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This question seems to be on the minds of a lot of people. Look at Quora and Reddit and you’ll see so many posters asking about it in one form or another. They may be after complicated data that settles the question once and for all. However, what they’ll find is that there is research and compelling arguments for both points of view. Ultimately, the question: is social media good or bad? is too binary. In short, the answer is it’s neither. Let’s begin, though, to examine the thoughts on both sides.

Social Media is Good for Us

Many of us use social media purely for personal enjoyment. Thus, the strongest argument that emerges in favor of the idea that it’s good for us is that it helps us stay connected with family and friends. This is especially true if the people we care about live far away. Before social media there was snail mail, long distance phone calls, and in-person visits when possible, so yes, the current connection social media affords us is a better and cheaper alternative. It’s also a fast and efficient way to share news and find out if our friends and family near crisis areas are safe (e.g. they mark themselves as safe on Facebook).

Research suggests that for seniors the benefits of becoming social media savvy include: improved cognitive capacity, an increased sense of self-competence, and could lead to a better overall sense of well-being and improved mental health. In fact, social media and apps give us all the opportunity to learn more. Want to try for fluency in another language? Download Duolingo. Interested in improving your vocabulary? How about giving Scrabble, Words with Friends, and The New York Times Crossword a shot?

Now, let’s turn to the marketing opportunities social media offers businesses both large and small. They’ve got new avenues to reach their audience. Analytics to tell them if their messages and marketing campaigns are working. The ability to communicate directly with customers and resolve complaints in real time. And, it’s good news for non-profits, as well. Charities have new platforms to raise money, and the overall awareness of their causes.

Social Media is Bad for Us

For businesses and private individuals, a big concern is that social media is a time waster. People are taking selfies when they’re supposed to be working. Students are playing online games when they should be studying. All of us have lost way too much time to cat videos. And, most of us are doing all of this sitting down. Thus, we’ve become a sedentary population.

There’s also the negative impact that social media may have on our mood. “Facebook depression”, brought on by envy, is a real possibility, according to a University of Missouri study. It’s another way to keep up with the Joneses. Our friends post that they bought a house or a car, got married, had kids, etc. We may feel jealous because we can’t afford those things, haven’t found the right partner, can’t have children, and so on. Thus, depression and feelings of inadequacy can result.

Another big concern, especially for teenagers, is the prevalence of cyberbullying on social media. While there’s always been bullying at schools, social media affords an anonymity that aggressors never had before. This Huffington Post article suggests that cyberbullies don’t think they will be found out when they’re online. They also don’t see the consequences of their actions, which can be dire.

Many private individuals and business are concerned about privacy on social media, as well. In light of some recent scandals, everyone is thinking twice about their privacy settings, and just what kind of information they’re putting out into cyberspace.

Choosing Social Media Content

Is social media good or bad? In and of itself, it isn’t either. It is simply a medium. We must ultimately be responsible for how we use it. We are very much curating the social media content that we receive. Our first choice is deciding who to follow. It doesn’t take very long for someone to demonstrate the kind of content they are going to post. Thus, if we don’t like it, there are helpful unfollow and block buttons on every platform.

What about advertisers? Well, we’re helping to curate the promotional messages we see, even if we’re not consciously aware that we are doing so. Every post you like, share, save, and so on is data that someone somewhere is aware of. Also, what are you searching for on Google? What are you asking Alexa about? All these actions help to paint a picture of who you are, at least as far as the Internet is concerned. Advertisers use that picture to present you with offers they think will interest you based on the information they have about your demographics and psychographics.

Producing Social Media Content

One big difference between older mediums like radio and TV and social media is that before we could only be receivers of content, now we are producers as well. And, with this great power comes great responsibility. In other words, think before you post. What you put online can follow you for years to come. Post a selfie while you’re drunk? Go on an extended political rant? This is polarizing content. Some people will laugh at the former and others will shake their heads. In the case of the latter, some people will be in solidarity with you, while others will vigorously disagree. You need to decide if posting this content is worth the possible fallout.

A good rule of thumb is that if it’s not okay for a potential employer to see it, you shouldn’t post it. And again, your content is sending a message to advertisers, followers, and everyone who views your social media profiles that this is who you are.

Spending Time on Social Media

Wasting time on social media? A good way to handle this problem is to schedule your social media time. Designate an hour each day when you will spend time on social media. Then, stop. Put down your phone, shut it off, whatever you need to do not to go beyond that hour. It may be more difficult if you are using social media for business, but automating posts, and perhaps sharing the responsibility with others in your company could help to break any addiction you may have.

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