USA Today asks (in all seriousness): Has social media gone too far?

Today’s front-page headline on the paper version of USA Today: Has social media gone too far?

Seriously? That’s the headline?

FacebookisthedevilWhen a drunk driver runs over someone, do we blame the car? When an abusive spouse knifes his or her significant other, do we blame the knife? When an arsonist burns down a house, do we blame the match? When a robber shoots a victim, do we blame the gun?

The Internet is not like weapons or illegal drugs, which arguably are inherently dangerous. It’s more like a car or an ice pick: a useful tool that also can be misused, just like any other.

So we can put blame where it should be - squarely on the offender - or we can be stupid about this. We can address the core issue - education and parenting – or we can blame the tool. In each case, I vote for the former. How about you?

12 Responses to “USA Today asks (in all seriousness): Has social media gone too far?”

  1. Your simplifying this. Yes there are ways to use tools properly and improperly. However, some tools redefine what is proper. Some tools so change our culture that boundaries are blurred. It isn’t as simple as using an ice pick for good or evil. If an ice pick is used in a murder, we can all agree that the act is bad. However, the sharing of a video is not quite so clear. Before social media a student might have created the video and shared it with a small portion of people. Now, with social media, the act of sharing the video with a small group of friends IS sharing it with the world. Perhaps the right/wrong paradigm isn’t changed in the example but the ease in which wrong is spread is certainly changed. To think the good and bad of technology is “just how we use it” ignores the inherent trade-offs of all technology use.

    I’m not against tech, but when we teach kids “how to use it appropriately”, we also have to help them understand how the technology changes us in important and sometimes undesirable ways. Only when people understand that tech DOES change us can they make truly informed decisions about how to use tech or whether to use technology.

  2. Hi Jerrid, I absolutely agree with you that different tools change the scope and scale and impact of what we do. And we both agree that education / training / parenting / etc. is key. But I’m not as sure that tools ‘redefine what is proper.’ Whether you harm someone with a knife or a car or the Internet, the underlying behavior belongs to the person, not the tool. It’s an internal moral/ethical thing that resides in the person, not the object. That’s why I have trouble with USA Today’s headline. Although the article was pretty good, the headline aimed at the tool rather than the person.

    • We do agree that education is key. We also agree that the person causes the harm, not the technology. However, what I am claiming is that the technology so changes us as individuals and us as a society that our “internal moral/ethical” beliefs are modified.

      I do not consider myself to be a strict post-modernist, but find the socially constructed nature of morals to be pertinent here. If social media is part of our social experience then it must have an effect on how we construct the world – including our beliefs of what is right and wrong. These effects may be subtle, but just because we can’t notice or see something doesn’t mean they aren’t actually there (atoms for example). 🙂

      Now, perhaps that argument doesn’t ring true for you. I am willing to wager that you believe new technology is redefining what it means to learn. If new technology can redefine an abstract concept like “learning”, why can’t it redefine other abstract concepts like “ethics”?

      So when we critically examine technology, we must not only consider how to use the technology appropriately, but also how the technology changes things at very deep levels, even when we use it “appropriately”.

      So in this example, yes people hurt people. However, we must ask why the person who did the hurting was willing to hurt. I’m willing to bet that their inhibitions and general moral character have been affected by their use of social media. Perhaps you might argue they were using the social media “inappropriately”, I would say that for the person who shared the video the definition of “appropriate” has been eroded by social media that encourages us to “share everything” rather than use restraint.

      Because new technology affects us so deeply, we MUST prepare our students to think critically about technology (and this involves using and analyzing its use). We no longer need worry about 1984, but we might want to start thinking about how our technology is shaping our Brave New World in unexpected ways.

      • This is the argument that at some point what appear to be mere quantitative changes become qualitative changes instead, changing the thing into something else entirely new. And I’m not sure I disagree with that.

        This statement of yours resonates with me in particular:

        “I am willing to wager that you believe new technology is redefining what it means to learn. If new technology can redefine an abstract concept like ‘learning,’ why can’t it redefine other abstract concepts like ‘ethics?'”

        I’m going to have to think on this idea – and your statement – for a while. I’ll let my back brain chew on this one. Thanks, Jerrid.

      • I think Jarred is right. The ethical ground is shifting as a result of technology. For example, the idea of intellectual property is beginning to soften with the increased access to information and the shift from information as a commodity to a raw material. However, the question “Has Social Media Gone Too Far?” is the wrong question to ask. A better question might be “How is Social Media changing the ways we relate to each other and what new norms and morals do we need to instill in our kids and society to navigate these new interactions?” But this kind of question won’t sell magazines and is too long for an article title 🙂

  3. The central tenet of the physician’s practice “Do no harm” might be well applied as the filter to our uses of tech and social media.

  4. The teaching of appropriate use necessarily must include some moral judgments and schools are not ready to dive back into that morass yet.

    Second, which act was the crime? Was it the first webcam recording? The second? The accidental recording or the purposeful one? Or was the crime in the posting online? Or the viewing of the video – by all accounts, the viewing could be described as the bullying/ harassment. Or was the crime in the gossip afterwards that may have led to a suicide or possibly only contributed to it? Should we be saying “Get over it already.”? Is this harassment or is it just goofy s*&^ that college kids do?
    There is a lot we haven’t figured out with social media yet.

    Social understanding takes time. We are just now beginning to understand, as a society, how to deal with cellphones, their ringing, and their use but you still have people wierded out by the conversation on the bus seat next to them at high volume. You get people (like Steve Jobs) who want to control what you watch on your iPhone – no porn, not even a jiggleb**bs app.

    The questions about social media MUST be asked because we have to discuss them and find our true balance between total freedom and partial, personal restraint. Total lawlessness or your preacher telling you what you can’t say or see?

    USAToday is going for the “Bleeds, it Leads” but we have to occasionally slow down our relentless drive towards “everything, all the time” and see where our priorities lie and fine-tune this thing a bit.

  5. Actually, there are many people who blame the gun. I am now thinking about what that does to “blame social media” argument.

  6. There are things we do in person that hurt someone else unintentionally, and then we have to straighten out misunderstandings.

    I think that using electronic media (especially if text only) magnifies risks of misunderstanding:
    – We can’t see the interlocutor’s body language
    – We may not know the other person in real life
    – The interlocutors may be from different cultures

    That said, I think social media are here to stay, and we had better just be more careful before we send messages (the intention behind some acts is clearer than others) and to clear up misunderstandings afterwards as best we can.

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