The real effect of social media on Blacks, other Minorities and the world.
The question is what is real and what is fake?
Fake news and the spread of misinformation is believed, 4 time faster than real information. “People would rather believe a lie than the truth”.
There is a psychology behind the choice to believe people’s stories when all the evidence shows they aren’t telling the truth. … It is painful to believe that someone we care about or trust is lying to us, as is knowing that we cannot trust them. Denial of reality, or … I’d rather have that than not have him at all.”
The world is consuming and interacting with social media at increasingly high rates. According to 2018 data, the majority of U.S. adults now use YouTube (73 percent) or Facebook (68 percent); of those who use Facebook, more than half check this platform several times a day if not more. As we engage on social media with greater frequency, we find ourselves sifting through photos of children, commentary about food, and explosive reactions to current political events. This increased media usage and exposure poses the question: How accurate is the information we are getting? More specifically, how honest are people on social media sites?
Honesty and Lying on Social Media
The truth is that people tend to lie on these platforms. How? First, people directly lie about their lives, which is often an effort to make themselves look more desirable or positive. In a study examining 80 online daters, found that two thirds of participants lied about their weight by five pounds or more. In a large sample of over 2,000 people in England conducted by Custard.com, 43 percent of men admitted to making up facts about themselves and their lives that were not true online.
Even more commonly, people “lie” by presenting an image of themselves and their lives that is imprecise or less than comprehensive, leading the viewer to believe falsehoods. For example, only 18 percent of men and 19 percent of women reported that their Facebook page displayed “a completely accurate reflection” of who they are. Most commonly, participants said that they only shared “non-boring” aspects of their lives (32 percent) and were not as “active” as their social media accounts appeared (14 percent).
How and Why Does Dishonesty on Social Media Affect Us?
Although selective self-presentation and lying about ourselves on social media may not seem like a surprise (or even a big deal), it can affect us greatly. Why? Humans are naturally social creatures—we crave relationships and social interaction. According to some of the most prominent theories of human nature and a large body of research, social interaction and feeling a sense of belonging to a community are two of the most important predictors of psychological and physical health. Given our social nature, we want to feel connected to people and “in the know” about our friends, family, and even celebrities. In addition to being social, we appear to have a natural propensity to trust that others are being honest with us. A large body of research suggests that we are programmed to trust others, which depends, being a black male, I expect people to lie. Although the reasons for our tendency to trust are complex, without interpersonal connectedness and a fundamental belief that those around will support you, protect you, and treat you respectfully, we feel unsafe. In essence, trust is developmentally essential to our feelings of safety and security.
When we engage on social media and our propensity to trust is met with overt lying and less than honest presentations, it can be problematic because we internally presume that what is presented is true. That people are naturally as good-looking as their photos appear on a daily basis. That people’s daily home life is as perfect as the pictures depict. That others have very few gut-wrenching struggles. That people around us are in a habitual state of going on vacation, eating out, and parenting blissfully. This is clearly not true. But although we are less aware of the realities of other peoples’ lives, we are well aware of the ways in which our own lives are NOT ideal.
Social Comparison in Social Media
To make matters more complicated, when we internally believe that what we see in social media is true and relevant to us, we are more likely to compare ourselves to it in an internal effort to evaluate ourselves against those around us (e.g., regarding our looks, wealth, significant other, family, etc.). As we do this against the idealized images and unreasonably positive life accounts that tend to permeate social media, we are likely to feel more poorly about ourselves and our lives.
Indeed, a growing body of research suggests that social media use can negatively affect your psychological health, particularly if you compare yourself to the positive images you see online. In a study of 339 college women, the tendency to compare oneself to others was associated with poorer body esteem. Furthermore, in a sub-sample of 58 women, those with higher levels of Facebook usage displayed lower body satisfaction than those with lower Facebook usage. Similarly, in an experimental study by Vogel and colleagues, participants who tended to compare themselves to others more regularly had lower self-esteem, more negative emotions, and a poorer view of themselves after using Facebook than participants who did not tend to compare themselves to others.
