Social Media: What is it doing? (WTS Blogpost 2)

My research was based solely on interviews, whether in person, from other sources or by a survey. In my first week, I focused on reaching out to people to see if they could do an interview. I created a survey to interview teens, directed out on social media platforms, and asked other What’s the Story students to fill it out. I also listened to an interview with Cory Doctorow, a book writer on the topic of cybersecurity, and a founder of a Vermont organization, Parents Supporting Thoughtful Technology (PSTT). I found that interviews were probably the best source to get this from, given that many tech companies might not have good information about it, because they don’t want to have information that might reflect badly, and also because it was easier to find and more reliable sources. I also tried to always prepare my base questions beforehand, and email them to my interviewees so that they knew what was coming. If I found that I could dig deeper or there was a new subject that arose,  I would ask about it. I also recorded my interviews, with consent from the parties participating, so I could take more intricate notes, getting quotes and  important things down. I wanted to also get diverse opinions, so while I interviewed experts on the subject, I also interviewed students, parents and educators.

I found many interesting things in my research, and also some things that surprised me. While I was interested in the bad aspects of social media, it surprised me how overwhelmingly positive people were. When asked to rate their social media experience from one to ten, 36% of participants rated their social media experience from eight to ten, and zero percent rated their social media experience from one to three. The experts also agreed that, while there were many problems with social media, some of those problems have created solutions, like why homosexuality and different gender identities are accepted. They also agreed that there were lots of good things about social media, including connecting with friends. As Amy Mason, the head of PSTT said: “My opinions have definitely changed over the pandemic”. 

I would say the main problem in this story is the balance. The biggest problem with social media is that you cannot just solve it by taking it away. So many things that social media does helps the world, like organizing peaceful protests, finding supportive communities, connecting with families and friends, some of which may not have very long on the earth and sharing art. However some of these same things can be used in a negative way. Some examples of this are making conspiracy theories, cyberbullying, and then things that have nothing to do with this like data collection and targeted ads.

If I or others chose to pursue this topic, I would say the main questions that still need to be answered is really what other opinions on this are there, and how can we dig deeper? To see the whole picture, we have to know all the opinions, from entirely abolish all social media to eradicate some parts. I think that I could not approach this in an entirely novel way, but since this is a fairly new subject, I think that just approaching it with as many new opinions with an aim to educate would be enough. 

I am pretty enthusiastic about this topic, but am very open to other topics as well. I am totally enthusiastic, but I feel like this is a very hard topic to research, and if I will continue with it, I need other people to join with me and research this issue. However, I am also very open to exploring other topics. I think that there are many social issues, and all of them should be explored.

Overall, I think that my opinions have definitely shifted, in the ways that I saw social media as a positive experience and in the ways that I saw social media as detracting from our lives. The most important idea I have taken away from this is probably the idea of balance. Balance between social media and life, which means that not only do you meet people in person, you also try to not give in to the temptation, think critically and take your knowledge and apply it to social media and big tech in general, making sure you try to see the full picture and what you might be missing. I am very excited to continue this project, or hop on board with a new one!

Asa Baker-Rouse

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