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Social media: Dealing with the robotic, unthinking

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As social media becomes indispensable to many; its positive and negatives have come under scrutiny. Some people advocate minimal use, especially among youths, who are vulnerable.

Experts have warned that excessive use of social media could have negative effects and even affect mental health, especially among youths, who are obsessed with it.

Precisely, how does the use of social media impact youths negatively and how can this be checked?

Comparing social media to a knife, which could be used to cut meat and peel an orange, among other good uses, Professor of Sociology at University of Lagos, Lai Olurode, said the knife could also be used to hurt or kill someone.

He said: “So, social media can be deployed to explore the world of economic, social or political opportunities. Mobile phone has become the new idol, first to be visited in the morning and last to be seen before bedtime. This idol keeps some hooked to the screen throughout the night.

“Certainly, stress accompanies excessive use of social media. Being absent minded is another common phenomenon, as youths’ attention span has lowered. Indeed, the negative impact of social media is biting hard on youths. Let me be more specific. In the sphere of critical thinking and learning, there is a recession and withdrawal by youth, as they search for quick fixes. Valuable time is spent on the phone screen. Writing skill among youth has also diminished. I have seen students attending my classes without pen and paper. The search is for quick fixes and answers to complex challenges of human existence.

“Secondly, youths are also becoming deskilled and deschooled. The language of social media needn’t be grammatically correct. Unintelligent abbreviations are common. At the third level is the substitution of social media for human agency. Technology social networking is being deepened, with the consequent loss of humanity. Issues that are better resolved through direct personal face-to-face interaction are routinely resolved online.”

One of the fallouts, according to the university don, is the issue of individualism, which has become the norm, as people seek help and indulge in online consultations without any human face and ability to discriminate among online information competing for attention.

He said: “Everything online is consumed. More complications set in and the situation can become aggravated, with possible hazardous consequences. Friends and spouses are recruited online and deals struck with poor details. As matters become unveiled and as reality dawn on parties, it may be too late or risky to pull out. When either of the parties feels betrayed, a solution may be sought in ending it all. It may be too late to seek help or the individual may feel ashamed to do so. Counselling is rarely sought.

“Many youths buy silver for the price of gold, as there is no critical review of online information. Fourthly, youth privacy is doomed. Confidential information about individual may be leaked on ground of extorting a pound of flesh. Blackmail is triggered and the backlash uncontrollable. Emotional feelings readily become frustrated.

“On the moral plane, youths are losing out and are being wasted. Character means nothing in the new world of social media. Cutting corners is the game in town. Trust, which is the foundation of society, is severely eroded, and dependability loses its meaning. The Yahoo boys are everywhere, living in idleness and consistently in search of fickle minded and gullible ones.”

Added to this, he said, is the tragedy of youth socialisation in the social media world, where ethics and hard work belong to the past.

“The robotic and unthinking era is here,” he said. “Simple challenges are regarded as intractable, because community life is dead and regarded as an intrusion. The wall of the rational realm has fallen. Role models are discarded. Serious counselling diminishes. Social workers aren’t patronised, as youth believe they have answers to everything.”

Of serious import, Olurode noted, is the idea of suicide, which youths increasingly consider a solution to end all discussions and worries of existence.

“Too much privacy that social media usage entails cut down on the time we spend together watching television and listening to news,” he said. “Children are fixated on their new idols— smart phones. They need even class time to catch up with new and old friends. Parents and siblings are cut off. Even at home, spouses expend less time to sharing experiences. Whether at home or on the road, mobile phones arrest youths’ attention and valuable time squandered on the screen. We have heard of accidents arising from poor cultural attitudes to screen time.”

Executive secretary, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbolahan Awonuga, was of the view that social media has been one of the good things to have happened in this century, depending on how it is deployed.

He said: “The advent of social media brought the world together as a global village. Social media has its good and bad sides. However, when you weigh the good and the bad side, it seems the bad side is about to overtake the good side. Many of our youths are getting addicted to the social media for negative information, which has many of them becoming lazy in their thinking and study.”

He added that many go to the social media for such irrelevant things as dating and just generally ‘gisting’, all of which are time consuming.

“Tell me, what is a student doing on social media for 12 hours, when he is not doing any research,” he queried. “Today, social media has become harmful to many youths because of what they go there to do. Many of them that committed suicide got the idea from social media.

“Somebody told me sometime ago that, if someone wants to die and he/she doesn’t know the quickest way, just search for it on social media. A lot of killing and rituals happening today started through the social media.”

Awonuga said the unrestrictive attitude towards social media is responsible for moral degradation amongst youths, as they tend to copy bad things on social media than good ones.

He said: “Most of these youths no longer face their studies, but are doing nonsense.”

Tiwalade Soriyan, a Counselling psychologist, said social media has come to stay.

“The world is now a global village, because people are now able to access things they were not able to do years back,” she explained. “And the speed at which things are being done is astronomical. You can reach someone in another continent in seconds, just like that. The implication of this is that people are getting more exposed to what is going on all around them.

“Before, someone had to come tell you before you know what was going on, but now, you can personally access any information. Some things just come on your screen. If you are online, some things just pop up. On Google or some other sites, information you didn’t ask or sign up for can pop up. These are some of the problems we are facing.

“When looking at the negative effects of social media on youths, we should know there are also positive sides. These young ones are able to get information that they need, relate in some ways, call their parents, reach people beyond the shores of where they live and so on.”

She is however bothered that social media comes with unwholesome contents.

“Exposure to sexually explicit contents and violence are some of the things these young minds are not ready for. For some films or TV programmes, we usually have ratings, which are supposed to warn parents to let them know if a programme is appropriate for a particular age group or not.

“So, this immature exposure impacts a child’s attitude, thereby making him or her immaturely exposed to what he or she cannot deal with, because they are not able to grasp the implications. And there is a tendency to practise what they see.”

Pointing out that most things on social media are packaged, the psychologist said: “The danger there is that whatever is put online, the idea is to make it attractive. Also, we have social media bullies and kidnappers, as people can track your activity online.

“Some of these young people hide their activities from their parents, thereby making themselves vulnerable to kidnappers, bullies and predators. There is also online abuse. Some of these young ones talk about what their parents are doing and also post what their parents are doing online because they are not wise. Some predators even pose as teenagers on social media.”

Soriyan said the psychological impact is that children get addicted, with many suffering mentally and parents unaware till things get out of hand.

She said: “We can’t underscore the place of wrong relationships. WhatsApp has age restrictions of 18, but children below that age use it and it shouldn’t be so.”

On the way forward, Olurode said: “We all need to re-prioritise our time usage on the screen, so that its products aren’t slavishly consumed.

On his part, Awonuga said it was high time people started to think of regulations and sanctions.

“We should start looking at a way to regulate the content and the technology generally. What kind of device should a secondary school student be using? Parents also need to be educated on what kind of device children of different ages should use,” he said.

For Soriyan, the way to curb the menace is by reducing access to social media.

She said: “Not necessarily taking phone away from children, but proper monitoring. Parents can use parental monitoring apps. Beyond these, I appeal to parents to bond with their children and be good role models.

“Parents should remember that children don’t follow what they say, but what they do, which is why children get angry at their parents and are frustrated. Parents should be actively involved and not criticise all the time.

“When you interact with youths, you hear a lot of things. Parents are in denial because they can’t imagine their children are doing such things. Parents are custodians and should wake up to their responsibilities. Schools should also help to limit the exposure.


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