The naked truth is this: Most of us now use some form of social media. Research suggests that what people post on social media is not an accurate representation of their lives or who they are. In fact, it may be blatant lies.
Consequently, when engaging with social media, it is critical to remind yourself that what you see is not an accurate picture of reality. Don’t compare yourself to the images of friends, colleagues, or celebrities. Remind yourself that it is just a snapshot of their life—and one that they want you to see.
How we create a shared reality
Let’s start with two concepts: an “imagined community” and a “filter bubble.”
The late political scientist Benedict Anderson famously argued that the modern nation-state is best understood as an “imagined community” partly enabled by the rise of mass media such as newspapers. What Anderson meant is that the sense of cohesion that citizens of modern nations felt with one another – the degree to which they could be considered part of a national community – was one that was both artificial and facilitated by mass media.
Mass media is one way to create a shared community.
Of course there are many things that enable nation-states like the U.S. to hold together. We all learn (more or less) the same national history in school, for example. Still, the average lobster fisherman in Maine, for example, doesn’t actually have that much in common with the average schoolteacher in South Dakota. But, the mass media contribute toward helping them view themselves as part of something larger: that is, the “nation.”
Democratic polities depend on this shared sense of commonality. It enables what we call “national” policies – an idea that citizens see their interests aligned on some issues. Legal scholar explains this idea by taking us back to the time when there were only three broadcast news outlets and they all said more or less the same thing. We have historically depended on these “general interest intermediaries” to frame and articulate our sense of shared reality.
The term “filter bubble” emerged in a 2010 book by activist Eli Pariser to characterize an internet phenomenon.
Legal scholar Lawrence Lessie and Sunstein too had identified this phenomenon of group isolation on the internet in the late 1990s. Inside a filter bubble, individuals basically receive only the kinds of information that they have either preselected, or, more ominously, that third parties have decided they want to hear.
The targeted advertising behind Facebook’s newsfeed helps to create such filter bubbles. Advertising on Facebook works by determining its user’s interests, based on data it collects from their browsing, likes and so on. This is a very sophisticated operation.
Facebook does not disclose its own algorithms. However, research led by psychologist and data scientist at Stanford University Michael Kosinski demonstrated that automated analysis of people’s Facebook likes was able to identify their demographic information and basic political beliefs. Such targeting can also apparently be extremely precise. There is evidence, for example, that anti-Clinton ads from Russia were able to micro-target specific voters in Michigan.
Is Facebook creating filter bubbles?
The problem is that inside a filter bubble, you never receive any news that you do not agree with. This poses two problems: First, there is never any independent verification of that news. Individuals who want independent confirmation will have to actively seek it out.
Second, psychologists have known for a long time about “confirmation bias,” the tendency of people to seek out only information they agree with. Confirmation bias also limits people’s ability to question information that confirms or upholds their beliefs.
Not only that, research at Yale University’s Cultural Cognition Project strongly suggests that people are inclined to interpret new evidence in light of beliefs associated with their social groups. This can tend to polarize those groups.
All of this means that if you are inclined to dislike President Donald Trump, any negative information on him is likely to further strengthen that belief. Conversely, you are likely to discredit or ignore pro-Trump information. This may no have been the best example (Trump) but I think you all get it.
It is this pair of features of filter bubbles – preselection and confirmation bias – that fake news exploits with precision.
Creating polarized groups?
These features are also hardwired into the business model of social media like Facebook, which is predicated precisely on the idea that one can create a group of “friends” with whom one shares information. This group is largely insular, separated from other groups.
The software very carefully curates the transfer of information across these social networks and tries very hard to be the primary portal through which its users – about 2 billion of them – access the internet.
Facebook depends on advertising for its revenue, and that advertising can be readily exploited: A recent ProPublica investigation shows how easy it was to target Facebook ads to “Jew Haters.” More generally, the site also wants to keep users online, and it knows that it is able to manipulate the emotions of its users – who are happiest when they see things they agree with. Talking about this Matrix, this shit is real people.
Is social media creating more polarization?
