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The Double-Edged Sword of Social Media Connection and Isolation

I come from a country where freedom of speech is restricted. I remember when I first registered my Twitter account in 2017, it felt like opening a new world. Indeed, at that time, I fully experienced the allure of free speech; social media became a favorable place for me to express my political views. Because the topics I am interested in cannot be discussed on China's "intranet," I became engrossed in Twitter, spending significant time daily sharing my thoughts and opinions. However, I found that over time, a sense of isolation from my relatives and colleagues in real life began to develop.

Firstly, the primary reason for this isolation was that the topics we focused on were no longer the same. My relatives and friends enjoyed their peaceful lives, discussing topics like cuisine, housing, cars, and children's education. Meanwhile, on Twitter, I was exposed to content I had never seen before in my life. I learned about massacres committed by the authorities against the people, and I felt the government was constantly depriving us of some of our rightful liberties. Thus, I observed that my thoughts and perspectives were gradually drifting apart from theirs, and the distance was growing.

Secondly, I have a certain degree of social anxiety; I am not particularly proactive in building new relationships, and I have very few friends. However, those with whom I do form friendships understand each other implicitly. Thus, I have always valued deep, quality relationships in friendships. I believe such friends can offer sufficient mutual understanding and tolerance, especially providing help when it's most needed. Therefore, when I am with them, whether we are communicating or camping, I try to fully immerse myself in our joyful times together, avoiding the repetitive checking of my social media. Even though they may have conflicting views on many issues, they understand me well and are accommodating and willing to listen to my thoughts.

However, after arriving in the United States, the frequency with which I used my only social media, Twitter, also decreased significantly. I have a fulfilling study and work schedule, so I did not feel more bored or lonely. But I have observed that certain groups of people are troubled by addiction to social media. People are resorting to locking their phones in boxes as a method to treat their social media addiction and issues with lack of concentration. Moreover, various online platforms like meeting software, collaborative tools, and online educational software have made it possible for many to meet their routine work and study needs without leaving their homes. Additionally, while social media indeed provides a stage for some to showcase themselves, allowing people with common interests to gather more quickly, the underlying data collection, exploitation of personal privacy, and even the risk of deliberately spreading misinformation through algorithms cannot be ignored.

Therefore, a social media company that considers social welfare should encourage users to balance their online and offline lives. Social media platforms could advocate more for people to engage in offline gatherings or salons and provide some support. Alternatively, after users have been active on the software for a while, there could be gentle reminders to take breaks or relax. However, such models are challenging to adopt because social media companies typically focus on their interests and profits. Nonetheless, we can promote more face-to-face interactions through our actions. For example, as community managers, we could plan and organize offline interactions to encourage participation, such as culinary shares, book swaps, and board game competitions. Educational institutions could also host discussions on digital health and lectures about the various dangers associated with social media addiction.

In this era where various social media platforms proliferate, people's attention to smartphone screens is gradually surpassing their care for family and friends. In a world filled with fast-food-style and nutrition-less social media feeds, humans' inherent ability to autonomously seek information is being replaced by passive indoctrination. The conflicts sparked by some topics on social media are also exacerbating the polarization of social groups and ideological views, leading to a gradual loss of independent thinking ability. As one interviewee with experience in a social media company stated in the documentary "The Social Dilemma," such a predicament could potentially lead to man-made disasters or even civil wars.

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