Social media matters. It makes a difference. That much is clear.
Before social media, the Middle East uprisings that we’ve seen in the past year could not have happened. Before social media, Occupy Wall Street could not have grown so fast, so quickly.
But is that necessarily a good thing?
Before you start complaining about freedom of speech and information, look at what is inherent in social networks. There is a large group of people, all rallying a similar interest. These people can act anonymously, they can speak from behind a computer screen with no real world repercussions. Like commenters on YouTube, they can say things that people would dare not say directly to someone’s face, or if there was any chance they’d be held accountable for their comments.
In addition, once a movement is started, it takes on what feels like a Mob Mentality. People jump on board because it’s the popular thing to do. There is a fair bit of Groupthink and Crowd Psychology inherent within each movement. And since social media is quick and easy, and has the ability to reach people everywhere instantly, the movement can grow faster than anyone expects.
Large groups of people, speaking and acting behind the protection of a screen, can be very dangerous. I think that for the most part, social media has been used positively to create change and to make people aware of injustices. But I also think that we take for granted the power inherent within these networks. And we should continue with caution.
We are a powerful mob.