Girls Investigate: From Face to Facebook
March 18, 2010
Girls Investigate: Social Media's Merits & Minuses
By Nadia Tareen
Imagine – the typical teenage girl of 2010. Her fingers are tapping away on the keyboard of her cell phone, her eyes are feverishly glued to the screen. Sure, stereotypes are unreliable and sweeping, but in this case, I can attest that it is somewhat valid. My peers and I are constantly connected. As a generation, we are addicted to social media - Facebook, texting, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and more. These networks can be time consuming and dangerous, but I believe that if we learn to approach social media with moderation and productive goals, networking can be beneficial and powerful. I am guilty of wasting much potentially productive time on Facebook, writing on my friends’ “walls” and browsing through their photo albums. Social media is not only a distraction -- I have heard many stories about insecure girls who used media to maliciously insult their peers from behind the protective veil of anonymity. “Cyber-bullying,” internet predators, and dangerous online forums that encourage eating disorders and suicide are included in the laundry list of the serious and threatening aspects of the internet. However, overall, social media gets a bad rap. Adults are often too fast to condemn teenagers’ use of technology. We aren’t as “clueless about online threats as some adults believe – Two-thirds of the teens who have created profiles have used privacy controls to limit access to them.” Also, I suspect that my parents and teachers are unaware of everything that my peers and I accomplish online. For example, social media is a great tool for activism. As the leader of my school’s chapter of Girls Learn International®, Inc., I have found that e-mail and Facebook messages are invaluable for organizing and spreading awareness. Teenagers even use social media to make their dreams come true. As an avid YouTube-watcher, I can cite at least a dozen teenagers who posted videos of their musical and comedic talents on the website, to then be discovered by industry professionals. If social media is used intelligently, it can yield endless benefits. But what does it mean to be “intelligent” when using social media? I have spoken to several girls, ranging from ages fourteen to eighteen, about their views on the subject. Most agree that teenagers should strive to achieve a balance between social media and the real interactions that happen in the three-dimensional world. It can be easy to develop a Facebook fixation or a Twitter obsession, and excessive use of social media sometimes results in the loss of traditional social skills. One of my interviewees remarked that she rarely calls her friends anymore, since texting and social networking websites have conditioned her to only communicate through these means. The social media realm of communication is convenient but its content can be easily misconstrued. For example, an instant message saying, “that’s funny” could either be genuine or mocking, but sarcasm and natural voice tone rarely translate successfully on the internet. Hearing other girls’ opinions on social media has helped me discover that the key decision for all teenage girls using social media is to be true to ourselves, but limit what we share. There are some people out there who spill every minute detail of their lives on their blogs – I say, save it for your diary. We should also strive to make sure that our online identities are consistent with our real-life personalities and values. One of my peers said that she feels more comfortable being outgoing through social media, while another said that her online personality feels like a condensed and imprecise version of her true self. Social media will always have its minuses and its merits. The real world, however, has been around a lot longer and has a great deal more to offer. So let’s be sure to shut down our computers, too, and go explore.