Social media: Curse or blessing?

Left, Jacklyn Alex and Marynold Toston enjoy an item they found on the internet. Right, A group of girls from Rita create a short video for the popular app TikTok. Photos: Wilmer Joel.

WILMER JOEL
The existence of the term “Generation Z” is not by coincidence, considering the extent to which social media and electronics shape the identity of Marshallese youth, creating a new generation of island youth.

Among the main platforms influencing today’s youth are TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Tencent’s free-to-play battle royale game, Play Underground (PUBG). The nature of interaction among youth has evolved due to social media, with it now mostly happening virtually on social media.

A casual stroll around the College of the Marshall Islands campus reveals that the majority of young people are glued to their mobile devices, which they use for a variety of activities like gaming, texting, and browsing through social media.

The PUBG gamers, however, are a constant presence. One of those die-hard fans, Damilee Timothy, said to the Journal, “PUBG is life.” One day without PUBG, he says, is unbearable. “When I don’t play PUBG, I feel sleepy, lazy, and bored.”

Damilee mentioned that he would play all day long, taking a few breaks between lunch and dinner. Connecting with people from all over the world — whether they are well-known gamers or just regular users — is what he claims to love most about the game. He added that recording or streaming gameplay videos and counting the number of viewers determines how much money you can earn from the game. One negative aspect of PUBG that Damilee despises is when other players use foul and offensive language.

In the 2021 census, which was the most recent population count by the Economic Policy, Planning and Statistics Office, 3,658 youths between the ages of 15 and 24 reported having a mobile phone, and a total of 4,185 young people had an internet connection.

At the beginning of this year, the Marshall Islands had 22,700 internet users, or 54.2 percent of the population, according to DataReportal. Over 20,000 people in the Marshall Islands used social media, making up 48.7 percent of the country’s total population. There were 7,844 active cellular mobile connections, which translates to 18.8 percent of the total population.

Few Marshallese youth express their views on the negative and positive impacts of social media. “Youth have used social media as a diversion when attending family events,” stated Isatako Timothy, who is currently studying in Taiwan. “Youth barely take time to have conversations with family members because they’re too busy on their phones, or when students have to study, they don’t because they’re on their phones.” She went on, “But now that we have social media, we can connect with our family members and see them on video calls, just like we are in their presence. Especially now that we are in college, far away from our family and home, we have our phones to be able to reach them.”

The value of social media relies on the content, according to Jadd Joseph, a CMI student. On the plus side, he claims social media serves as a useful tool for reporting missing children and increasing public awareness of tragic events like the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.

University of the South Pacific student Cartina Henos says that social media is instrumental in raising awareness about important issues facing the world today. “Social media allows us to share significant news, concepts, and viewpoints with people all over the world, in addition to fostering relationships with distant family members and friends.”

On the other end of the stick, Joseph said that kids are susceptible when it comes to using social media. “Social media constantly finds loopholes in kid-friendly videos by adding adult content,” he said, making reference to the YouTube Kids app. Joseph advises parents to set up a trusting relationship with their children once they have learned how to use social media responsibly and to monitor their usage.

Influencers who start trends on the internet sometimes go too far, he continued. “My fear concerning the trends on social media can lead to something like breaking into people’s homes like they did in London,” he said.

Joseph calls on lawmakers to enact legislation that will facilitate ethical, safe, and effective use of social media by the people of the country. To address hate speech, slander, libel, misinformation, bigotry, racism, sexism, and cyberbullying, among others.

Henos agreed with Joseph’s assessment of the drawbacks of social media, adding that it can discourage students from their studies, lead to feelings of anxiety and isolation, and have a detrimental influence on teenagers’ attitudes and actions.

Joseph told the Journal that social media is the “giant” reason for the decline of Marshallese culture among the youth. “When you are connected to social media, you are exposed to different cultures,” he said. “If youth are exposed to these diverse cultures, it makes them more invested in other cultures than in their upbringing.”

Furthermore, he asserted that social media causes youth to lose interest in culture. “It primes our minds to forget our identity, and time will tell if culture will die as a result of social media.”

For Isatako, she said that social media promotes cultural awareness and preserving Marshallese traditional histories. “There are some accounts where photos and stories of our elders and culture are shared (through social media).”

For readers of the Journal and social media users, Joseph offered some usage advice. Consider your words before speaking, avoid sharing personal information too frequently, double-check posts and fact-check them, show kindness to one another, and check in with close friends and family for conversations — not random strangers you have met online.

“Social media is not your best friend, counselor, coach, or medicine,” he said. “Take information with a grain of salt.”

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