“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, plus a social media overreaction.” Though the author of this quote is unknown, they represent the scene viewed by the generation that was raised up prior to and with the digital age. Many can argue for the positives of the ever-growing phenomena that is technology, digital media, social networking, and the like. Yet, as the movement advances, several issues relating to numerous matters are rapidly being brought to light. The information presented here seeks to educate the reader as to the malevolent side of the world’s newest addiction.
While social networking has grown to be used for advertising, research, awareness, creation, and shared content, the topic is a double-edged sword. Actual, concrete activism and change regarding issues is lost; it has become a pathway for regimes to maintain control; and is a budding asset for terrorism around the world.
Online activism is the use of new information-communication technologies to support social and citizen movements or to create, operate and manage activism of any type. Yet, some may think that one’s show of encouragement for certain causes is a way to enhance your personal brand rather than champion an important cause. This “slacktivism” has been called cultural capitalism, in which “we feel compelled to buy into this idea of being part of a movement or protest” (Corrigan, 2016).
A study published in February 2014, The Structure of Online Activism, revealed that the majority of people who like a Facebook page in support of a cause do not follow up with a donation. Moreover, return rates for charities are a tenth of those whose charities take traditional routes. Regardless of the reason, social networking has “historically been most effective when acting as a tool for the organization of activists, rather than as a platform for change” (Carey, 2015).
Network structure of online activism. Featured is a component, where edges represent recruitment links, node size is proportionate to the quantity of members recruited, the original seed recruiter is colored yellow, and those who donated money to the cause are colored red.
Media Control An increasing number of authoritarian regimes are effectively re-tooling their strategies of controlling the media. Officials in governments such as those in Azerbaijan, China, Iran, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe must utilize state-controlled media (such as television, newspapers, radio, and new media) to keep themselves in power. This is achieved through “selective censorship of political expression and by using state media to influence crucial audiences” (Orttung & Walker, 2014).
Deceptive tactics enable regimes to use the power of editorial omission to limit criticism of official actions and policies while placing pro-government narratives in the forefront of their audience’s minds. Rigid rules alike seek to influence a variety of groups via their restricted broadcasting: regime elites, the populace at large, political opposition & independent civil society, and regular internet users worldwide. These types of governments willfully deprive hundreds of millions of people of “authentically plural and independent information and analysis” (Orttung & Walker, 2014).
Some of the prominent terrorist groups in this current age are those such as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony in Uganda, the Shi’a militant group Hezbollah, Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and, most glaringly, the Islamic State active in Iraq and the Levant. The Islamic State largely exploits social networking in five intermingling phases:
I. Cultivating the brand
II. Innovating across platforms
III. Crowdsourcing the distribution
IV. Inspiring real-world action
V. Steering the conversation
Contemporary terrorism might not exist as globally as it does if social networking was not available. For example, without digital media aiding the Islamic State, they face “more local competition and operational contestation,” both from state security forces and competing terrorist organizations. Further, if the Islamic State were not able to recruit foreign fighters via digital media, they would “have less reconstitution power to sustain the scale of its offensive operations and territory held” (Kallmyer, 2015).
Terrorists are so adept in their use for social media for propaganda and recruitment, that most cases of domestic terrorism in the United States can now be traced to social media platforms such as networks (Twitter, Facebook), peer-to-peer messaging applications (Telegram, Surespot), and content sharing systems (JustPaste.it). In fact, John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security at the Department of Justice states that the greater portion of young terrorist recruitment is linked to social media (Taylor, 2016).
Though social media websites have revolutionized the way people communicate and socialize on the Web, they have had some real impacts on society. A “digital divide” has emerged, health issues (both physical and mental) have plagued populations, individuals are lulled by a false sense of connection, productivity has decreased, and cyber-bullying has become rampant.
The idea of the “digital divide” refers to “the growing gap between the underprivileged members of society, especially the poor, rural, elderly, and handicapped portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet; and the wealthy, middle-class, and young Americans living in urban and suburban areas who have access” (Stanford University, n.d.). Factors including education, income, and race are all attributing to this rift at an alarming rate.
A study conducted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) between 1997 and 1998 and published in 1999, Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide, revealed that the gap in computer usage and Internet access widened 7.8% and 25% respectively, between those with the most and the least education (Irving & Levy, 1999). Even more, those with college degrees or higher are 10 times more likely to have internet access at work than those with only a high school education.
