In this week’s article, we begin a two-part series on The Future of Social Media. In today’s article, we look at whether social media is a force for good or bad?
What does some of the latest research point to? Social media is constantly in the news these days. Most of the time, it’s about the dark side.
If it’s not Trump’s ego and bluster in full glare on Twitter, it’s about how users are shunning Facebook in droves, causing its stock to crash in record numbers.
These are almost trivial compared to a myriad of reports showing social media is exacerbating all sorts of problems in society and people.
These include mental health, loneliness, isolation, violence, cyber-bullying, stress, anxiety, social conflict, and political polarization.
The list is seemingly endless. Poor quality sleep? Yep. Chuck that one in as well.
Are we being fair?
After all, social media is really just a communication tool. Like a telephone on steroids, according to some evangelists.
It simply amplifies all that’s good and bad about us, our opinions, and relationships. Or is something more nefarious at work?
Are we being caught up in a deeper web of profiteering by the big tech companies at our own expense?
They own our data. And as the Cambridge Analytica scandal pointed out, they will sell it to the highest bidder without questions asked.
So, what does some of the recent research show and are there better models out there?
Let’s take a deeper look…
Is Social Media Bad for You: The Evidence & The Unknowns
This BBC article is interesting in that it goes through the areas in which social media has an effect on our lives:
Stress, Mood, Anxiety, Depression, Sleep, Addiction, Self-Esteem, Well-Being, Relationships, Envy, and Loneliness.
It then looks at research in each area to see whether the effects are positive or negative. On the whole, there’s a mixed bag of results.
There are some obvious findings such as one study found that using social media made people more jealous of other people, especially those that travel.
Other research showed that people who use up to 7 social media platforms versus 0-2 are much more likely to have symptoms of anxiety.
And, if you focus more on your own social media profiles versus others, it can have a positive effect on your self-esteem.
Another positive finding specifically about Facebook posting was:
Bad weather increased the number of negative posts by 1%, and the researchers found that one negative post by someone in a rainy city influenced another 1.3 negative posts by friends living in dry cities. The better news is that happy posts had a stronger influence; each one inspired 1.75 more happy posts. Whether a happy post translates to a genuine boost in mood, however, remains unclear.
Definite sore points for social media and its negative effects according to research include:
- The more social media you use, the more the risk of depression and anxiety.
- Due to blue light affecting the production of the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep, heavy social media users sleep less.
- Addiction to social media is a mental health problem similar to Internet and game addiction, and probably requires professional help.
- Social media has led to more anxiety in females about how they look due to image filters and the ‘selfie’ phenomenon.
- Social media and mobile phones decrease the quality of in-person communication.
Did you also know that researchers have created algorithms to detect whether someone is depressed by analyzing their language and content in their social media posts?
Overall, it’s a mixed bag in terms of good and bad.
However, with so many bad effects and with more and more children using social media, this summary of research definitely raises huge red flags.
With so much potential negativity, can we afford to keep going as we are with this current sociological experiment?
Read more at BBC
I Used to Think Social Media Was a Force for Good. Now the Evidence Says I Was Wrong
This article from the Guardian sees the author explaining how progressive liberals were becoming quite positive about social media’s impact due to its role in the Arab Spring.
It was also enabling people to have and express their own views… Something that all people who believe in true democracy must be in favour of.
Also, think of social media’s affect on publishing and broadcasting. Now it’s not just about who is rich or powerful enough to own a media company, who gets to influence the general population.
Now anyone can start a YouTube channel or podcast and be hugely influential in reaching the masses. Examples of this include Joe Rogan’s podcast, Alex Jones and his Infowars channel, as well as The Young Turks.
But the examples above point to some of the issues raised in the article: the idea of ‘echo chambers’ and how social media feeds people content that they are most likely to engage with.
Social media’s algorithms can take you down an Alice in Wonderland-type rabbit-hole as they know what content you are most likely going to want to see next based on your previous habits. This can take you down some scary paths. 911 conspiracy theories spring to mind.
Without getting into a left/right wing dualism or the merits and demerits of various conspiracy theories, what social media is doing to us in this case is encouraging social division.
One of the biggest issues comes from the business model of the tech giants:
When we willingly choose to become unpaid content providers, we commercialise ourselves. And we are encouraged to be obsessed with numbers (of followers, messages, comments, retweets, favourites), as if operating in a kind of friend economy, an emotional stock market where the stock is ourselves and where we are encouraged to weigh our worth against others.
Read more at The Guardian
Jaron Lanier on How Social Media Ruins Your Life
Jaron Lanier, the Silicone Valley ‘computer philosopher’, argues social media is ruining your life.
You should stop using the big social media platforms and only use social media when it operates under a different business model and comes with full transparency.
Watch this video… then press delete.
Why Instagram Is the Worst Social Media for Mental Health
This Time article from last year elaborates on which social media platform is the worst for young people in terms of causing negative health symptoms.
The winner was Instagram due to it’s ability to inspire envy, anxiety, depression, and ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) in young people.
It asked a questionnaire to nearly 1,500 young people (ages 14 to 24) from across the United Kingdom about the big five social media platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.
There were good aspects to report, such as social media giving people the ability to express themselves and communicate better.
Instagram, however, takes a beating. It’s unique visual nature leads to young people feeling ‘body-shame’ due to comparisons with others.
The research offers positive ideas on how social media companies and the government can be more responsible and tackle problems head-on with action:
- Create a pop-up for heavy users to warn them when they have been on the platform for a long time.
- Highlight when images have been digitally manipulated and are not ‘natural’.
- Offer help to people who are publishing troublesome posts.
- Better teaching of ‘safe’ social media usage in schools.
- More research on the effects of social media.
Read more at Time
Facebook Fueled Anti-Refugee Attacks in Germany, New Research Suggests
This recent article in the New York Times explains research that shows more Facebook usage leads to a rise in violence against refugees in Germany.
This is pretty scary stuff. The researchers looked at data for violent acts against refugees versus the amount of Facebook usage in that city, town or village.
What they found out was startling…
Towns where Facebook use was higher than average, like Altena, reliably experienced more attacks on refugees. That held true in virtually any sort of community — big city or small town; affluent or struggling; liberal haven or far-right stronghold — suggesting that the link applies universally.Their reams of data converged on a breathtaking statistic: Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent.
What researchers think is happening is that Facebook’s algorithm is leading people to believe that there is strong anti-refugee sentiment in towns when the reality might be very different.
This is because Facebook’s algorithm is only interested in making people engage with a post. Anger and negative feelings drive people to interact with posts.
This then creates a vicious cycle where angry posts lead to more angry posts being posted and interacted with.
This creates ‘echo chambers’ where more easily influenced people believe more people think how they do, and that gives rise to a belief that taking violent action is permissible.
There’s also the world of superposters who take on the role of influencers shaping a community’s opinions. In the offline world, you get more choice about who to believe and follow. In the online world, things are murkier.
If Facebook can be linked to hundreds of attacks even in Germany, its effect could be far more severe in countries like Colombia with weaker institutions, weaker social media regulations and more immediate histories of political violence.
Read more at New York Times
What do you think? Is this just a phase of growing pains with social media? Will things settle down and be reformed so that more positive effects are harnessed?
In part two of this series, The Future of Social Media to be published next Friday, we will take a look at alternative business models and new platforms that want to change the way we use social media.
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Nikolas Badminton is a Futurist Speaker that drives world leaders to take action in creating a better world for humanity. He promotes exponential thinking along with a critical, honest, and optimistic view that empowers you with knowledge to plan for today, tomorrow, and for the future.