Social Media & Youth: Opportunities and Challenges

Social Media & Youth: Opportunities and Challenges

With new tools and new knowledge, young people have a wide-open world to explore, learn, and share

The Internet in Kashmir is just two decades old. It was 14th August 2003 when the then prime minister of India AB Vajpayee launched cellular internet in Jammu & Kashmir state and since then it has been a long history of internet shutdowns in Kashmir from time to time. Internet has brought new opportunities to this part of the world but internet shutdowns have always disrupted the pace with which internet could have played a role in development of this region.
As internet brought opportunities it also brought ‘Social Media’ to Kashmiri society, and since its arrival it has taken our society by storm. Jammu and Kashmir has 60 lakh internet users and above 1 crore mobile phone subscribers. With cheaper internet available and arrival of Jio Telecommunication Company in Indian telecom sector, the launch of cheaper plans for subscribers gave a boost to internet users in India and then the Digital India initiative of Government of India gave a further boost to internet subscribers. Hence a whole new platform is now available even to people who had no prior knowledge of it.
Social media is an amazing invention that has brought the world closer than it has ever been. The latest figures show that there are expected to be 3.96 billion social media users worldwide in 2022 and, in 2025, experts project that the total social media users in China will reach 1.13 billion and those in India will reach 490.3 million. In little more than a decade, the impact of social media has gone from being an entertaining extra to a fully integrated part of nearly every aspect of daily life for many. With the advent of mobile technology devices and the growth of social media platforms, many youth have access not only to media more easily and quickly but also to make media and share it.
A new wave of learning through social media has opened up doors for young people to learn everything from foreign languages to how to write computer code and everything in between. You can now know what is taking place in USA or the effects of Brexit. All this vast amount of knowledge at your fingertips is completely new, and in some ways youth benefit more than adults because of their familiarity with new media and their openness to using it as a source of learning.
Social networking sites and the use of wireless communication programmes allow real-time conversations with someone from a distance. This provides opportunity to continue relationships that in the past would have been too distant and to build new relationships with friends from around the world. We come to know from our elder generation about letter writing. However, the wait in between letters was a challenge and they soon faded way. Now the open line of communication builds new understandings and collaborations for young people from very different cultures. They can build worldwide coalitions around everything from special interests and hobbies to activism activities.
The ease of making media provides the chance not only to make original media but also to share one’s creations with the world. Armed with a smart phone that has a camera, one can tell a story and broadcast it to millions of people across the globe. Isn’t that amazing? Apps such as Instagram make it possible to record 60 sec videos and share. Mobile technology puts the ability to take photographs and create films right in the hands of young people. Sites such as YouTube, social networking sites, and blogging sites allow young people to develop a worldwide audience for their work. Instead of waiting until they can afford expensive equipment, young people can use mobile devices to hone their filmmaking and photography skills as they grow and learn. This brings new vision and fresh ideas into media industries.
With opportunities also come challenges. The challenges in this new age of quick and easy social media come in both the consumption of media and in the creation of media. One of the greatest challenges that youth face in negotiating new media revolves around sex. With the average adolescent on WhatsApp with an average contact list of 200+ and using the Internet for 18.5 hours per week or more, exposure to media that depicts unhealthy sexual practices and attitudes is high. Given the news of sex tapes leaks, nude pictures leaks have become often and with the association of some respectable adults with such news, it is no surprise that young people think it’s cool to send and request for nudes. Not only is pornography more accessible than ever, but also even mainstream media tends to depict sexual behaviour without any mention of risk or responsibility. This creates a very real challenge for youth who may be relying on media to provide them with guidance and information about sexuality and sexual practices. From cyber bullying to sexting, social media opens up avenues for problems in social relationships that did not exist in the 90s. But now it’s possible to have adult bullies on social media. As teens and tweens, as they call themselves on Twitter, use more mediated forms of communication, the chance for miscommunication expands exponentially. Between texting and social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and recent in-trend Clubhouse, youth communicate more easily with friends outside of school and extracurricular activities. But because of the lack of traditional social cues such as body language and facial expression, many will end up arguing with friends over issues that may not have arisen if they had been talking to one another face to face.
Of course, the danger of being victimised by an adult predator is always lurking when youth use social media to communicate with people who are unknown to them in real life. Kids who use mobile technology to share sexy photos of themselves with a friend may find that the ease of sharing pictures leads what they thought were private to become public. Arguments, sexy photos and conversation, and bullying that begin through social media can expand into real life and cause devastating social problems for young people.
These challenges of media use and accessibility are very real, and youth need guidance from trusted adults to learn how to negotiate them in order to make the most out of the opportunities that increased access creates. Problem is parents and elders who are supposed to be guiding children have no idea whatsoever on how social media works. They are clueless that their kids are sending and receiving inappropriate pictures while seated there with them. But, along with these challenges come opportunities for youth to increase their knowledge and skills and to share their own ideas more broadly.
Youth today have opportunities to use media in ways that could not have even been imagined twenty years ago. There is no doubt that media literacy education is a must for children and adolescents today. With opportunity comes challenge, but when young people are provided with media literacy education, it gives them the tools to learn to use social media safely, to critically analyse the messages that are being sent to them from different sites, and to learn to construct and share media and their thoughts, skills, and knowledge on their own terms. With these new tools and this new knowledge, young people have a wide-open world to explore, learn, and share.

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