Technological advancement has greatly improved the quality of life in modern-day society. Because of technology, people are now able to easily reach their friends and relatives from all over the world. In addition, the use of social media has created an opportunity for individuals to create new relationships that can last for the rest of their lives. Historically, social media networks started with the launching of Myspace in the year 2003. This was later followed by the other networks that included Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram among others. Presently, millions of people around the world are strongly addicted to their smartphones, laptops, or other smart devices that can facilitate access to social media networks. While the goal of all social media networks is to make it possible for people around the world to connect and share information and ideas, there is a significant difference in the approach adopted by each network. Collectively, social media networks bring individuals with similar interests together and permit them to share photos, information, memories, and tweets.
Drawing from a study by Boyd and Ellison (2007), social media networks are web-based facilities that allow individuals all over the world to get connected and stay in touch with friends and relatives. With the help of social media, private individuals have the liberty to select those they would like to share information and experiences with. Apparently, the nature and nomenclature of connections created tend to vary from one social media network to another. This paper looks at the effects of social media networks on individuals and examines the negative as well as positive effects of these networks on the daily lives of individuals.
Generally, individuals who have a strong attachment to social media networks end up being affected in one way or another. This is based on the cultivation theory that has been used to examine the impact that watching television has on individuals (Morgan & Shanahan, 2010). The theory asserts that people who have extreme exposure to television are likely to behave like the characters they see on television. The cultivation theory was initiated by George Gerbner with assistance from his counterpart named Larry Gross.
According to the theorists, television watching has a great influence on viewers’ perceptions of life. Ostensibly, prolonged exposure to television programs fosters a perception toward life that is consistent with what is portrayed on television screens. Unfortunately, the bulk of what is televised goes against the norms of society. For instance, some channels major on violence and create an impression in the mind of viewers that violence is a norm that should be upheld in the society. Obviously, this is quite misleading and creates lawlessness. Continuous exposure to violent and unethical images on television makes people start viewing the world as a cruel and insidious environment. As argued by Gerbner and Gross, television is responsible for the fact that many people in modern-day society regard the world as being evil (Morgan & Shanahan, 2010).
While some people are opposed to Gerbner and Gross’ ideology, others are in support of the allegations made by the two. Those who are in support of the ideology are said to have tested it in real life. Research professionals who are in agreement with Gerbner and Gross’ theory claim that individuals who have cultivated judgments are oblivious of the fact that television contents have a great influence on their decision-making process. Arguably, they are completely unaware that radio, newspapers, or other communication channels control how they think. In order to confirm their assertion, they collected statistics from two different groups. The results from the statistics indicated that participants who had been exposed to viewing television programs for long believed that society was more violent when compared to those who had little exposure to television (Morgan & Shanahan, 2010).
Hetsroni and Lowenstein (2013) also argued that society is divided into groups. One group is made up of individuals who live in the real world while the other faction resides in the television world. The perception of the latter group is largely controlled by the television. The danger of cultivating a belief that is influenced by watching television is that it causes most viewers to have a negative perception of society. Portraying society as a crime-ridden place is responsible for violent behaviors that are witnessed among most viewers of television. Sadistic and criminal mannerisms have been reported to increase, particularly among youngsters as a result of watching television programs.
As pointed out earlier, some scholars are of the opinion that the cultivation theory is erroneous and that it does not occur in real life. For instance, Gerbner and Gross’ opponents claim that panic encountered by people when walking at night is not a result of extreme exposure to television. Hughes, one of the vehement opponents of Gerbner and Gross’ doctrine, believes in the existence of other factors that cause people to see the world as a violent-ridden place (Hetsroni & Lowenstein, 2013). Such factors comprise sex, race, environment, and social status. Hughes opines that cultivation theory is a flawed generalization of the impact of television on society.
Drawing from the study by Hetsroni and Lowenstein (2013), many other studies suggest that television is not the only thing that causes individuals to have a misguided belief about society. Arguably, sources of information such as newspapers also influence a reader’s view about society. Various research professionals have endeavored to show that individuals who persistently read violent stories presented through print media such as newspapers also portray society as being extremely aggressive and sinister.
Relating Social Media Effect on Individuals and Cultivation Theory
In this paper, reference to the cultivation theory is made because of the fact that it helps to understand how individuals in the society are affected by social media networks. Similar to television watching, addiction to social media networks have an influence on the way individuals live in the contemporary society. Just like television affects the behavior of people in the society, social media does the same.
From the discussion in the previous section, it is clear that Gerbner and Gross’ concept of the cultivation theory has been supported and opposed with equal measure. The same can be said of social media networks. While some researchers are of the idea that social media networks portray society very negatively, others are of a contrary opinion.
