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PAINTER: The good, bad and ugly of using social media

• Dec 12, 2016 at 3:00 PM

Social media is a wonderful tool. Facebook, Twitter and other platforms of social media have opened the doors for communicating with family members, friends (old and new) and colleagues. It also enables us to seek information, be entertained, share information and, of course, express our opinions.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, two-thirds of online adults use social media platforms. The research center survey reveals that social media users say keeping in touch with current friends and family members is the primary reason for using social media sites.

The survey also says keeping in touch with lost old friends is a major reason for using social media platforms.

I know that has been true for me. I have really enjoyed connecting with old friends, former classmates, coaches, colleagues and relatives. I lost touch with my relatives from Pennsylvania when my family moved to Michigan.

It also has been great to connect with my former Southgate High School classmates, some of whom I had lost touch with through the years. I now have a former high school friend who calls me on occasions, and we catch up on old times from when we were in high school.

I have also come to enjoy following my friends on Facebook who post positive stories and photos of their family members. As many do, I sometimes press the “Like” icon. I want my friends to know that I’m interested in their activities.

Many communities, including ours, now have platforms in which social media users comment on such things as where is a good place to eat or where can you get your vehicle repaired. And if you lost a pet, there is a good chance someone found it and posted a photograph of your pet. The platforms provide a valuable service.

While there are many benefits from using social media platforms, there is a dark side.

Unfortunately, too many comments on social media can be demeaning. I have noticed that in recent weeks several of my Facebook friends posted that “they were taking a break from Facebook.” I am not sure of their reasons. I can only speculate that they were fed up with all the negative comments during the past presidential election.

Perhaps, too, they felt they were becoming too addicted to Facebook. That has become a problem for some, including at the workplace where valuable time is lost perusing social media sites.

We’ve all seen the nasty comments. It’s easy to use your fingers to ridicule or poke fun at someone when you don’t have to see them face-to-face. I have tried to avoid making snide comments, although I have been tempted.

I have friends who have different political views than me. That’s OK. I am not going to “unfriend” them because I didn’t like what they posted. They have a right to their opinions, as I have a right to mine.

Yes, some public officials open themselves up to criticism. When you are the president of the United States, or any other elected official, you expect to be criticized because you are working for taxpayers. But those who criticize public officials should not be ridiculed just because they are expressing their opinions.

We see the negativity with our younger generation, as well. Although efforts are being made to make everyone aware of the dangers of cyberbullying, it is still a problem in our nation’s schools.

According to an online article in CBSDC, Krystine Batcho, Lemoyne College professor of psychology, commented that studies suggest that cyberbullying takes place “in a more extreme way over social media because the authors feel no responsibility. They probably wouldn’t engage in bullying activity if they were face-to-face because of the consequences if they were caught by authority figures,” she said

I doubt that Mark Zuckerberg, who created Facebook, had in mind for people to vent on his social media platform. He created it as a way to use the internet for communicating.

It is human nature to become angry over someone’s comment in which you strongly disagree. But before you hit that “send” button with a nasty comment, be sure you are not doing it out of anger. Social media is a wonderful tool if used properly.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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