People who fear social media, fear something they don't understand


Greg Barila says social media can be a positive force in our community. Picture: Brad Hunter Source: News Corp. Australia

IT'S an agent powerful enough to wreck political careers, leave sports heroes red faced and musicians vowing never to go near it again.
But it's not booze, not drugs, not the thrill of breaking the law.
It's that bogeyman of the modern age - social media.
You've heard of social media? It is that dark force of evil, turning our teenagers into hate monsters and trashing the innocence of our children, while we look on horrified and helpless.
Great acreages of pixels and newsprint have been dedicated to the scourge of social networks like Facebook and the very real and worrisome problems that have developed in the few years since they were invented.
Cyber-bullying, trolling, getting busted chucking a sickie, tweeting while drunk.
Social media has left many victims in its trail and the media has been right to tell their stories.
It can be a dangerous and ugly force. But so too can fire, guns and electricity, and like them, social media has awesome powers to do extraordinary good.
Every day, millions of tiny transactions are taking place, which make a positive difference to people's lives but you won't read about them.
A few weeks ago, my friend Melanie took a Yellow Cab in the city and was so happy with the service, she decided to let her driver's bosses know by firing off a message on Twitter.
"Just wanted to thank cabbie Tony for great customer service this evening. My journey was Keswick Terminal to airport".
Melanie sent the message in hope that Tony's bosses might give him a pat on the back, if not a pay rise or promotion. Hope that others might see it and give the company a whirl next time they needed a ride. Recommendations from friends is one of the most powerful and positive uses of social media.
We used to turn to Google for the nearest shoe repairer, removalist or mortgage broker.
Now, we turn to our own social search engine, our friends and connections, for tips we can trust.
When it comes to social media our focus and energy shouldn't be on the dim, pimple-faced trolls who crave fame by causing others to be hurt and embarrassed.
They should be on ways in which social tools online petitions, sites and networks - and our being more connected now than at no other point in history can empower us, build communities and make our world better.
We saw them in use in inspiring ways after the recent Boston Marathon bombings.
In the editable spreadsheets allowing people to add useful resources for people in need, set up by organisations like The Boston Globe and Geeks Without Borders.
In Google's People Finder, the deceptively simple online noticeboard set up in 2010 following the Haiti earthquake that has since become an indispensable way for people to get news about loved ones in the wake of a humanitarian crisis.
Social media is making great strides in politics, education and health that, in time, will benefit every person, even trolls and bullies.
By analyzing tweets and Facebook status updates, researchers have begun to realize the predictive power of social media to understand which new film will be a hit at the box office or when and where flu outbreaks will occur.
Crowdsourcing platforms like Kickstarter and Crowdrise are tapping the people of the crowd to get new products and businesses off the ground and raise money for charity.
They sound like good things, right?
People who fear the evil forces of social media fear something they don't truly understand.
It's time we stopped worrying about what idiots alone are doing on social media and start imagining what we could do together with them if we tried.
This column was first published in The City Messenger and on advertiser.com.au