Unsurprisingly, in direct correlation with education, levels of income contribute to the division as well. The NTIA study further determined that in just 1998, the divide between the highest and lowest income groups grew 29% (Irving & Levy, 1999). Moreover, those with incomes over $75,000 are 20 times more likely to have home internet access than those at lowest income levels and 10 times more likely to have a computer if living in the city or suburban area than in the rural area.
Regarding ethnicities, there are differences along very specific racial lines. The period between 1994 and 1998 exposed an increased difference in computer usage of 39.2% amid White and Black households and 42.6% amid White and Hispanic households (Irving & Levy, 1999). Yet, income plays a part here too; the gap narrows at higher income levels and widens among lower income levels. Additionally, “schools with a higher percentage of minorities have fewer computers whereas those with a lower percentage of minorities have a greater number of computers” (Stanford University, n.d.). Interestingly, Stanford students also found the following:
In the Hispanic community, it was observed that computers were a luxury, not a need; computer activities isolated individuals and took away valuable time from family activities. In the African-American community, it was observed that African-Americans, historically, have had negative encounters with technological advances. Asian-Americans, on the other hand, generally emphasize education, resulting in a larger number embracing rising technological advances.
In recent years, a plentitude of research has explored possible connections between the uses of social networking sites (SNSs) and mental health. Incidences found among users are comprised of depression, anxiety, ADHD, eating disorders, and addictions to name a few.
A study, Association between online social networking and depression in high school students: behavioral physiology viewpoint, was completed by the Institute of Medical Physiology. Of 160 students interviewed, 104 students were considered minimally depressed, 46 mildly depressed, and 10 moderately depressed (Pantic, et al., 2012). Even more specifically, Facebook use “predicts declines in subjective well-being: how people feel moment to moment and how satisfied they are with their lives” (Kross, et al., 2013). In another study, it was discovered that social media can also increase symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as well (Malkovsky, Merrifield, Goldberg, & Danckert, 2012). Additionally, the incidence of body image disturbance among adolescent girls is associated with Facebook use; body exposure on SNSs has also led to eating disorders (Meier & Gray, 2014). Finally, excessive digital media use correlates with elements of addiction as well as neuroticism (Andreessen, Torstein, Bromberg, & Palliser, 2012) and it was found that “internet addiction causes neurological complications, psychological disturbances and social problems” (Cash, Rae, Steel, & Winkler, 2012).
Numerous medical and scientific studies have shown alarming results when testing people who use computers or smartphones for more than four hours a day and those who do not. Predictably, those who use technologies tend to develop rounded shoulders, spinal curvatures, vertebrate disorders, and associated neck pain and headaches.
A study was organized to investigate the posture and musculoskeletal discomfort of secondary school students while working at computers in school. Of the 40 subjects, not a single one of their postures was in the acceptable range according to the Rapid Upper Limb Assessment Tool (RULA). At the conclusion of the observation, there was a statistically significant increase in reported discomfort from the beginning to the end of the computer class (Kelly, Dockrell, & Galvin, 2009).
Several studies have discovered that the majority of computer workers and/or smartphone users experience some eye or vision symptoms. A national survey of ophthalmologists found that more than 14% of their patients present with eye or vision-related symptoms resulting from computer work (Sheedy, 1995), with younger and younger individuals presenting with issues such as cataracts (which are typical in the 75-and-older crowd). The most common symptoms are eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision and neck or shoulder pain (Salibello & Nilsen, 1995).
Whereas our minds want nothing more but to learn and know everything and keep up on the latest news, our bodies are missing out on something much more tangible – sleep. According to a study done at the University of Pittsburgh, the “compulsive need to check your Facebook notifications is more than a social tick” – researchers checked the digital media habits of 1,700 adults between the ages of 19 and 32 and revealed that those who spent more than an hour a day on social media or tried to fall asleep on their news feed “were more likely to suffer from sleep disturbances” (Chang, 2016).
Cyber-bullying can be simply defined as bullying that takes place via electronic technology. According to stopbullying.gov, cyber-bullying is different than the traditional form in the following ways:
Cyber-bullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and reach a kid even when he or she is alone. It can happen any time of the day or night.
Cyber-bullying messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a very wide audience. It can be difficult and sometimes impossible to trace the source.
Deleting inappropriate or harassing messages, texts, and pictures is extremely difficult after they have been posted or sent.
