Can social media help overcome the problem of illiteracy?
Social media can be a double-edged sword. While one side of it seems to contain some informative and educational articles, another side of social media seems to be time-wasting and unconducive. The answer to this question largely depends on who you ask. To the older generation, social media may be viewed in a negative light when it comes to promoting literacy. On the other hand, the younger generation may believe that social media does indeed help literacy. As with most things, the real answer lies in how social media is used.
How Social Media Helps Literacy
The Internet is ripe with billions of articles on just about any topic. These articles are frequently being shared on social media by people who found them interesting and want their friends to learn something as well. From news reports to scholarly journals to a single person’s opinionated view, it is difficult to ever run out of articles to read on the Internet. Viewing articles online is a good way to encourage reading in people’s everyday lives, many of whom may not have touched a hardcopy book for years.
For all its debates, social media also sparks people to write about their opinions and feelings. While it may have been difficult to get your own article published in the past, social media allows anyone to create an account and start posting online, opening a new avenue of opportunities. Blogging platforms have surged in popularity, where anyone can create their own page for free and write articles on anything of their fancy. Forums are another platform where users often write lengthy posts to discuss different topics with one another. Whether people are sharing their thoughts in a civil manner or simply arguing with another netizen, social media certainly brings out the writer in many people.
Social media is also frequently used for classroom discussions, as a way for classmates and their teachers to keep in touch outside school hours. In this way, social media enables informational article sharing in classroom groups at any time of the day, without requiring anyone to bring a paper article to class and photocopy it for everyone to read.
Social media, particularly video sharing sites, contains just as many informational videos as articles. Just a quick search away, one can find videos on anything, from how to read and write to how to perform complex mental calculations. Some people have also taught themselves a number of useful skills from watching videos on social media, including playing a musical instrument, doing magic tricks, learning a new language or starting their own business, many of which they did not learn in the classroom. Furthermore, the videos are mostly free, enabling anyone with an Internet connection and a computer or mobile device to benefit from these educational videos.
Apart from relating to the ability to read and write, literacy in its broader sense relates to the knowledge about any subject. In this case, social media can help to improve cultural literacy as it exposes Internet users to a variety of other people from different countries. One can easily talk to someone living in a region far away and have the message arrive in real-time, just within seconds. Without social media, we would have to resort to mailing letters by post or making a long-distance phone call, and we would probably not have come to know the person in the first place.
By interacting with online friends, we can learn more about what life is like in another country without ever visiting it ourselves. This also helps to clear up any misconceptions we may have about cultures we have not seen before. In this way, people become educated about the world we live in and the different people we share this planet with, reducing racial and cultural discrimination, prejudice and judgement.
How Social Media Hinders Literacy
Social media may be notorious for its users’ indifference to proper grammar and spelling. Known as text talk, people may be inclined to abbreviate their words on social media, pay less attention to grammatical rules, and use a mix of slang and emoticons, resulting in informal speech that is linguistically incorrect. Text talk was born out of a need for convenience, as nobody wanted to be spelling out everything in full if they simply wanted to make a quick post on social media. However, this could negatively impact language learning if children are exposed to it from an early age and never learn the proper language rules.
These days, there are over thousands of Internet slang terms, making it possible for one to construct a post entirely out of slang – and thus making it easy to communicate online without knowing how to form a proper sentence. Over time, text talk may find its way into everyday life and lower literacy standards. To prevent this from happening, it is important for us to be aware of the context and audience that we are writing for, and to periodically refresh our knowledge of formal writing.
Causes Students to Lose Focus
Parents and teachers may frown upon the use of social media as it could seem addictive and often unproductive. A child who spends long hours on their phone or computer may be chided for not prioritizing their schoolwork first. Despite all the information it provides, there are also corners of social media which are unconducive to learning and may promote bad behavior. It is also easy to become trapped in these parts of the Internet with the endless scrolling feature of social media, as well as related recommendations, all engineered to make sure that a user stays on the platform for as long as possible.
Overall, the concern with students using social media tends to be that they will become addicted, pick up bad influences and neglect their education. Students may also be spending less time reading or working on their learning if they spend more time on social media doing unproductive things. In extreme cases, some youths have even self-radicalized by viewing racist content on social media, leading them to commit rash and violent acts which could land them in juvenile court.
Social Media to Literacy: Friend or Foe?
We can see that social media can indeed help to overcome the problem of illiteracy if it is used in the correct way. However, it can also promote illiteracy if its benefits are not fully utilized. Just like any other equipment, social media is merely a tool that has no connotation on its own, and it is up to us to make the most of what this powerful invention has to offer. If used rightly, social media could well be the solution to illiteracy in the world.
Author: Kelly Felder