Today’s society faces many challenges: unemployment, crime, poverty, loneliness to name but a few. We’ve had a think about whether social media can be used to help eliminate some of the problems society faces and help to create happier, healthier lifestyles.

1. Can social media decrease loneliness?

Loneliness motivates an individual to seek social connections. Social media can help us stay in touch with people who aren’t situated in close proximity – friends or family that are far away, people on holiday or even someone who is temporarily immobile with a broken leg!

One headline that sparked massive media interest was the story of Kelly Hildebrandt. Randomly googling her own name led to ……. finding another, male Kelly Hildebrandt. Female Kelly messaged his Facebook profile. Three weeks later they met, hit it off and got engaged almost straight away. Marriage soon followed and they had a happy first year. Unfortunately that’s where the love story ends – they were divorced last year.

That said, a recent study by Kansas University found that people who met through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter were just as likely to have successful marriages. Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Jeffery Hall, says that people looking for love should ‘start saying yes to friend requests.’

2. Addressing the lack of community in today’s real world

Social media is a great source of locating positive social groups and quickly becoming more connected. Facebook groups enable people to reach out to like-minded others no matter how obscure the interest. Advice groups, support groups online, groupsite, netmums, expats, people trying to meet new friends.

A convenient aspect of online support groups is their 24 hour availability – unlike a scheduled support group meeting or club. The lack of time constraints means that individuals can log-on, blog or chat anytime, day or night. Access to help is always available with online support groups. Indeed, support is often needed out of normal hours and seeking help is no longer defined by when it can be offered in person.

3. Crime solving

The Police and courts are now using social media in many ways to help reduce criminal behaviour: identifying suspects by examining photos, posting pictures of stolen items, spreading information on missing people, identifying links between criminals or locating criminals who brag online. Craig Lynch, who was nearly at the end of a long prison sentence for burglary, escaped but then spent four months leaving Facebook clues for the police on his whereabouts. During this time he picked up a following of 40,000. Needless to say he got caught in the end. From the petrol thief who posted a picture of himself committing the crime to a bank robber who created a YouTube clip describing each step of her offence, there are lots of examples of how social media has helped to catch out show off criminals.

4. Fast news in a sudden crisis

The floods at the end of 2013 in the UK have shown us how quickly a crisis can affect thousands of people. Social media can tell people the areas to avoid, places to go to seek refuge and give important information about how to deal with a sudden situation. Medical needs can be passed around quickly such as if people are needed to give blood, if extra care workers are needed, or post pictures of anyone who is missing. This fast news saves time, money and lives.

5. It is educational

The educational benefits of social media are endless. Teachers use it to post out information; students to discuss their work. Reading other people’s opinions, thoughts and feelings on sites such as Facebook and Twitter increases the ability to empathise. This transpires into essay writing skills, enriching content and helping students produce varied arguments.

Education has moved further online and teachers can address their pupils from anywhere in the country and from their homes, making use of skype, video conferences and other social technology.

Dr David Leggett, Doctor and Teacher of Sociology, uses Tumblr and Twitter to link to his YouTube account where he has filmed himself delivering essay plans and revision sessions. As the majority of his students viewed the link, it showed its potential as an invaluable way to reach sixth form students revising at home during study leave.

6. A powerful force for change

As well as changing political campaigns by allowing politicians to increase their following and connect with their constituents, social media can also influence politics as a two-way process. In other words, ordinary people can have their say. Constituents can respond to something they disagree with almost instantly. As Jane Susskind says, “Twitter has become a hub for voters to see real-time reactions, candid responses, and instantly check facts and statistics referenced in debates and speeches. It demands transparency from the candidates, knowing that their arguments can be verified in the blink of an eye.”

Dr Pamela Rutledge reports in her article why she believes Obama won the social media battle in the Presidential Campaign, being the first to effectively use it as a major campaign strategy.