Social Media Literacy Essential for Healthy Networking

Social media illiteracy in families will further widen the generation gap and bring about additional social problems
There are more than 22 million smart phone users in the country.There are more than 22 million smart phone users in the country.

Strengthening social media literacy is the best strategy to counter social harm due to the pervasiveness of cyberspace. Over 30% of children and adolescents who fall victim to cyber harassment and bullying come from families lacking web and media literacy, said Shirin Ahmadnia, head of the Social Harm Prevention Department at the State Welfare Organization.

She was speaking Thursday at a function on ‘Families and Cyberspace’ in Qaemshahr, Mazandaran Province.

“As we live in the age of information technology, all aspects of human life are constantly influenced by the World Wide Web.”

Social networks can make people feel connected to a larger community, but such easy, casual connection in an electronic environment can, and does, have its downsides.

There are positive and negative sides to modern communication, and “optimal harnessing of the positive side would require specialized assessment,” she said, IRNA reported.

Noting that the youth are the major target group for cyberspace, Ahmadnia said families and parents in particular, must be media literate to help prevent potential harm among children.

“Unfortunately, the negative consequences of new information technologies outweigh the positive sides.”

The immediacy provided by social media leaves people vulnerable to cyber harassment or bullying in which the perpetrators, anonymously or even posing as people their victims trust, terrorize individuals in front of their peers.

Cyber harassment is the use of information and communications technology (ICT) to harass, control, manipulate or habitually disparage a child, adult, business or group without a direct or implied threat of physical harm. Unlike physical harassment involving face-to-face contact, cyber harassment requires the use of ICT and could be in the form of verbal, emotional or social abuse. The cyber harasser’s primary goal is to exert power and control over the targeted victim.

On the other hand, cyber bullying is the use of ICT between minors to humiliate, taunt and disparage one another. Cyber bullying is intended to tease, embarrass, deprecate and defame a targeted minor with the assailant’s developmental need for peer acceptance and recognition being a priority.

The devastation of these online attacks can leave deep mental scars. In several well-publicized cases, victims have been driven to suicide. The anonymity afforded online lets loose reckless impulses. Cyber bullying has spread widely among the youth, with 42% reporting that they have been victims, said a 2010 CBS news report.

  Widening Generation Gap

Highlighting the fact that online connections have replaced face-to-face quality time among people, weakening social bonds, Ahmadnia who is also an instructor at Allameh Tababaei University of Tehran, said in such an environment the print and traditional media has also been undermined.

Social media illiteracy in families will further widen the generation gap and bring about additional social problems.

“About 80% of Iranian youths have constant access to the internet, with the age group 14-22 on the top of the user list.”

Social and online media tools have also reduced teenagers’ and young adults’ self-esteem and challenged their ability to interact with the society. It also creates depression and isolation by extension.

She underscored the importance of parental bond with children to create a safe atmosphere where they can feel free to talk about their problems.

Over 114 social networks are active in Iran, most of which operate for entertainment. More than 50% of users spend more than one hour a day on social networks including WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Linkedin.

According to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, 13 million Iranians are currently using Telegram, a social messaging application for smartphones, through which an assortment of information with no authentic source, and a mix of fact and fiction are circulated on a daily basis. With more than 22 million smart phones in the country, the need for an effective system to deal with the socio-cultural impact of cyberspace is being felt more than ever before.

“We need to be able to look at new communication and telecommunication tools as an opportunity, not a threat,” Ahmadnia maintained.

She also said a project titled ‘Patoq’ (literary ‘hangout’) has been launched by the SWO in schools of Tehran Province. A peer-reviewing program, students are asked to monitor and report on the social harm they see in their friends.

In cooperation with the Education Ministry, the project was piloted in Isfahan Province last year, and Tehran is the second province to execute it this academic year (began September 24).

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