As the Washington Post documents, it is precisely these features that were exploited by Russian ads. As a writer at Wired observed in an ominously prescient commentary immediately after the election, he never saw a pro-Trump post that had been shared over 1.5 million times – and neither did any of his liberal friends. They saw only liberal-leaning news on their social media feeds.
In this environment, a recent Pew Research Center survey should not come as a surprise. The survey shows that the American electorate is both deeply divided on partisan grounds, even on fundamental political issues, and is becoming more so.
All of this combines to mean that the world of social media tends to create small, deeply polarized groups of individuals who will tend to believe everything they hear, no matter how divorced from reality. The filter bubble sets us up to be vulnerable to polarizing fake news and to become more insular.
The end of the imagined community?
At this point, two-thirds of Americans get at least some of their news from social media outlets. This means that two-thirds of Americans get at least some of their news from highly curated and personalized black-box algorithms.
Facebook remains, by a significant margin, the most prevalent source of fake news. Not unlike forced, false confessions of witchcraft in the Middle Ages, these stories get repeated often enough that they could appear legitimate.
What we are witnessing, in other words, is the potential collapse of a significant part of the imagined community that is the American polity. Although the U.S. is also divided demographically and there are sharp demographic differences between regions within the country, partisan differences are dwarfing other divisions in society.
This is a recent trend: In the mid-1990s, partisan divisions were similar in size to demographic divisions. For example, then and now, women and men would be about the same modest distance apart on political questions, such as whether government should do more to help the poor. In the 1990s, this was also true for Democrats and Republicans. In other words, partisan divisions were no better than demographic factors at predicting people’s political views. Today, if you want to know someone’s political views, you would first want to find out their partisan affiliation.
The reality of social media
To be sure, it would be overly simplistic to lay all of this at the feet of social media. Certainly the structure of the American political system, which tends to polarize the political parties in primary elections, plays a major role. And it is true that plenty of us also still get news from other sources, outside of our Facebook filter bubbles.
But, I would argue that Facebook and social media offer an additional layer: Not only do they tend to create filter bubbles on their own, they offer a rich environment for those who want to increase polarization to do so.
Communities share and create social realities. In its current role, social media risks abetting a social reality where differing groups could disagree not only about what to do, but about what reality is.
The Real Impact of Social Media
The Impact of Social Media on Politics
A new study from Pew Research claims that 62 percent of people get their news from social media, with 18 percent doing so very often.
In comparison to other media, social media’s influence in political campaigns has increased tremendously. Social networks play an increasingly important role in electoral politics — first in the ultimately unsuccessful candidacy of Howard Dean in 2003, and then in the election of the first African-American president in 2008.
The New York Times reports that “The election of Donald J. Trump is perhaps the starkest illustration yet that across the planet, social networks are helping to fundamentally rewire human society.” Because social media allows people to communicate with one another more freely, they are helping to create surprisingly influential social organizations among once-marginalized groups.
The Impact of Social Media on Society
Almost a quarter of the world’s population is now on Facebook. In the USA nearly 80% of all internet users are on this platform. Because social networks feed off interactions among people, they become more powerful as they grow.
Thanks to the internet, each person with marginal views can see that he’s not alone. And when these people find one another via social media, they can do things — create memes, publications and entire online worlds that bolster their worldview, and then break into the mainstream.
Without social media, social, ethical, environmental and political ills would have minimal visibility. Increased visibility of issues has shifted the balance of power from the hands of a few to the masses.
The flipside: Social media is slowly killing real activism and replacing it with ‘slacktivism’.
While social media activism brings an increased awareness about societal issues, questions remain as to whether this awareness is translating into real change.
Some argue that social sharing has encouraged people to use computers and mobile phones to express their concerns on social issues without actually having to engage actively with campaigns in real life. Their support is limited to pressing the ‘Like’ button or sharing content.
This is a very human reaction when people are given options that absolve them from the responsibility to act. A 2013 study by the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business found that when people are presented with the option of ‘liking’ a social cause, they use this to opt-out of actually committing time and money to a charitable cause. On the other hand, when people are allowed to show support in private, they are more likely to show meaningful support in terms of making a financial contribution.
