One of the most important aspects of digital technological advancements in the 21st Century is the emergence of social media platforms. The rate at which people adopted platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat has been astonishing. With better internet penetration and affordability, thanks to services like Spectrum Internet, platforms like Facebook today have a userbase of billions of unique users. However, over recent years, the pendulum of public sentiment has begun to swing for social media. This blog explores how social media has gone from a massive internet phenomenon to generating significant negative sentiment.
Social Media and It’s Gradual Fall From Grace
The social media phenomenon is quite unlike any other in the digital world. From small startup platforms that started out with instant messaging, photo sharing, and friends networks, we now have billion-dollar behemoths that rule the social ecosystem. Facebook has grown massively since its inception and with a huge userbase as well as audience segmentation, it offers significant opportunities to businesses to expand their reach and customer base. This, in turn, offered Facebook the opportunity to generate massive ad revenues, something that enabled it to buy and consolidate other hyper-popular social platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram. Thanks to efficiently adapting to a constantly shifting landscape, platforms like Facebook survived the “fad phase”, and are now a permanent part of our digital lives.
However, it seems the higher you climb, the harder you fall. While Facebook has managed to outpace all competition including Google’s attempt to kickstart Google+, there have been several scandals that have changed cultural and public attitudes towards social media and its inherent flaws. Negative sentiment has been gradually building up steam, pointing out to the many dangers social media presents that were never part of the discussion earlier, including:
- Data Privacy Concerns
- Increasing Mental Health Issues
- Content Censorship
- Confined Social Spaces
- False News and Misinformation
Let’s take a closer look at these below.
1. Data Privacy Concerns
All digital activity is data, and it exists somewhere. In social media’s case, platforms have been gathering information on billions of users and their daily activities for over a decade. Ostensibly for the purpose of offering better and more relevant feed results, this doesn’t just include things like your name, phone number, or email address. Most platforms keep data on your interests, likes, dislikes, gender, political preferences, friends, and ads. Geolocation services allow social platforms to keep tabs on your location. There are also rumors of social media apps allegedly using microphones in the background to eavesdrop on audio conversations.
The problem came to a head with the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, when it was revealed Facebook wasn’t just gathering information, but giving it to third parties as well, for various purposes. In Cambridge Analytica’s case, the data was used to influence swing voters on behalf of the Trump presidential campaign. Understandably, users were furious at the breach of privacy as well as the subversive attempt to manipulate public opinion, something that in itself is a very ominous sign.
2. Increasing Mental Health Issues
Digital liberties and rights notwithstanding, social media platforms have been linked to the development or exacerbation of mental health issues, especially among younger users. It isn’t too hard to imagine why. Most social media is inherently a superficial look at people’s lives. The constant bombardment of carefully curated photos is bound to have an impact on the average person. Social media can trick people into forgetting the behind-the-scenes aspect most people might have. In other words, they begin to compare a person’s highlight reel to their entire life. Obviously, this has been instrumental in creating a confused sense of what is important among younger users. With issues ranging from depression to anxiety to low-self esteem to digital addiction rampant, social media is often fingered as the culprit.
3. Content Censorship
When you’re using a social media platform, everything you see is because the algorithm decides it is relevant to you. While this has proven helpful in finding useful products, brands, and influencers to interact with, there is an underbelly that isn’t discussed very much. If an algorithm can control what you see on your screen, it also implies it can control what you don’t see. There have been many allegations that certain platforms have blocked information on serious human rights issues in specific locations from reaching the broader digital audience. Whether or not this is true, there is no denying that when using social media, the algorithm determines what it sees. In effect, the platform chooses what to show you. To quote Shakespeare, “who will guard the guards?”.
4. Confined Social Spaces
For many years, social media was hailed as a breakthrough in free speech and social liberties. The ability for anyone to voice an opinion and share it with other people instantly implied that people would be exposed to diverse ideas. However, what everyone failed to predict was how restrictive social platforms would become in a few years. While Facebook is a space for voicing political opinions, such as liberalism or conservatism, it has also polarized people into absolutes. These days, people have become far less tolerant of dissenting opinions. This in itself wouldn’t be a bad thing necessarily, except that it’s not just limited to reasoned disagreement. Most digital platforms have devolved into hunting grounds for trolls and online bullies. People have slowly restricted their online circles into echo chambers, with everyone voicing shades of the same agreed-upon opinion. The space for dissent and constructive dialogue, instead of expanding, has shrunk.
5. False News and Misinformation
Finally, the biggest problem with social media is the abundance of fake news and misinformation circulating on it. Being able to share virtually anything has allowed people to voice conspiracy theories louder than ever before. But it doesn’t stop there. Politically motivated individuals, or even teams of individuals, are dedicated to spreading their version of the truth, or in many cases, outright misinformation to the public. And there’s no customer service contact, like the Spectrum phone number, for you to complain about it. All you can do is report it and hope the platform removes it.
While most Facebook users are now wary of fake news, the shadow it casts means there is a lot less credibility for things you read on social media. The blue ticks we see on official social media profiles for celebrities, brands, politicians, and businesses is an attempt to curtail the spread of fake news. However, with billions of potential sources for fake news, it may well prove impossible or social platforms to prevent it.