Social Media; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

March 11, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

Social Media: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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I had a client tell me once that, although they were interested in booking a newborn photography session, they weren’t comfortable with their children appearing on my social media. When I told them that my social media previews are completely optional, they sighed with relief. Apparently, they had contacted another newborn photographer before me, who told them that unless they agreed to her social media policy (i.e. that she could share any of their images she wanted) she wouldn’t accept their booking. I wish I knew who that photographer was so I could send a thank you note; because of her decision, I’ve had a returning client for several years now.

Let me tell you a secret. I really don’t like social mediaActually scratch that. To clarify, I really don't like what humans have done to social media.

So why do I use it? Grab a cuppa, this is quite a long one!

“Put your hand up if you don’t have Facebook for your business” I still remember how embarrassed I was when the speaker at the photography seminar I was attending looked at me and the other chap with our hands up and said, “Well you are both stupid!”

He had gone on to explain that, as photography is such a visual business, we really needed social media to enable us to get our work seen and bring the bookings in. Desperate to promote my fledgling photography business in the best way possible I of course went straight home and set up my social media accounts. To this day I've never learned how to do much more than the basics, but it has worked to a certain extent and I will begrudgingly admit that the seminar leader was right. As a photographer I needed to get my work seen. Word of mouth referrals are brilliant, but prospective clients need to be able to see what I am capable of if I’m going to win their custom ahead of the competition. And there is so, so much competition around these days.

In today's digital age, social media has become an integral part of daily life. From an easy way to connect with family and friends to staying updated on current events, its influence is huge. When I first heard of social media I was quite optimistic and excited for its future however, as time has gone on and the more pervasive social media has become, the more concerned I’ve become. In this blog post, I’m going have a little personal rant and look at all sides of social media: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good:

Without a doubt social media has revolutionised communication, the world is now a much smaller place as the likes of Facebook, Instagram and TikTok have reached out and enabled us to make connections across the globe. Social media provides a platform for people to express themselves, share their stories, and find like-minded individuals. My daughter, a self-confessed book nerd, has grown quite a following from fellow book lovers interested in her ongoing search for more editions to add to her growing Wuthering Heights collection. For businesses, it offers wonderful opportunities for marketing, brand building, and customer engagement. Social media has also been instrumental in driving social movements, raising awareness about important issues, and facilitating grassroots activism.

In addition, social media is a vast source of information and knowledge. These days there is so much opporunity for anyone to learn, grow and explore new interests through the many educational resources and tutorials that can easily be found on line. Social media encourages creativity and innovation that allows us, including myself as a newborn and portrait photographer, to showcase our talents and pursue our passions.

Social media can also bring happiness and cheer - how many of us turn to social media when we feel a little sad and soon find ourselves laughing at the latest funny cat video? How many of us have felt joy at an update post from a couple who have struggled for years with fertility issues and are now sharing the long awaited news that they are pregnant?

If only social media could have developed into and remained such a positive and good place! Alas, due to human nature, this was never going to be possible.

The Bad:

As we all know, among its many benefits, social media has a much darker side. Being a member of Gen X my childhood was internet and social media free and, while I do appreciate the need for us to develop technologically, I do wish there was a real way to protect today’s children from this darker side of social media.

"In a world where you can be anything, be kind". These words were shared by Caroline Flack in the months before she took her own life. After news of her death broke, the 'Be Kind' message was circulated widely over social media. Did that bring about any change in our attitudes? It seems to me that we have developed a general immunity to the negative side of social media. I watch the news, I know there is evil in this world, but I have honestly been surprised at just how downright nasty 'regular' people can be. Sadly, social media allows us to spew hatred and intolerance to the world while hiding safely behind a pseudonym.

Although I have social media for business I rarely use it on a personal level. Recently however, I joined a Facebook group which had been set up as a platform for the sharing of old photographs. My grandad loved taking photos and I have plenty of images from bygone times that I was looking forward to sharing. I shared one image, which as of today has had 1.6k likes, (if only my business pages had that much interaction!) Unfortunately, after reading just a few other posts and comments I have decided that I will never be contributing to that forum again. Let me explain. Someone had posted a photograph of old London, taken in the 1930s and showing businessmen on their way to work. The image was obviously taken at a time before London was the multicultural city it is today and consequently, all of the faces in the image were white. To be honest, I was lost in enjoying the old photo and hadn't even noticed that particular aspect but I was astounded at the number of racist comments made by other forum members. I saw very few positive comments about the photograph, the fascinating vintage clothing, transport or buildings; just nasty, racist attacks from keyboard warriors on cultures they don't approve of and are too ignorant to understand.