Further down the chain of action from electronic technology to social media to cyber-bullying, victims can experience a plethora of supplementary issues: alcohol and drug use, school truancy, in-person bullying, unwillingness to attend school, poor grades, lower self-esteem, and more health problems (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, n.d.).
Ethical & Legal Issues
Security & Privacy
Graham Cluley, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at UK Tech security firm Sophos says that when it comes to privacy and security issues on social networks, “the sites most likely to suffer from issues are the most popular ones”. However, the two topics are completely separate – A security issue occurs when an outside entity (hacker) gains unauthorized access to a site’s protected coding or written language. Conversely, privacy issues, those involving the unwarranted access of private information, don’t necessarily have to involve security breaches. Yet, the two are often intertwined.
Two facts that the average user may not be aware of currently are that the internet has a record or file on everyone, and identity theft has been the number one complaint to the Federal Trade Commission since 1999. So, what are some other security threats in social media outlets? According to Sue Poremba of Enterprise Networking Planet (2010), they are:
Lack of business policy or lack of enforcement of the policy: As always, the first line of security should ensure that employees have limits on what can be accessed on company networks and that action is taken when rules are broken.
Friending someone you don’t know
Not thinking twice about clicking on links: One of the great things about a site like Twitter is the sharing of information you might not see elsewhere. The downside is the tiny URLs that hide the true link to Web sites.
Letting hijackers into accounts: Hackers are finding holes in the software and are taking over individual accounts to spread malware from “trusted” sources and scam consumers into sending personal information.
Third-party application dangers: Hackers are able to retrieve passwords and other personal information through applications like Facebook games. Fake Facebook toolbars are taking users to a spoofed site that steals passwords.
Consent & Data Sharing
Social networking platforms are mostly U.S.-based. This said, U.S.-based data is subject to the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) – data can be accessed by US federal law enforcement agencies, no matter who owns them. But, foreigners storing data on U.S. sites cannot claim protection under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (which protects US citizens against unlawful search and seizure of property and information) because their data are stored by a 3rd-party provider. Therefore, by even using SNSs, people may unknowingly be giving consent without actually wanting to grant it.
Andreessen, C. S., Torstein , T., Bromberg, G. S., & Palliser, S. (2012). Development of a Facebook Addiction Scale. Psychological Reports, 501-517.
Carey, A. (2015). Empty Clicks: Why Online Acitivism Is Often Meaningless. Elite Daily.
Cash, H., Rae, C. D., Steel, A. H., & Winkler, A. (2012). Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 292-298.
Chang, L. (2016). Could Social Media be Contributing to Your Lack of Adequate Sleep? Digital Trends.
Corrigan, T. (2016). Social Media Activism: Effective or Slacktivism? BRAND DRIVER digital.
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Kallmyer, K. (2015, June 8). The Islamic State's Use of Digital Media: Enhancing terrorist signaling strategies. CGCS Media Wire.
Kelly, G., Dockrell, S., & Galvin, R. (2009). Computer use in school: its effect on posture and discomfort in schoolchildren. Dublin: Trinity Centre for Health Sciences.
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Malkovsky, E., Merrifield, C., Goldberg, Y., & Danckert, J. (2012). Exploring the relationship between boredom and sustained attention. Waterloo: University of Waterloo.
Meier, E. P., & Gray, J. (2014). Facebook Photo Activity Associated with Body Image Disturbance in Adolescent Girls. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 199-206.
Orttung, R., & Walker, C. (2014, January 10). Authoritarian regimes retool their media-control strategy. The Washington Post.
Pantic, I., Damjanovic, A., Todorovic, J., Topalovic, D., Bojovic-Jovic, D., Ristic, S., & Pantic, S. (2012). Association between online social networking and depression in high school students: behavioral physiology viewpoint. Belgrade: University of Belgrade.
Poremba, S. (2010, April 7). Five Social Media Security Issues. Enterprise Networking Planet.
Salibello, C., & Nilsen, E. (1995). Is there a typical VDT patient? A demographic analysis. J Am Optom Assoc, 479-483.
Sheedy, J. E. (1995). Vision problems at video display terminals: A survey of optometrists. J Am Optom Assoc, 687-692.
Stanford University. (n.d.). The Digital Divide. Retrieved from https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs181/projects/digital-divide/start.html
Taylor, H. (2016, October 5). Most young terrorist recruitment is linked to social media, said DOJ official. CNBC.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.). What is Cyberbullying. Retrieved from https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it/index.html