Youth and Social Media: The Hashtag Generation

There is no doubt that social media use, especially among teenagers, is common. However, I wanted to see different viewpoints on social media from a variety of students. In order to gain a general consensus on what teenagers my age thought of social media, I conducted an interview asking people six basic questions concerning social media.

With the emergence of the first forms of social media such as AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), the concept of being able to instantaneously connect with friends, family, or even strangers around the world was new and exciting. Then, with the creation of more complex sites such as Myspace, social media took off. The ability to establish an online identity and simply express yourself to show off to the world was innovative and easier than ever before. As time went on, however, social media use expanded as new social media sites quickly developed. Eventually, excessive use of such forms of social media, especially in our youth, became a substantial problem.

Social media use has undoubtedly grown exponentially over the past decade. According to an article I found, recent US studies have shown that a whopping 90-95% teens use social media on a regular basis. With social media giant Facebook now sporting over 1 billion users, such statistics are hardly difficult to believe. Social media sites such as Facebook can serve as breeding grounds for cyberbullying. The protection provided behind a computer screen or smartphone allow said cyber bullies to post derogatory messages without the immediate repercussions one would face in real life. Along with lurking cyber bullies, many young Facebook users strive to ensure their online identity is accepted by peers.

The constant pressure to feel accepted by others online has been discovered to lead to symptoms similar to that of depression. In fact, the term “Facebook Depression” has been used to describe it. In the following interview, Psychotherapist Michelle Aycock discusses such false perceptions Facebook users try to convey for acceptance, how it can affect youth, and how to avoid the form of depression.

Facebook, however, is not the only social network to breed such negative behaviors. Ask.fm is a social media site that allows its users to anonymously post questions on each others’ page. The anonymity of the website, paired with the cruelness of teenagers nowadays, transformed the website into a virtual battlefield where hate comments and cyberbullying thrived. In one specific case, however, the hate comments led to much more than depression. On September 9th, Rebecca Sedwick, a 12 year-old girl from Florida, climbed atop a tower and proceeded to jump, taking her own life. A later investigation discovered that Rebecca had received relentless negative posts on her Ask.fm page,  telling her to kill herself and expressing their dislike for her.

The sheer fact that a young girl took her own life from abuse on a social network is absolutely absurd. Whether we like it or not, social media will have to be taken as seriously as face-to-face communication to prevent cases similar to that of Rebecca from ever happening again. Social media can be greatly beneficial when used safely, moderately, and educationally. Or, it can be devastating to our youth, leading to depression or suicide. The choice is yours. Next time, think before you post.

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