The good, the bad and the ugly of Facebook and Twitter

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Over the past 20 years, social media has taken an increasingly central place in American life. Data collected by the Pew Research Center show how social media has gone from being a novelty that was only used by 5% of Americans in 2005 to an almost ubiquitous phenomenon today, with 72% of us reporting some type of social media use in 2021.

Courtney wilkerson [ Provided ]

Regardless, social media has evolved and taken root in almost every facet of our daily lives, from social media and e-commerce to information seeking and political engagement.

In one recent survey conducted at the University of South Florida, we looked at the growing use of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter among a representative sample of 1,000 American adults. Here’s a little bit of what we’ve learned about the good, the bad, and the ugly of social media.

Good

Despite all the negative reviews that social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have received in recent years, there is no denying that these platforms are expanding our opportunities to connect with each other and stay informed. For many social media users, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a prime example of these benefits.

Zachary Blair-Andrews
Zachary Blair-Andrews [ Provided ]

We found that Americans not only relied heavily on social media during the pandemic, but for many it provided a much needed source of grounding and connectivity. More than two-thirds of survey respondents (68%) say they “have relied on social media to stay in touch with friends and family during the COVID-19 pandemic.” A similar majority (63%) say they used social media more frequently during the pandemic, while almost half (49%) say social media has been good for their mental health during this time.

Professor at USF Stephen Neely
Professor at USF Stephen Neely [ File photo ]

When it comes to researching news and information, social media also has its obvious advantages. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter facilitate the rapid dissemination of information, allowing content producers to communicate directly with consumers rather than relying on traditional news media as “intermediaries”.

Among active Facebook users, we found that more than half of respondents (58%) rely on social media at least a little to stay informed on news and politics. These results are consistent with our previous surveys, which have shown that social media is an important source of information on topics such as Election 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The bad

Despite these benefits, using social media comes with inherent personal risks. Too much familiarity and lack of awareness on the part of some users can lead to unnecessary exposure of personal information and put users at risk of both virtual and physical victimization.

The USF study was conducted as an online survey using Prodege MR, a leading market research provider.  The sample of 1,000 adult social media users was selected to be representative of the demographic makeup of the country based on region, age, gender, race, ethnicity, education and political affiliation.  The results are reported with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error of +/- 3.1.  The investigation was sponsored by the Florida Center for Cybersecurity at USF.
The USF study was conducted as an online survey using Prodege MR, a leading market research provider. The sample of 1,000 adult social media users was selected to be representative of the demographic makeup of the country based on region, age, gender, race, ethnicity, education and political affiliation. The results are reported with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error of +/- 3.1. The investigation was sponsored by the Florida Center for Cybersecurity at USF. [ Provided ]

Despite numerous warnings from security experts, we have found that many social media users continue to engage in risky behaviors, such as excessive sharing and practicing loose security protocols. For example, just under a third of those surveyed said they shared photos of their children and grandchildren on social media (31%), provided information about their daily routines (30%) and had conversations continuous with strangers (29%) over the past 30 years. days.

During the same period, a significant number of users also report engaging in behaviors that may inadvertently share personal information from their user profiles. These behaviors include participating in surveys (23%) and quizzes / games (28%) that appear in their feeds or using their social media credentials to log into third-party apps and web pages (59%) .

Law enforcement and security experts warn against these types of behaviors as they can compromise users’ personal information and in some cases can be used to facilitate larger types of victimization.

The ugly one

At a societal level, even greater concerns have been raised about the broad implications of changing our social media habits. It has been widely noted in recent years that social media can facilitate the spread of disinformation and contribute to negative social / mental health effects. We also found evidence of these phenomena in the results of our recent survey.

For example, we’ve found that most Americans don’t trust the information they come across on social media platforms. Among active Facebook users, half of those surveyed (58%) said they rely on Facebook at least a little to stay informed on news and politics. However, three-quarters (75%) admitted to not trusting the accuracy of political information they come across on the platform.

These concerns are well founded, as recent evidence has highlighted the propensity for disinformation to spread unchecked on social networking sites.

We have also found that social media can significantly contribute to stress and mental health issues. For example, almost a third of adult respondents (32%) said they sometimes feel bad about their appearance when they see what others post on social media. This follows the recent publication of data from an internal Facebook study showing that Instagram has been linked to body image issues among many teenage users.

The USF study was conducted as an online survey using Prodege MR, a leading market research provider.  The sample of 1,000 adult social media users was selected to be representative of the demographic makeup of the country based on region, age, gender, race, ethnicity, education and political affiliation.  The results are reported with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error of +/- 3.1.  The investigation was sponsored by the Florida Center for Cybersecurity at USF.
The USF study was conducted as an online survey using Prodege MR, a leading market research provider. The sample of 1,000 adult social media users was selected to be representative of the demographic makeup of the country based on region, age, gender, race, ethnicity, education and political affiliation. The results are reported with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error of +/- 3.1. The investigation was sponsored by the Florida Center for Cybersecurity at USF. [ Provided ]

Additionally, most survey respondents noted that staying connected on social media can be a source of unnecessary stress, with more than half saying “keeping up with social media” can be stressful.

In sum

While our recent data collection only scratches the surface of the evolving impacts of social media on daily life, the survey results remind us that for most Americans, social media is a mixed bag. . While the convenience and connectivity offered by platforms like Facebook and Twitter have inherent value for millions of Americans, they come with significant risks. Users are encouraged to be vigilant in protecting their personal information and to avoid relying too much on social media.

Stephen Neely is Associate Professor in the School of Public Affairs at USF. Courtney Wilkerson and Zachary Blair-Andrews are students at USF Honors College. The USF study was conducted as an online survey using Prodege MR, a leading market research provider. The sample of 1,000 adult social media users was selected to be representative of the demographic makeup of the country based on region, age, gender, race, ethnicity, education and political affiliation. The results are reported with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error of +/- 3.1. The survey was sponsored by the Florida Center for Cybersecurity at USF


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