I found that unsettling enough, but then something else happened.

Being a newborn photographer I often get posts popping up on my feed (those algorithms are scarily intelligent!) which concern babies or parenting and one day, such a post popped up showing a beautiful little boy. His mum had shared some images talking about how well he was doing, and how all her fears of having a child with down's syndrome had vanished since having him and watching him grow. There were photos of him just after birth, photos of him sitting, photos of him laughing and playing, it was a wonderful, uplifting post. The very first comment I read was from somone who felt it was appropriate to publicly state that this beautiful child should have been aborted. Imagine how that family must have felt! I cannot begin to comprehend what would make a fellow human being make such a comment. We are supposed to be the most intelligent and advanced species on the planet, people like this commenter sadly prove that we are not.

In addition to giving mankind a platform on which to freely spread their personal negativity and malice, social media has been criticised for facilitating the spread of fake news.

Social media algorithms are designed to maximise user engagement and therefore often give priority to sensationalist content without having their accuracy checked, leading to more and more people becoming outraged at false or altered stories. For example in 2017 a story emerged that a Muslim wearing a suicide vest had opened fire in a Spanish supermarket 'screaming Allahu Akbar’ while ‘carrying a bag filled with petrol and gunpowder.' It was later confirmed by the supermarket itself that the perpetrator had in fact been a Spanish national with mental illness who wasn’t wearing a suicide vest and had definitely not shouted 'Allahu Akbar'.

By the time the truth came out the attention-grabbing story had been shared over social media many hundreds of times, no doubt fanning the flames of islamophobia in those who believed it to be fact.

I wrote a blog years ago about another untrue story which again, had been published and gone viral due to a sensationalist headline. This one was about a baby who had apparently been 'blinded by a camera phone flash'. You can read that particular rant here if you're interested!

I am very concerned about the impact social media has on mental health, particularly the mental health of our young people. With so many influencers promoting the latest beauty and diet trends and so many filters showing what the ‘perfect face’ should be like, the pressure to present a curated, perfect image can lead to feelings of inadequacy, comparison, and low self-esteem. It hurts my heart when I'm asked by younger clients to 'make my arms look thinner', 'make my double chin disappear' or when they make comments like 'I don't like looking at the camera; my eyes are weird'. Incidentally, I very rarely get older clients asking for such post process manipulations; whether or not this is because they don't tend to use social media as much as the younger generations I don't know. 

In addition to promoting negative body image, there are the constant stream of information and notifications promoting thoughts like 'Who has liked my post?' 'Why haven't I got many likes on my post?' 'Why has he liked her post and not mine?' and so on. This must surely contribute to anxiety, stress, and digital addiction! People are making money out of selling fake likes and fake followers to insecure small business owners! What does that tell you?

The Ugly:

One of the most alarming aspects of social media is its potential for misuse and exploitation. From cyberbullying and online harassment to data breaches and privacy violations, the darker side of social media can have devastating consequences. You simply cannot believe what you see these days. There are so many fake accounts, bots and trolls around who have undermined trust in online communities and institutions.

More recently ‘deep fake AI’ presents significant dangers on social media due to its potential to deceive and manipulate people on a large scale. Deep fake can be used to create highly convincing videos or audio recordings of public figures saying or doing things they never actually did. This can in turn be used to spread false information, manipulate public opinion, incite social unrest, and commit fraud. It is terrifying to think that in this modern age anyone’s likeness can be used without their consent to create realistic looking imagery, making blackmail and extortion a real concern.

Don’t even get me started on how social media is used by politicians to slander their opponents! What really bothers me is the amount of people who believe the rubbish spouted by certain prominent politicians – the amount of power we give these people is quite frankly terrifying!

It is so important for social media platforms, governments, and developers to work together to find a way of detecting and dealing with the spread of deep fake content, as well as to educate us all on how to identify these false postings when they pop up on our social media feeds.

If you’re still with me then thank you for your patience while I have had vented my personal frustrations about social media.

In summary; I believe social media is a double-edged sword. It is indeed a powerful tool, but one that both unites and divides us, one that can bring us joy but also bring us harm. Social media has revolutionised the way we communicate, empowered us to speak out and enabled us to share our stories and talents online.  From a personal point of view, social media has definitely helped my business and I am grateful for that; but I am also very nervous about its unchecked influence and the ever advancing technology which continues to place its users at risk.

It is essential that we all remain vigilant and responsible as we use social media; by recognising and acknowledging its strengths and shortcomings we can hopefully strive to harness its power for good while navigating its negative impacts.


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