The researchers found that a public endorsement is an action meant to satisfy others’ opinions, whereas people who give in private do so because the cause is aligned to their values.
- The Impact of Social Media on Commerce
The rise of social media means it’s unusual to find an organization that does not reach its customers and prospects through one social media platform or another. Companies see the importance of using social media to connect with customers and build revenue. Businesses have realized they can use social media to generate insights, stimulate demand, and create targeted product offerings. This is important in traditional brick-and-motor businesses, and, obviously, in the world of e-commerce.
Many studies suggest implementing social networks within the workplace can strengthen knowledge sharing. The result is to improve project management activities and enable the spread of specialized knowledge. Fully implementing social technologies in the workplace removes boundaries, eliminates silos, and can raise interaction and help create more highly skilled and knowledgeable workers.
The flip side: Low number of social ‘shares’ can lead to negative social proof and destroy business credibility. Interestingly, although the use of social sharing has become the norm rather than the exception in business, some companies, after experiencing first-hand some negative effects of social media, have decided to go against the grain and remove the social sharing buttons from their websites. A case study of Taloon.com, an e-commerce retailer from Finland, found that conversions rose by 11.9% when they removed share buttons from their product pages.
These results highlight the double-edged nature of the impact of social media. When products attract a lot of shares, it can reinforce sales. But when the reverse is true, customers begin to distrust the product and the company.
- The Impact of Social Media on the World of Work
Social media has had a profound effect on recruitment and hiring. 19 percent of hiring managers make their hiring decisions based on information found on social media. According to CareerBuilder’s social media recruitment survey, 60 percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates. Professional social networks such as LinkedIn are important social media platforms for anyone looking to stand out in their profession. They allow people to create and market a personal brand.
5. The Impact of Social Media on Training and Development
Job candidates who develop skills in the latest and most advanced social media techniques are far more employable. A survey by Pearson Learning Solutions reported a significant increase in the use of social media in learning. Over half the educators who were interviewed agreed that social sharing encourages interaction, providing an environment that fosters learning.
Blogs, wikis, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and podcasts are now common tools for learning in many educational institutions. Social media has contributed to the increase in long-distance online learning. Despite issues of lack of privacy and some instances of cheating among long-distance learners, this has not deterred social platforms from being used in education.
- The Challenges of Social Media
Social media has been blamed for promoting social ills such as:
Teenagers have a need to fit in, to be popular, and to outdo others. This process was challenging long before the advent of social media. Add Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram into the mix and you suddenly have teenagers being subjected feeling pressure to grow up too fast in an online world.
Michael Hamm, a researcher from the University of Alberta conducted a study that showed the effects of social media on bullying. 23% of teens report being targeted and 15 percent said they’d bullied someone on social media. Teenagers can misuse social media platforms to spread rumors, share videos aimed at destroying reputations and to blackmail others.
Lack of Privacy:
Stalking, identity theft, personal attacks, and misuse of information are some of the threats faced by the users of social media. Most of the time, the users themselves are to blame as they end up sharing content that should not be in the public eye. The confusion arises from a lack of understanding of how the private and public elements of an online profile actually work.
Unfortunately, by the time private content is deleted, it’s usually too late and can cause problems in people’s personal and professional lives.
- The Impact of Social Media on Relationships
One of the effects of social media is encouraging people to form and cherish artificial bonds over actual friendships. The term ‘friend’ as used on social media lacks the intimacy identified with conventional friendships, where people actually know each other, want to talk to each other, have an intimate bond and frequently interact face to face.
The Bottom Line
It’s been said that information is power. Without a means of distributing information, people cannot harness the power. One positive impact of social media is in the distribution of information in today’s world. Platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others have made it possible to access information at the click of a button.
Research conducted by parse.ly shows that the life expectancy of a story posted on the web is 2.6 days, compared to 3.2 days when a story is shared on social media. That’s a difference of 23%, which is significant when you consider that billions of people use the internet daily.
This means that the longer the information is in circulation, the more discussion it generates and the greater the impact of social media. While the world would be a much slower place without social media, it’s caused harm as well as good. However, the positive impact of social media is astronomical and far surpasses the ills associated with sharing.
