I think Michael Scott’s description of Wikipedia also applies pretty well to social media. As he so aptly puts it:
Okay, I know it sounds a little ridiculous, but I think Michael Scott was actually onto something. I concede that social media is an open platform where people can technically share any “information” no matter its credibility. But for the most part, I’ve found it to be pretty reliable.
Social Media as a Primary News Source
Countless people are getting their news through Twitter before anywhere else. People wouldn’t continue to rely on this as a source of information if weren’t trustworthy most of the time. I think this idea ties into this week’s reading, “The Wisdom of Crowds.” A forum where anyone can write anything creates a space where the crowd’s knowledge can be compiled into conceivably the best source of accurate and timely information.
On the other hand, the converse can also be true as these benefits are easily manipulated by people with ulterior motives. Facebook’s mission is to bring the world closer together and to increase connectivity. This seems like a noble goal, but it comes with a significant responsibility. When one platform dictates so much of the public’s conversation, the company behind that platform needs to make sure those members of the conversation are working towards the public’s best interests. Facebook has fallen short of its responsibility in several ways:
- Biased News Feeds: Facebook has been known to tailor the content of individuals’ newsfeeds based on a user’s affinities, interests, and what might best align with that user’s beliefs, which perpetuates confirmation bias and can ultimately further polarize people of different opinions.
- “Fake News”: In the last week, Facebook was found to have allowed a Russian company to sponsor hundreds of millions of dollars of ads with false information on Facebook’s site.
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter need to recognize the responsibility they have as a primary news source for a significant portion of the population. If they are going to embrace this power, they need to make a point to present its users with true and unbiased information.
Aside from social media as a news source, I am amazed at ordinary people’s ability to promote and create a brand for themselves. I think one of the most game-changing features of social media is the empowerment it lends people. The term “Instafamous” is now commonly used and understood, and YouTube stars and fitness bloggers are able to make a name for themselves solely through their posts. Social media has created a wave of entrepreneurship that has granted users a backdoor to fame and success. There is now a new specialty in law and career coaching based on making people famous and helping new stars protect their content and brands.
One aspect that I hope to explore more deeply in this class is what methods and strategies people use to differentiate themselves. What makes one fitness star “Instafamous” and another not? It seems that with so much competition to stand out on social media, individuals would need employ a unique strategy to be successful.
Social Media’s Presence IRL
I recently got a notification from Facebook that I had not updated my profile in fifty weeks. So I guess I’ll admit that I’m not a social media maven by any standards. I [evidently] never post on Facebook, and my friends congratulate me when I post a bi-annual Instagram. You’d think I’d have hours of time on my hands from my lack of social media use. On the contrary, I still find myself scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and my new Twitter (!) for hours on end everyday. I may not be particularly vocal on social media, but it is nevertheless addicting. And who can blame me? Once I get tired of scrolling through one app, there’s new content on the one I just finished scrolling through. It’s a cycle that never ends until I realize it’s 11:00pm and I have a blog post due at midnight.
One advocacy group called Time Well Spent is “trying to bring moral integrity to software design: essentially, to persuade the tech world to help us disengage more easily from its devices” (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/11/the-binge-breaker/501122/). This group is attempting to shift responsibility to companies and their user experience teams to stop designing platforms with the implicit intention of addicting its users. Now that designers have such a deep understanding of what attracts and retains users, they are able to manipulate their users’ vulnerability for addiction. And with a growing portion of young users growing up with this addiction as the norm, they are even easier targets.
These are some aspects of social media that I am excited to explore more deeply in this course, and I hope to develop a better understanding of the mechanisms that make social media work.