Social networking sites have come under a lot of heat lately. Initially, social media has been blamed for reducing the quality of social relationships. Approximately 31% admitted to spending too much time online instead of face-to-face, according to a Times Online UK article. In addition, the study conducted by the Mental Health Foundation revealed that these people are “most likely to be lonely.”
The latest attack on social media is not regarding individual relationships, but on broader social relationships. A recent article by Gregory Rodriguez from the LA Times reveals an interesting notion: the proliferation of social media and networking sites has caused us to “seek refuge in narrow niches.”
According to Rodriguez,
…we’re increasingly deciding to talk, tweet and Facebook with folks who are more or less like ourselves…
While social media enthusiasts love to crow about the flowering of a million voices, I worry about the erosion of the social contract and national consensus…
But I do worry about our newfound fondness for burrowing into tiny social cubbyholes where it’s all too easy to forget the very notion of the common good…
All that is a big part of why, even as the U.S. becomes more diverse from place to place, Americans are becoming less and less likely to communicate with people who have different perspectives and come from different walks of life.
I find Rodriguez’s view on social media contentious. First, I disagree vehemently with his view that social media has caused us to “seek refuge in narrow niches”, as he goes on to imply that people might have become more “narrow-minded” as a result of finding “like-minded” individuals on social networking sites.
In fact, social networking sites have facilitated the broadening of minds in social issues and empowered individuals in working toward social progress and social change. Pink Dot, the first-ever LGBT annual gathering in Singapore attracted 10,000 people (largest ever public gathering at Speaker’s Corner) in its celebration of the freedom to love. It was a massive campaign. On YouTube, there were more than 190,000 views. Pink Dot has over 9,000 supporters on Facebook. In a country that has a penal code that criminalizes sex between men, this event was a resounding success, facilitated by social media. More importantly, it signals changing social perceptions and change. A large number of those who participated are heterosexuals.
Secondly, Rodriguez argues that as we “burrow into tiny social cubbyholes,” it will be too easy to forget the “common good.” The “common good” is at the very best, elusive. An example I can think of that is closest to the “common good” is government accountability. Social media and networking sites have increased government accountability, and enhanced the achievement of the “common good.”
The recent furore over Tourism Malaysia’s Facebook that got out of hand not only shows us how certain facts were misrepresented, but also how social media could be used as a tool by watchdogs to create a viral effect, putting more pressure on the government for more accountability.
Social media and networking sites do not play only a potentially divisive role – they can also help to unite people. While I agree with Rodriguez that social networking sites have made it easier for “like-minded” people to get together and interact, the same sites have also broadened minds and propelled social change. The most crucial misguided judgment that Rodriguez made is to associate deepening partisanship and social isolation with social media.