At the end of the day, sharing is about getting people to see and respond to content. As long as the content is still relevant and the need for information still exists, it’s always worthwhile for any organization to use social media to keep publishing.
Impact of social Media on African Americans and other minorities
Nearly one in three African-American adults (30%) and four in ten Hispanics (39%) say they are more likely to support a cause or social issue online than offline today—both significantly higher percentages than Caucasians (24%), according to the new Dynamics of Cause Engagement study. Jointly conducted in late 2010 by Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, the study examined trends in cause involvement and the roles of a variety of activities in fostering engagement with social issues among American adults age 18 and over.
Social Media & Ethnicity by the Numbers
Among American adults, there appear to be some significant differences in how the ethnicities perceive social media and their effectiveness in facilitating cause involvement. African Americans and Hispanics are significantly more likely to believe that they can help get the word out about a social issue or cause through online social networks (58% and 51%, respectively, vs. 34% of Caucasians). They also subscribe more readily to the belief that social networking sites like Facebook make it easier to support causes today, and that these sites help increase visibility for causes.
While traditional media (print and television) and personal relationships remain the primary ways in which Americans learn about causes, both African Americans and Hispanics are significantly more likely than Caucasians to look to social media as an additional source of information (31% and 27% vs. 21%, respectively). Similarly, social media are not among the top ways Americans most often support causes—donating money or personal items, talking to others and learning about the issues rank the highest—but again, it has been stated that African Americans and Hispanics are significantly more likely than Caucasians to engage with causes through promotional social media activities (e.g., joining a cause group on Facebook, posting a logo to a social profile, contributing to blogs).
Social Media Overload?
Americans are generally in agreement when it comes to potential cause-related social media overload, though they differ in the degree to which certain tools drive their “cause fatigue” the most. For example, Caucasians are significantly more likely to feel that emails about causes sometimes feel like spam (76%, vs. 66% of African Americans and 69% of Hispanics). Hispanics are significantly more likely to believe that everybody “likes” causes on Facebook and it doesn’t really mean anything. And while half of Caucasians and Hispanics (48% and 51%, respectively) agree that they get too many emails about causes now, a significantly lower number of African Americans (33%) feel this way.
Supporting Causes is a Family Affair
Americans are in strong agreement that everyone can make a difference by supporting causes. However, African Americans and Hispanics are significantly more likely than Caucasians to believe that supporting causes makes them feel like a part of a community. They also are significantly more likely to feel that it is important that their family be involved in causes (55% of Hispanics and 54% of African Americans, vs. 46% of Caucasians), and to have been actively involved in supporting causes when growing up (40% of Hispanics and 45% of African Americans, vs. 32% of Caucasians).
Overall, Americans are in agreement when it comes to the causes in which they are most involved, with supporting our troops, feeding the hungry and health-related causes (e.g., breast cancer and heart disease) topping the list. However, African Americans and Hispanics are significantly more likely than Caucasians to be involved in several key issues, including racial injustice, Police brutality, diabetes, domestic violence, bullying, childhood obesity, Haiti relief and HIV/AIDS.
Five years ago, when George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of an unarmed 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter lit up the social media universe and ignited powerful dialogue around racial injustice and police brutality.
A recent study shows that the hashtag remains relevant — it’s used an average of about 17,000 times a day. #BlackLivesMatter has inspired the start of other hashtag movements, highlighting the role of social media in modern American activism and protest, especially for underrepresented communities. More than two thirds of all Americans have engaged in at least one “political or social-minded activity” on social media in the past year, according to the study. They include people looking up information on local protests, using hashtags relating to a political issue, or encouraging others to take action.
Some groups are more likely to participate in these activities, including Americans aged 18-49.
A Look Back At Trayvon Martin’s Death, And The Movement It Inspired
While a majority of Americans believe that social media are important in accomplishing a range of political goals, black Americans value the platforms for magnifying issues that aren’t usually discussed. A smaller share of Hispanics and whites around 60 percent for each group share the same sentiment.
