The idiom, “Women… can’t live with them, can’t live without them,” was coined by Desiderius Erasmus. Before you start an outrage mob against the Dutch scholar, note that he lived during the 15th and 16th centuries and he also said a lot of really smart things.
But if we take the old Dutchman’s logic and remove the gender reference, we can apply it to our feelings about social media. Just consider the findings of a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll.
First, the survey established the pervasiveness of social media in our lives. Seventy percent of adults is this country said they use such services at least once a day. That’s a lot of people. For example, Facebook says it has 2.3 billion users worldwide, while Twitter reports 320 million monthly tweeters.
With numbers like that, you would think there would be overwhelming satisfaction with social media. I mean, would half of West Virginians go to Myrtle Beach every year if they didn’t really like Myrtle Beach?
But that’s not exactly true with social media.
The poll found that a whopping 82 percent of Americans believe social media is a waste of time, while only 15 percent says tweeting and posting on Facebook is a good use of their time.
We frequently hear that social media is a way to connect with the rest of the world. That’s true, but what happens when we do connect? Only 35 percent said social media “does more to bring us together.” Fifty-seven percent said it “does more to divide us.”
Social media are now important platforms for news and information, but the survey found we don’t think they are very reliable. Fifty-five percent of respondents say social media does more to spread lies and falsehoods, while 31 percent said it spreads news and information.
Rex Repass, president of Research America, reviewed the poll results and concluded they do not bode well for social media as a primary news source. “Social media is perceived as spreading unfair rumors against public figures/corporations vs. providing reliable news and information, which historically was the role of the fourth estate.”
Micah Roberts with Public Opinion Strategies, which helped conduct the survey, said the findings are troubling. “If we saw the same, strongly negative force of opinion—spanning partisanship and age—stacked against any one of our corporate clients, I think they would certainly be concerned about their standing in the marketplace and in the halls of Congress,” he told the Wall Street Journal.*
The survey reveals another conundrum for Americans and social media. An increasing percentage of Americans don’t trust those companies to protect our personal information—60 percent don’t trust Facebook at all—but we are divided over whether we think the federal government should do more to regulate social media companies.
Interactive social media platforms are a great paradox. As the survey finds, a growing percentage of users have deep concerns about security, content and the impact on our society, but despite our unease we are not willing to disconnect.
*(The Wall Street Journal and NBC News used both Republican and Democratic polling firms for the survey.)