I avoided Facebook and Twitter until 18 months ago.

I had many reasons for not getting with the times, but mostly I just thought it was stupid. People posted about what they were doing every second of the day, pictures of their dogs, funny cat videos. And I figured if I really wanted to catch up with people from high school, well, I probably would have already.

I hesitantly – and with help – created a Facebook page and Twitter profile to promote Beech Brook’s brand and events and to enlist a larger audience to our cause. I was shocked when, in just a few days, scores of people found me, friended me and followed me…mostly family and friends to whom I had not spoken in years, then people I barely knew or remembered, and finally, some people I didn’t know at all. Eventually, colleagues in the field and other organizations climbed aboard.

It all felt exciting at first. It was nice to see what my friends from high school and college were up to. I posted comments and articles and received lots of “likes.” That was fun, too. Twitter was great because I was getting up to the second news and rumors about the Browns, and you know I love that!

Overall, my experience has been a positive one.

Social media sites can be great and can increase our connectivity with family and friends. That’s especially important because most of us are not living in the tight, extended families common a generation ago.

But there are parts of social media that concern me, particularly the research regarding children and teens and their use of and addiction to it.

  • Studies have shown that getting “liked” is a very strong positive reinforcement. Some people are checking social media sites more than 100 times a day!
  • One study found that children spending more than three hours per day using social media are twice as likely to experience behavioral health issues such as sleep disorder, depression, addiction, 24/7 stress, isolation, insecurity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, and fear of missing out (FOMO).
  • Social media can become a source of cyber bullying, not just at school, but 24 hours a day, and it’s easy for others to join in.
  • A University of Michigan study found that the more young adults use Facebook, the worse they feel moment-to-moment and the less satisfied they feel with their lives overall.
  • Overuse of social media can negatively impact the ability to develop real life relationships.
  • An Oxford University study argues that social networking has bad effects on children’s intelligence and that the damage could be long-term and irrevocable.

But there is something else about social media that concerns me even more. We are living in a time where our society is becoming more polarized along political, gender, race and religious lines, and social media, to me, seems to be a contributing (although not the only) factor.

Social media has given people a platform to spew hate speech and radical beliefs to other disaffected people, amplifying what are otherwise fringe opinions. A few have turned that hate into violence.

One of the first things I noticed when I joined Facebook was the volume of nasty rhetoric. I always thought that it came from politicians and the fringes of our society and, certainly, it is. But I was shocked to realize it was also coming from people I have known for 40 years. These were people I have known virtually my entire life, and they were posting things I have never heard them say in person.

This exaggerated categorization of other people and divisiveness is playing out every day, and not just through social media.

I call it “us” versus “them.”

I’ll be communicating more about how this impacts Beech Brook in other messages going forward. I hope you’ll join me in working toward a time when there is just “us” in a community where everyone thrives.

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