Positive and Negative Effects of Social Media Networks
There are several positive effects that can be associated with the use of social media networks. According to Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe (2007), social media networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Myspace make it possible for individuals to connect and share information, photos, and other personal effects. Ostensibly, there is a strong link between the use of social media networks and career development. Social media networks create an opportunity for students to stay connected long after graduating from school and this creates an opportunity for them to support one another. Maintaining strong social media network connections permits college graduates to get jobs or internship opportunities that help them to advance in their chosen professional careers. Social media networks also simplify the process of creating and maintaining collaborative groups at the workplace. Such groups can make it easy for a company to utilize resource persons located in different places around the world.
There are, however, some negative aspects of social media networks. According to a study by Bahney (2006), concerns have been raised by troubled parents about predators who spend their time monitoring the activities of social media networks for possible victims. The target for these predators is usually underage children who are inexperienced in life. Out of fear and distress about the safety of their children, most parents have made a deliberate decision to control how their children use the Internet (Bahney, 2006). Other negative effects of social media networks include the development of antisocial behavior, poor academic performance, addiction to the Internet, and cyberbullying.
The research applied a qualitative technique to obtain data on the effects of social media networks. The study population included students from Zayed University (ZU). Moreover, the research design concentrated on the use of a focus group discussion between students selected from ZU. The focus group discussion was conducted by asking the selected students questions and allowing them to respond. Focus group discussion was chosen to obtain in-depth information on the phenomenon under study.
Additionally, the researcher developed an interview guide to assist in determining the issues discussed. All students were expected to give their perspectives on the research topic. The study employed inductive reasoning to generate specific answers about the effect of social media networks. Furthermore, the incorporation of inductive arguments provided information on the patterns of social media network usage among the participants.
Construction of the Research and Operationalization of the Concepts
The focus group discussion was undertaken in a secluded room after university hours. The researcher sent e-mails to all participants regarding the commencement time. In order to enable participants to prepare adequately, they were all informed that the discussion was to last for two hours. During the focus group session, the discussion was copied word-for-word and tape-recorded. The moderator ensured that all questions on the interview guide were discussed.
After the focus group discussion, the researcher transcribed the data by typing the recordings in a Microsoft Word document. In an effort to ensure that all the information was captured, data on the hard copies were compared to the tape-recorded information.
The concepts were later operationalized by developing themes. For ease of interpretation, the themes represented the various variables investigated. The variables included antisocial behavior, psychological well-being, academic performance, Internet addiction, self-esteem, and bullying.
Sampling, Data Analysis, and Data Presentation
A random sampling technique was applied to identify those who took part in the focus group discussion. In addition, the researcher developed a sampling frame that included students from ZU. A computerized random calculator was used to select 10 students who participated in the focus group discussion. The choice of the sampling technique was meant to eliminate any potential bias and to ensure that all students had an equal chance of being selected. After the data was cleaned and arranged into themes, it was analyzed using NVivo software. The data was then presented in form of proportions.
In the focus group discussion, the students were asked to discuss questions designed to respond to the research question. The main question in the study had to do with how the lives of individuals are affected by the use of social media networks.
Effect of the Qualitative Research Design on the Research Question and Results
The qualitative design was effective in answering the research question since it ensured that comprehensive information was gathered from the participants. Furthermore, the focus group discussion enabled participants to debate contentious issues related to the topic and hence promote saturation of information. The qualitative design also permitted the researcher to obtain as much information as possible about the effect of social media networks on students. Moreover, it guaranteed the development of research hypotheses that could be tested through quantitative research studies.
Based on the findings in this study, positive effects of social media networks on individuals include the fact that social media networks make it possible for individuals to be in the know of what is happening in society. Students get an opportunity to access so much information that can help to supplement what is learned in class. Social media networks also play an important role in connecting families and friends scattered all over the world. In addition, social media networks have created an easier and cheaper way for individuals to interrelate.
Negative effects of social media networks on individuals include the fact that individuals can get addicted to the use of Internet and this can have an undesirable effect on their health status. Students on the other hand may perform dismally as a result of being hooked to social media networks. The use of social media networks also poses a danger to traditional face-to-face encounters that have been integral to growth and development of the young generation in society.
When asked about the effect of social media networks on heavy and light users, it turned out that heavy users of social media networks suffer so much from being isolated. This is mainly because such users tend to spend most of their time using their electronic devices to access social media networks. On the other hand, light users confessed to the fact that accessing social media networks is not a priority.
Undeniably, social media networks affect the way individuals live from day today. While several positive effects are associated with the use of social media networks, it is important to be aware of the negative side of social media networks. As discussed in this paper, some are convinced that the use of social media networks has a positive impact on the lives of individuals. On the other hand, some scholars think that social media networks hurt the lives of individuals.
Among the positive effects of social media networks is the fact that students get an opportunity to share learning experiences. Social media networks also create an avenue through which college graduates can stay connected and offer support to each other after graduating.
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Hetsroni, A. & Lowenstein, H. (2013). Cultivation and Counter Cultivation: Does Religiosity Shape the Relationship between Television viewing and Estimates of Crime Prevalence and Assessment of Victimization Likelihood? Psychological Reports, 112(1), 303 – 324.
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