As a whole, however, a majority of Americans are largely skeptical about the broader impact of social media on political discourse: Seventy-seven percent of Americans feel that social networking sites are distracting and 71 percent of the American population says “social media makes people believe they’re making a difference when they really aren’t” — what’s commonly referred to as “slacktivism.”
Whites are more likely than the rest of the U.S. population to think social media platforms have a negative impact. Despite the varying opinions by race, a majority of Americans still have an overall positive impression of social media’s ability to help enact political change. Sixty-nine percent of U.S. adults say the platforms help raise awareness of issues to politicians and 67 percent say they assist with creating sustained social movements.
For minority social media users, however, it’s even more personal: Black and Hispanic social media users are more likely than whites to say that social sites help them find politically like-minded people, get involved with issues that are important to them and express their political views.
Hashtag Activism 2.0: Sites Aim To Turn Attention Into Change
A prime example of this is the consistent presence of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter. The study finds that it continues to spike following the highly publicized fatal deaths of black Americans by law enforcement, and refers to #BlackLivesMatter as an “archetypal example” of hashtags associated with political issues or causes.
The most notable of spikes for #BlackLivesMatter occurred in a span of roughly 10 days in the summer of 2016, when the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile — both of which were captured on video and published on social media — happened within a day of each other. The hashtag averaged nearly 500,000 tweets daily and prompted the use of the opposing hashtags #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter.
Russians Targeted U.S. Racial Divisions Long Before 2016 And Black Lives Matter
The influence of racialized social media movements was spotlighted when Facebook announced that it removed fake Facebook and Instagram accounts or pages associated with a political influence campaign linked to the Russian government. The pages had exploited names like “Black Elevation” and “Resisters,” and organized counterprotests to white nationalist rallies in Washington.
African American social media users have not shied away from actively participating in
online discussions about race. In fact, their social media activity—which has
included repeated sharing of race-related hashtags and viral videos of police perpetrating violence against Blacks (e.g., Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and Tamir Rice)—has intensified the discourse (Blakinger, 2016). By expressing outrage online about systemic discrimination and racial terrorism (e.g., the church burnings and shootings in South Carolina [Greenberg, 2015;
Horowitz, Corasaniti, & Southall, 2015]), African American social media users are effectively
working to undermine notions that “racism doesn’t exist” (Freelon, McIlwain, & Clark, 2016).
What is important to consider, and most relevant to this study, is that such engagement in social
media discussions about race and/or news of racial discrimination appear to simultaneously
kindle frustration and race-consciousness among this group. As the Facebook posts illustration represent but an example of hundreds of such responses to race-related topics in the social media world (Williams, 2015), I return to James Baldwin’s introductory quote and ask, does being Negro and more “conscious” of racism via social media exposure lead to more “rage” and stress?
RAGE & SOCIAL MEDIA
By examining the relationships between social media use, general stress, race-related stress, and anger expression, and the mediating role of perceived racism, how frequent social media use influences young African Americans adults’ 1) perceptions of racism, 2) experiences with general and race-related stress, and/or 3) expressions of anger.
Indeed, prior research has explored perceived racism as an independent factor that precipitates general stress, race-related stress, and expressed anger; however, few studies, to my knowledge, have examined social media use in relation to perceptions of racism, while none have examined perceived racism as a mediator of the relationships between social media use and negative emotional and stress responses.
Why Explore Social Media Among Young African American Adults?
Exploring the impact of social media use on young African American adults’ perceptions of racism is important for several reasons. One, young African Americans adults are heavy social media users. African American adults online used Facebook, while 27% of African American adults online used Twitter, which was significantly greater than all other groups measured (Whites: 21%, Hispanic: 25%).
Moreover, most trending topics among African American Facebook and Twitter users have been related to race, racism, and diversity in America. Insofar as African American social media users frequently discuss race-related topics more than other groups, it is meritorious to explore the impact of heavy social media use on the perceptions of racism.
At the close of 2019, the number of social media users worldwide had hit 3.5 billion. Social media’s rapid growth has had a significant impact on all of our daily lives – transforming how we connect with not only each other, but also with the media and brands. So, at the turn of the decade what future changes can we predict to see on the horizon?
