Half a century ago, no one could have predicted just how exactly the internet will impact the world. But in just a span of a few decades, the internet completely and irrevocably changed every aspect of life. The internet is a powerful thing; it is a tool that can be used for almost countless needs. But like many other powerful things, the internet can also be scary. It can pose new challenges just as it can solve problems. Indeed, the more people use the internet, the more they realize that there are a variety of internet and technology hazards. The power of the internet to change lives cannot be more apparent in its social impact, as shown in the discussion this research paper presents. As a channel for communication and a source of information, the internet has helped create a more connected society. But at the same time, the internet has given rise to new issues such as social isolation, crime, and political manipulation.
A foremost social impact of the internet is its creation of a more connected society. The internet is primarily two things. First, it is a channel for communication. Second, it is a source of information. One merely has to look at his or her own phone or computer to see the myriad ways that the internet connects people: social media where users can share content, media outlets that dispense real-time news, distance learning, online economic and financial transactions, and so much more. Each of these services have made possible a world where people could contact each other as well as upload, download, and exchange information for whatever purpose. The internet has enabled greater connection and turned the world into a village. The different effects of globalization on people’s social lives made possible by the internet demonstrate just how transformative this innovation has been.
Although the internet has positive social impact that creates a more digitally connected society, it has negative consequences as well. One negative effect of the internet is its contribution to social isolation, particularly in relation to social media. Social media can be a great tool for connecting with others. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram allow people to keep in touch with their friends and families as well as follow the lives of others including celebrities and leaders. But while people expect these technologies to bring people closer to one another, the effect is in many ways puzzlingly the opposite. In her groundbreaking book Alone Together, Sherry Turkle (2012) describes how the internet, social media, and new technologies give the illusion of social connection when in fact interactions mediated by these technologies or conducted on these platforms are of lower quality. Furthermore, the availability of the internet and its associated social media platforms in handheld devices has resulted in the culture of smartphone dependence within the last decade. Studies show that countless people spend hours on their phone every day (Matei, 2019). Most of these hours are spent just browsing aimlessly. In other words, the more time people spend on their devices the less time they have for authentic and fulfilling social interactions.
The internet has also been associated with risks to mental health. Unfortunately, the internet has been linked to increased rates of loneliness, depression, and sense of inadequacy in certain populations (Walton, 2017). For instance, some studies have shown that social media creates a filtered and unrealistic picture of users’ life, which in turn creates unrealistic expectations for others regarding their own lives. Another Moreover, some scholars have commented on how the internet contributes to narcissism as many become dependent on positive responses to shared content. A number of scholars have also pointed out how social media often fails to establish meaningful relationships between users due to interactions being quick and superficial.
Another negative impact of the internet is crime. The internet is not well-regulated, and thus it has become an avenue for various crimes including fraud, identity theft, bullying, and exploitation of vulnerable groups such as children. For instance, many have noted how the internet can be an unsafe place for children who do not receive parental supervision when browsing the internet. Another example is the leak of personal data. In one famous case, the data of more than 3 billion accounts under Yahoo were extracted by hackers. These data included names, email addresses, telephone numbers, and birthdates (Swinhoe, 2020). In another notorious case, the data of over 87 million Facebook users were extracted by a firm known as Cambridge Analytica (Isaac & Frenkel, 2018). Such cases illustrate the risks that the internet poses on people’s personal and financial wellbeing.
Finally, the internet has also become a tool for political manipulation. The recent years have shown how people could use the internet to influence political processes. For instance, the fact that information on the internet is not always subject to verification made it possible for some entities to spread fake news designed to influence people’s perceptions and actions. A survey performed by Statistical revealed, around 67% of those who answered admitted to being confused by fake news (Watson, 2020). The proliferation of fake news, in turn, can have drastic social consequences, from steering public opinion to serve the interests of certain individuals or groups to causing grave danger due to the misinformation over crucial public health issues like the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In conclusion, the internet is certainly an exceptional thing. In less than one generation, it has transformed the entire world and changed the way people live. The fact that more people today rely on it is testament to how the internet became a basic necessity. On one hand, the internet made the world a smaller place. It provided people with tools for communication and as a source of information. People today are able to connect and exchange information at a rapid pace. On the other hand, it has also led to feelings of social isolation for many, enabled new forms of crime, and became a weapon for political gain. But despite the negative effects, it can be said that the benefit people received from the internet still outweighs its detrimental impacts. Through proper use, guidelines, and adequate regulation, the internet can continue shaping society for the better.
Isaac, M. and Frenkel, S. (2018). “Facebook Security Breach Exposes Accounts of 50 Million Users.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/technology/facebook-hack-data-breach.html
Matei, A. (2019). “Shock! Horror! Do you know how much time you spend on your phone?” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/aug/21/cellphone-screen-time-average-habits#
Swinhoe, D. (2020). The 15 biggest data breaches of the 21st century. CSO Online. https://www.csoonline.com/article/2130877/the-biggest-data-breaches-of-the-21st-century.html
Turkle, S. (2012). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. Basic Books.
Walton, A. G. (2017) “Phone addiction is real – and so are its mental health risks.” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/12/11/phone-addiction-is-real-and-so-are-its-mental-health-risks/?sh=8a87cc913df3
Watson, A. (2019). Level of confusion caused by fake news about the basic facts of current issues and events in the United States as of March 2019. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/657037/fake-news-confusion-level/