Yet another post naysaying the perils of social media?
Yes and no.
Lets take a look at why and how social media can be a problem.
Acknowledging the Problem
The first step to solving a problem is to first accept that there is one. To define the issue is to be prepared to solve it.
Social media is not your friend.
On the surface, social media networks are just platforms which allow us to connect to our friends and family. We can easily share content and find people with interests similar to ours like never before.
Dig a little deeper and we begin to ask ourselves how such an amazing tool can be free.
We didn’t pay for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc – the app and all its constantly updated features are all available for free. So how do they make their money?
Here’s the kicker which is good to remember as a rule of thumb: If a service is free then you are the product.
Attention is Key
It is absolutely within the social media company’s interests to keep you coming back for more, to keep you engaged and essentially addicted to opening the app, engaging with others and sharing anything and everything you do. Different platforms are constantly competing with each other for your attention.
How can they keep you engaged? One of the best ways is via emotion. If you feel something about a post, you are more likely to interact with it. Think about the last time a post made you outraged, upset or annoyed, did you just let it slide? Or did you like, comment on or share it?
The more primitive the emotion, the stronger the reaction. The stronger the reaction, the more the engagement.
Doing so means that the companies behind the app, whether they be Facebook (who also own Instagram and WhatsApp), Twitter or anyone else, use machine learning not only to understand your personal interests, spending habits and social relationships but to predict them too.
Your life (now digitally quantified, and packaged) is a goldmine to marketers and businesses alike looking to target very specific demographics. You and your data are the products being sold and traded to marketers.
So how do the social media giants ensure that you keep coming back to them? They design notifications and interactions on their platform in such a way that your brain processes them in a chemically positive manner.
What does this mean? It means that whenever you get those likes on Instagram, reactions on Facebook or retweets on Twitter and are notified of them, your brain feels like your efforts on the app have been rewarded. You feel satisfied, proud and encouraged to engage more.
A cruder example of this is seen in Snapchat’s use of ‘streaks’. This is where users maintaining contact with their friends using the app are awarded a score based on how many consecutive days they have contacted said friend. The streak number represents how long this has been kept up for. No real reward, just an endless virtual number to keep bumping up every day. Some of us may find this absurdly below us, but for the younger generation it can be an essential part of their lives.
It is hardly any wonder they are growing up paying real money to inflate their ‘follower’ numbers or ‘likes’ to seem socially dignified to their peers.
Compared with those who checked least frequently, participants who reported most frequently checking social media throughout the week had 2.7 times the likelihood of depression.University of Pittsburgh study
This is the first generation of people growing up in the bubble of social media from the day they are born and it is negatively affecting their mental health.
Couple this with the fact that apps which are designed to reward interaction and make a link of dependency between itself and the user are present on mobile devices which the average person carries with them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The social media giants all have unrestricted access to your attention. They decide when and how they want to draw you in.
Its easy to think that people who are on social media all the time have little self control. It is only when we realise that social media giants employ people who are academic specialists in human psychology and understand human instinct/behaviour that we can understand that these platforms are specifically, purposely designed to keep you addicted and on your phone in every second of downtime. You have been conditioned to feel good when you get a notification and respond to it. It is nothing short of psychological manipulation.
Is it any wonder most people fall victim to it unsuspectingly?
Knowing is Half the Battle
We mentioned at the beginning that the first step to solving an issue is to first acknowledge that a problem exists. Now that we have taken a deeper look hopefully the truth is more apparent.
Social media is not your friend.