Although social media has clearly brought benefits to society and companies, it also brings downsides and dangers such as cyberbullying, online harassment, depression, body image insecurities and fear of missing out (FOMO). Previously left to self-regulate, the UK government has recently announced that more power will be given to watchdog Ofcom to force social media companies to take increased responsibility for their content.
The pressure to regulate in the digital sphere will almost certainly restrict how advertisers can target and what content can be promoted, thus leading to greater transparency on how data is being used. For instance, Facebook already allows users to manage interest-based ads under account settings and we should expect more companies to follow this trend.
Enforced regulations could encourage users to increase trust in social media networks. This will potentially reflect in higher engagement. On the other hand, advertisers will have restricted targeting capabilities which might translate to media spend wastage, lower ad engagement and reduced opportunities for advertising customization. Organically, social platforms may see a diminished capability to serve users curated content if they are limited in data collection.
Data and privacy
Events such as the Cambridge Analytic a scandal made us realize the power of social media and data as well as the limitations of current social media regulations. Users are becoming aware that data is power. One sign of this is that searches for ‘My Activity’ on Google have been increasing year on year.
Users are already changing their privacy settings in order to include the minimum information on social media and accounts are being deleted. Users will continue to push for this with heightened privacy concerns as the world becomes ever more digital. Demographically, younger audiences are increasingly conscious of data privacy and security, which will further add to the soft and hard restrictions placed upon social media.
This trend may well open alternative commercial models for social media networks, such as subscriptions which allow a reduced need for personal data. Another possible solution would be to reward users that share their data.
WeChat-like social networks
As more people rely on their phones to make payments, store boarding passes and manage their finances, the opportunity for social media players to blend social and financial functionalities into one platform is growing.
WeChat is the perfect example of how social media, commerce and entertainment can merge. More than a social media network, it allows users to do day-to-day tasks such as storing their IDs, paying their utilities and getting access to public services, including booking doctor appointments, applying for visas and checking driving records.
Facebook is already experimenting in this space and it had plans to launch its own cryptocurrency named Libra this year. This service might not necessarily be integrated with the Facebook social media platform, but it gives a hint on future possibilities.
Western social platforms will inevitably try to follow WeChat but it is unlikely that they will be allowed to play the role as fully as WeChat does in China. This is because in most countries, data privacy concerns and increases in regulation will be pushing social networks in the opposite direction.
The number of social media accounts per person has been growing among all demographics. The multi-networking effect is a response to the increase number of platforms options, but it’s also being caused by a degree of specialization (e.g. Twitch, Pinterest, and TikTok).
Social media usage will continue to increase in developing countries, but it has generally plateaued among in advanced economies. As more specialised social media platforms arise, the number of social media platforms per user can still increase across all age groups, particularly among millennials and Gen X. However, time spend on social media will be similar to what it currently is.
Shifts from the current climate
At the close of the decade social media was making headlines for its negative impacts. Due to COVID-19, screen time will increase as individuals re/download apps to stay connected with friends and family, and to keep entertained. Some platforms will emerge from this dark time with a larger, more diverse and more engaged user base than ever before and perhaps social media will regain respect through reigniting its original charm as a way for us to all stay connected.
It can be challenging to predict the future of social media as it’s a fast-changing environment but hopefully it will move towards a safer and more democratic place.
Taking back control
The following essay is reprinted with permission from The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.
How can you live the life you want to, avoiding the distractions and manipulations of others? To do so, you need to know how you work. “Know thyself”, the Ancients urged. Sadly, we are often bad at this.
But by contrast, others know us increasingly well. Our intelligence, sexual orientation—and much more—can be computed from our Facebook likes. Machines, using data from our digital footprint, are better judges of our personality than our friends and family. Soon, artificial intelligence, using our social network data, will know even more. The 21st-century challenge will be how to live when others know us better than we know ourselves.
But how free are we today? There are industries dedicated to capturing and selling our attention—and the best bait is social networking. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have drawn us closer round the campfire of our shared humanity. Yet, they come with costs, both personal and political. Users must decide if the benefits of these sites outweigh their costs.
