The Influence of Social Media.

The rise of social media has been phenomenal over recent times. I suggest more so than anyone could have predicted. Evidence is overwhelming that social media has a strong influence on us all, both positively and negatively.

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control our reward and pleasure system, is released when we use social media in certain ways. It gives us pleasure when we write something and others like it, just like I am doing now.

Dopamine is also released into our brain when we read something that resonates with us and can strongly influence our behaviour.

Social media is a wonderful tool that allows us to make contact with people instantly anywhere in the world. We can also use social media to inform and to educate, we can view and what our friends and family are doing, we can even buy products through social media.

The majority of people use social media with respect, for the most part anyway. We know which sources of information to trust and we know to search other sources to confirm what we have just viewed or read to confirm the veracity of the article if we have doubt.

The majority of us also know that if we use social media too much it can be detrimental to our mental well-being. For some however, this is not the case. For some, everything that they read IS the truth and influences their thoughts, views, and behaviour.

By example, just seven years ago when I studied radicalisation, young people who were feeling disaffected and disconnected would seek out information in a hope of finding a solution to their social disconnection. Once they identified what they thought was a solution to their dilemma, they sought people of similar minds to interact with.

Young disaffected people would go to their mosque, to university, to gymnasiums, to any place where people of similar dispositions would congregate. For the majority of those disaffected people, they would find salvation through human social connections.

To become fully radicalsied only a few years ago, there had to be human-to-human connection. This is no longer the case. Some people, the younger ones in particular, can be strongly influenced by what they read and view on social media.

Those who regulate social media have an obligation. They have an obligation to regulate and control what is distributed on their platform. If an editor of a newspaper allowed fictitious or inappropriate material to be printed, they would be held to account. The obligations on social media moderators is no different in my opinion.

Articles posted on social media should be done so with the mindset that the article WILL strongly influence the reader.

Allowing videos of people committing suicide to be uploaded, viewed and distributed on social media is one such posting that is not only abhorrent, it has the ability to influence those who may be in a similar disposition as the person in the video.

It is said that there is a fine line between freedom of speech and overbearing control. In my opinion this is an argument always used when inappropriate material is aired in a public forum. It is an argument used by those who push the boundaries of decency and respect.

In a medium that has been shown to strongly influence others, there needs to be strong control.