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Think. Discuss. Act. Social Media

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Review: The Social Media Debate

David Lumb. (2014, May 23). “No, Social Media Will Not Make Millennials Unelectable.” Popular Mechanics.


“Prior to the Internet, the adage was ‘Think before you act’ . . . But now it’s ‘Think before you upload, think before you tweet” says high school student Alex Petrillo.

Alex Petrillo and his debate partner Christian Pavlakos engaged in a lively debate at Internet Week NY with students Jacob Urda and Ben Kessler. The topic under debate was the benefits and dangers of social media.

I am sure most of us have heard the argument for and against the use of social media.  The dangers to privacy, the risk of cyberbullying, the surface level communication of ideas, and the detraction from meaningful relationships and distractions in social situations are touted as some of the dangers of social media. Some argue, like the debaters that the rise of social media “made the world smaller but at same time pulled us farther apart.” We certainly have the ability for more interactions—but are they more meaningful?

Others argue for the increase of available information and news, giving a voice to those otherwise voiceless, a platform for activism and mobilization, and a broadened ability to engage with both the culture and people of like-minded interests online.  The debaters in the video claim that “more than anything else, a trading of information” is made available through social media. They say that “some discourse,” however broad at times, “is better than no discourse at all”—and social media provides the platform for this discourse.

If you would like to hear the full volley of ideas from these bright high school students, watch the embedded video below:

David Lumb at Popular Mechanics wonders on the future effects of social media on the upcoming generation, including the young debaters:

It’s becoming clear that your tweets will be around forever. Will this derail political careers for the next generation?

If we make a mistake online, it’ll probably stay there forever. . . . What about teenagers trying to survive adolescence without tweeting something that will wreck their adulthoods?

It seems that at least some of the teens engaging in social media understand the consequences of their interactions on the internet and engage in “self-censorship.” One of the high school debaters told Lumb

“You’re engaging in an informal contract when you post online . . . You know that what you put on there will be permanent.”

Certainly not all teens are conscious of these risks and exercising self-restraint in their social media activity. But there are definitely some who, because of growing up in an internet culture, have learned to develop some sense of self-censoring. Lumb writes

Perhaps, then, the Most Unelectable Generation is not necessarily today’s over-documented teenagers, as rampant hand-wringing might suggest, but rather anyone who doesn’t understand how mundane posts become incriminating black marks. . . . most job casualties are experienced workers posting tweets, updates, or photos that fall outside of any standard for employee expression protections on social media.

Social media: blessing or curse? Perhaps this is still up for debate. But the concern over the wrecked futures of a generation?—Perhaps a bit exaggerated.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Which side of the debate do you tend to side with in the debate over social media? Why? What are the pros and cons of social media in your opinion? Do the benefits outweigh the dangers?
  2. Do you think your life is better off because of social media? Or worse? Why?
  3. Do you think that social media enhances relationships and makes them more widely accessible? Or do you think that social media detracts from meaningful relationships? Why? How have you seen this play out in your life or in the lives of those around you?
  4. Have you ever posted something you shouldn’t have (too private, inappropriate, incriminating, etc.) on social media? What were the consequences of these actions?
  5. Do you practice “self-censorship” on social media? Do you think that most teenagers do? How can you encourage the young people around you to practice self-restraint and thought concerning their interactions online?


  1. Social media comes with both dangers and benefits, and it is no wonder that the debate over it continues.
  2. In spite of this debate, by all appearances social media is here to stay. Perhaps our conversations would be more productive if we discuss safe and effective ways to use social media and look for ways to make it a helpful tool.
  3. One key to a beneficial use of social media is a practice of self-censorship in what is posted and shared. We should make an effort to teach young people today (and adults as well!) safe and smart internet habits.
  4. Many hold to the view that although social media may have many real benefits, the most important social interactions happen in person. We must never neglect or overlook real people, physically present for the sake of technology or online interactions.

Diana Gruver
© 2019 CYS

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