This decision should be freely made. But can it be, if social networking sites are potentially addictive? The decision should also be informed. But can it be, if we don’t know what is happening behind the curtain?
Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, recently discussed the thought process that went into building this social network. He described it as being:
All about how do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?
To do this, the user had to be given:
A little dopamine hit every once in a while because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post…and that’s going to get you to contribute more.
It’s exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology… The inventors, creators, it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg]… understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.
HUMAN NEEDS CREATE HUMAN VULNERABILITIES
So what are these vulnerabilities? Humans have a fundamental need to belong and a fundamental desire for social status. As a result, our brains treat information about ourselves like a reward. When our behaviour is rewarded with things such as food or money, our brain’s “valuation system” activates. Much of this system is also activated when we encounter self-relevant information.
Such information is hence given great weight. That’s why, if someone says your name, even across a noisy room, it automatically pops into your consciousness.
Information relating to our reputation and social rank is particularly important. We are wired to be sensitive to this.
We understand social dominance at only 15 months of age. Social networking sites grab us because they involve self-relevant information and bear on our social status and reputation. The greater your need to belong and be popular, and the stronger your brain’s reward centres respond to your reputation being enhanced, the more irresistible is the site’s siren song.
SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTIVE?
Gambling is addictive because you don’t know how many bets you will have to make before you win. B F Skinner uncovered this in his Harvard pigeon lab in the 1950s. If pigeons were given food every time they pecked a button, they pecked a lot. If they were only sometimes given food when they pecked a button, they not only pecked much more, but did so in a frantic, compulsive manner.
It could be argued that Skinner’s pigeon lab was resurrected at Harvard in 2004, with two modifications. It was called Facebook. And it didn’t use pigeons.
When you check Facebook you can’t predict if someone will have left you self-relevant information or not. Social network sites are slot machines that pay out the gold of self-relevant information. This is why billions of people pull their levers. So, can they be addictive?
Facebook reportedly originally advertised itself as “the college addiction”. Today, some researchers claim Facebook addiction “has become a reality”. However, this is not a recognized psychiatric disorder and there are problems with the concept.
People undertake many activities on Facebook, from gaming to social networking. The term “Facebook addiction” hence lacks specificity. Also, as Facebook is just one of many networking sites, the term “social networking addiction” would seem more appropriate.
Yet, the term “addiction” itself remains potentially problematic. Addictions are typically thought of as chronic conditions that cause problems in your life. Yet, a 5-year follow-up study found that many excessive behaviours deemed to be addictions—such as exercising, sex, shopping and video gaming—were fairly temporary. Furthermore, excessive social network use need not cause problems for everyone. Indeed, labelling excessive involvement in an activity as an “addiction” could result in the overpathologisation of everyday behaviors. Context is key.
Nevertheless, excessive social network use has been convincingly argued to lead to symptoms associated with addiction. This includes becoming preoccupied with these sites, using them to modify your mood, needing to use them more and more to get the same effects, and suffering withdrawal effects when use is ceased that often cause you to start using again. The best estimate is that around 5% of adolescent users have significant levels of addiction-like symptoms.
TAKING BACK CONTROL
How can we benefit from social networking sites without being consumed by them? Companies could redesign their sites to mitigate the risk of addiction. They could use opt-out default settings for features that encourage addiction and make it easier for people to self-regulate their usage. However, some claim that asking tech firms “to be less good at what they do feels like a ridiculous ask”. So government regulation may be needed, perhaps similar to that used with the tobacco industry.
Users could also consider whether personal reasons are making them vulnerable to problematic use. Factors that predict excessive use include an increased tendency to experience negative emotions, being unable to cope well with everyday problems, a need for self-promotion, loneliness and fear of missing out. These factors will, of course, not apply to everyone.
Finally, users could empower themselves. It is already possible to limit time on these sites using apps such as Freedom, Moment and StayFocused. The majority of Facebook users have voluntarily taken a break from Facebook, though this can be hard.
“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” run the famous lines from Invictus. Sadly, future generations may find them incomprehensible.