Counter-point: Social media is facilitating greater connectedness; criticism is overblown

It appears that the advent of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter (and Myspace a few years ago) has people everywhere lamenting at what appears to be the artificial nature of friendship that these mediums have facilitated. Some will charge that Facebook et al. have somehow given individuals the opportunity to avoid direct contact with people.

Instead, people simply “write on others’ walls,” send others “personal messages” or “comment” on others’ “statuses” (or whatever else they decide to publish).

My first reaction to this is quite simple—what is wrong with this? What is wrong with people interacting with others through social media?

There are only two major problems that I tend to witness. One is where people shield their identities in a way that is deceptive so they can spout off inappropriate or even downright despicable rubbish that they do not want to held accountable for.

I find this particularly prevalent in non-social media mediums, such as the “comments” section for online versions of mainstream media outlets where individuals are very seldom easily identified. The second concern is that of privacy, but this reality is not simply limited to social media.

The benefit of social media like Facebook is that these two problems can be overcome.

The first is overcome through accountability mechanisms for which people can use to stop people from spouting garbage—the friend request and the friend removal. To even interact with someone, they must be “confirmed as a friend” and further, people who have Facebook profiles can remove individuals from their “friends.”

The above aids the second problem of privacy concerns, but also pressure from privacy advocates and people like the Canadian Privacy Commissioner ensure that social media companies are always improving their privacy settings for their users.

Once you get past these two factors only one thing remains—people are unhappy that “true friendship” is allegedly being denigrated by social media. I for one, do not accept this allegation.

Firstly, I think it is very important not to get caught up in semantics. Facebook calls the people one chooses to interact with “friends,” but I think Twitter is more accurate when it describes those one interacts with as “followers,” as that better describes the relationship between individuals in both of these mediums (and others).

Thus, the problem here is that some are imposing their own definitions of “friends” and “friendship,” which misses the point.

On Facebook, “friends” are simply identified as those one accepts to interact with—they may very well be your “friends” in the traditional sense of the word, but that is certainly not necessary because it is at the individual’s discretion.
Furthermore, it appears that people are somehow exalting the virtues of non-social media interaction. However, I believe that if you are truly a good friend with someone you are not going to somehow be less of a friend because you sometimes use Facebook to communicate.

If you are not really close, Facebook gives you the opportunity to contact, which is much more convenient and accessible.

And if you are merely acquaintances, Facebook not only allows you to contact someone easier, but since you do not know the person as well, you will get a chance to know more about them by what they post, et cetera.

And remember that this ability to learn about each other is mutual—permission was granted by both sides. So, with all this in mind, how is Facebook taking away from human social interaction again?

It appears that to reject social media is to reject things like email or frankly anything that is not in-person or on the phone. If that is the case you forward, then fair enough—you have a good point that anything that is not in-person or any other form of live contact (phone, even Skype) do not facilitate those meaningful personal interactions as effectively as in-person or other live contact.

However, if you are simply railing on social media, it appears that you are creating unrealistic expectations of a medium that is simply meant to facilitate communication, not actually do the communication for you.

There is no doubt that on the whole people benefit socially from the growing prevalence of social media.

And, like with all significant change in society, there will be haters.