’s article ‘Sexting as media production: Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality online.’ In the article, Hasinoff points out a CBS news story which, in regard to teens and sexting, stated, ‘When people see these sexy pictures, they are more apt to have sexual relations which will lead to teen pregnancy .’ Again, such a point of view directly blames the technology for teenagers’ decisions and removes all agency from the teens themselves.  Just as Hasinoff provides the alternative view of sexting as a means of expression, perhaps the authors of the article that I came across should consider that in posting pictures on Facebook, these teenagers are simply expressing themselves, but that an issue worth tackling might be how and why the teens are drinking in the first place.

Another issue with how the information is presented in this article is that it mentions a broad generalization in saying that using a social networking site on a daily basis makes teens three times more likely to drink alcohol. Similar to the way in which the article is ignoring any outside context, such numbers should be looked at under a closer light, much like Kimberly Mitchell and her team do in their article  ‘Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study.’ Just as Mitchell and her team find that past studies overrepresent the amount of sexting going on due to vague definitions and flawed research methods, perhaps a more in-depth study would be more informative than such quick correlational statements.

Articles like these clearly try to provoke some sense of panic in parents of teens, much like the video we watched in class about the ‘new ways kids are hiding sexting from their parents.’ News reports like these seem to say that the only way teens can be safe is either by not being on social networking sites at all, or by having heavy parental privacy invasion supervision. Rather than present these terrifying statistics in raw form, maybe these news stories should focus on talking with your kids and teaching them to make responsible decisions both online and offline, rather than simply saying that the internet is an evil place where your kids will be completely out of your (and their own) control.

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How Your Relationship gets Caught Up in the “Web” (and Eaten by Spiders)

Being a single old spinster gal, I haven’t experienced much of the drama or tension underlying the convergence of romantic relationships and social media.  On a subconscious level, however, I have always been acutely aware of it.  Each time Facebook relays relationship information about my peers, I am mesmerized.  I don’t have to know the people well, and I like to think my relatively insignificant level of “Facebook stalking” has spared me the red-flag level of voyeurism that plagues plenty of people on many social networking sites, but that is one thing that strangely captivates me.  I’m intrigued by what people will and won’t reveal about their relationships, how they publicly interact with their significant others over social networks, and how they interact with other people of the opposite sex when they are clearly (or not) in relationships.  This is why I was particularly interested when I found a local Colorado NBC News article, “Social media can both help and hurt real-life relationships.”  Having just watched the utterly disturbing documentary Life 2.0, this timely article piqued my interest.

The article begins by addressing the magnitude of how many people are using social media today, and on that note, seeks to issue a friendly Valentine’s Day warning: “Social networking sites can open a Pandora’s box of relationship destroyers – unleashing everything from affairs, the rekindling of past toxic relationships, jealousy, imaginary online relationships that replace face-to-face intimacy, and online stalking, to name just a few.”  That’s a pretty daunting “few.”  The rest of the article lists bullet points of the most common relationship problems developed or exacerbated through social media.  They begin with words like “Trust” or “It’s Permanent,” and follow with a definition of what that means and why it’s ominous.  While those theories are relatively interesting (and may be a good lesson for the legions of negligent internet idiots out there, what is slightly more interesting to me than the actual content of the article is the way in which it was written.

The article was undoubtedly written from a negative perspective on the role social media plays in relationships.  The bulk of the article comprises the problems caused by social media, and how and why to avoid them.  The other significant portion of the article builds up the importance and usage of social media, so as to frame the subsequent argument in the utmost profound context.  A reader begins with the notion of “wow, social media plays SUCH a huge role in my (and virtually everybody else’s) life—I really can’t imagine life without it.”  Then, they are hit with a cautionary warning about how their relationships are in jeopardy as a result of using those precise networks.  The beginning sends a message of profundity, community and solidarity, which is then shaken with fear over something highly personal, and issues stemming from things that most people are in some way guilty of doing.  What I love is that right before issuing the cautionary warning, the writer inserts a blind, uncorroborated “The potential to enhance intimate connections is unlimited.”  Despite the “unlimited” positive possibilities, the writer neglects to insert just one (Facebook sexting, anybody?).  And yet, negative consequences are doled out like they were kugel at a Yom Kippur break-the-fast.  There is definitely a clear bias.

Even the words selected to demonstrate the problems are spun.  One bullet features the bolded words “Full disclosure.”  Last I checked, this article wasn’t a legal briefing.  And the point the author is trying to make is that significant others should be public and honest about their relationship status on social networks.  Why they didn’t merely use the term “Honesty” is something I will be scratching my head about for the next while.  I do think that picking something so serious and negative sounding makes the issue sound worse.

Another interesting component of this article is that we don’t even know who the writer is, yet they have taken the liberty of giving the world some much-needed advice.  I don’t know how credible they are as relationship experts, but their suggestion surrounding trust issues is that “if a trust issue has come up and your relationship is potentially on the line, both partners should be willing to share e-mails, Facebook and text messages to provide reassurance.”  I may not be experienced in dating in the age of dominating social media, but I’m pretty sure that is a creepy suggestion.  At least for relationships that are not marriages.  And maybe even for marriages.  Regardless, that is a bold suggestion to make without readers even knowing the background of the writer.  I would feel more inclined to follow the advice of Sue Johanson, since I at least know who she is and that she is credible (though she is bizarre and makes me moderately uncomfortable).

I’m happy to read this article after viewing Life 2.0, because I think it reaffirms how I initially felt about the film.  I was upset by how biased people felt it was.  I felt like it was pretty honest.  Perhaps it felt negative because the truth is not pretty.  I thought it was fairly realistic, and as honest as the context and goals would allow for.  They did not ignore the positive components of the site (as a certain biased article mentioned above did…).  Even the people who had was one might construe as “sad” endings had happy and glorifying moments.  I think that is what I felt made it click.  I think people may not have appreciated the lack of coverage of users who went on Second Life “in moderation,” however, I’m quite certain that those types of people were not meant to be the means or ends of the documentary.  The goal was to depict three different (but probably common) types of situations for heavy users.  And in that frame, I think we got a pretty comprehensive view of what their lives, their behaviors, and their backgrounds entail.  It’s interesting how that kind of a film gets shot down by so many viewers because it is so bitterly honest, and yet people will glaze over an article like the one listed above and just mindlessly slurp up all the tips.  I will cease to be amazed by how little people can recognize what they are actually being manipulated by—but then again, it’s all subjective and nothing is without bias, so that is just my humble opinion.