A lot of pixels have been spilled over the threats to privacy posed by the Web. Recently I had a chance to observe firsthand just how damaging social media can be (a story which, in the interests of privacy, I won’t post here).
On the other hand, I believe this powerful communications network has more potential for good than ill. Any medium is a tool that can be misused. The knife that chops vegetables can kill someone. The credit card that eases become the weapon of identity theft.
On balance, however, the possibilities for positive use of the Internet outweigh the bad. But I was still surprised to learn the American Psychological Association has just published research showing that blogging “had a stronger positive effect on troubled students’ well-being than merely expressing their social anxieties and concerns in the diary.”
That’s a quote from an overview of the research that appeared in Science Daily on January 4, 2012. (I’ll post a link to the actual report below.) The summary goes on to say:
Self-esteem, social anxiety, emotional distress and the number of positive social behaviors improved significantly for the bloggers when compared to the teens who did nothing and those who wrote private diaries. Bloggers who were instructed to write specifically about their difficulties and whose blogs were open to comments improved the most. All of these results were consistent at the two month follow-up.
When I read the study’s overview, I thought, “But what about cyberbullying?” This is what Azy Barak, the study’s co-author said:
Although cyberbullying and online abuse are extensive and broad, we noted that almost all responses to our participants’ blog messages were supportive and positive in nature. We weren’t surprised, as we frequently see positive social expressions online in terms of generosity, support and advice.
This is just one study, with all the limitations any such research has, but I find it encouraging. We all know there are plenty of people out there ready to attack at the first sign of difference or weakness. They are the same people who increase social anxiety and emotional distress in the first place. But this study points out that compassionate people are more numerous than the vocal uglies. When teens share their worries with the online community, good people step up to reassure them.
This gives me hope.
Meyran Boniel-Nissim, Azy Barak. “The therapeutic value of adolescents’ blogging about social–emotional difficulties.” Psychological Services, 2011; DOI:10.1037/a0026664