The Different Faces of social media platforms
What does each social media platform tell us, does it show our true face or is it influenced by the powers that be to actually show us what it wants?
I want to start off by prefacing that I am not an avid user (in most cases not even a user at all) of the following social media platforms. But I’ve used all of them for a specific period of time to really understand their appeal as well as find out how differentiated their products are.
With that being said let’s get into it.
If you find it difficult to envision your life without social media, then you have undoubtedly been swayed by the enormous influence these platforms have on people. It's likely that you too have encountered some of social media's unfavorable effects.
“Social media” as defined by the Oxford dictionary are websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking. Human beings are known for being social animals, in other words, we need human interaction to survive mentally if not physically as well. But since the formation of these digital platforms researchers in the medical field have said most social media platforms cause more harm than good. That is why I have decided to take a deep dive into 3 of the major social media platforms and see what this reveals about this phenomenon.
Instagram is a free photo and video sharing website and app available on iPhone and Android. People can upload photos or videos to their service and share them with their followers or with a select group of friends. They can also view, comment, and like posts shared by their friends on Instagram.
Sounds normal right? not exactly. Instagram like any other social media platform is designed to make its users stay on their platform as long as humanly possible because that’s how they make their money.
According to studies, it can exploit impressionable teenagers by hooking them onto unrealistic ideals of appearance and body size and form with its algorithmically driven feeds of content suited to each user's engagement patterns.
There are three basic components in how Instagram operates;
1. Relationship with the user. After interaction of a particular person with at least one of your posts, he/she will be more likely to see the rest of your content. This way, you can ensure constant engagement on your posts and build a loyal audience.
2. The post is relevant. When the post is published on Instagram, the algorithm assigns a relevancy score to it. This influences which it shows in the entire feed.
3. Users’ interest. In this case, the signal depends on whether the person interacts with analogous accounts and posts while exploring Instagram. Other people who interact with similar content may see your posts as well.
In basic terms, the face of Instagram tends to show the vanity and insecurity side of our existence. You see people portraying the reality they want instead of the reality they’re in (obviously not in all cases but in general). It’s a “look at me I matter, and I require your validation” type of environment, which can become a toxic place, especially for young people. There have been countless studies of how Instagram is a huge contributor to anxiety and in creating a lack of self-worth among young people. We try to seek appreciation and validation from this platform more than any other social media platform. I can assure you the person reading this knows at least one person that tries to get as many likes and comments on their selfie picture just so they can feel good about themselves.
But I have to also say that your presence and following on Instagram means that you are more likely to promote your business as well as make money from ads as well. So, it's definitely not all bad as long as you are doing it for the right reasons.
Facebook is a website that allows users, who sign-up for free profiles, to connect with friends, work colleagues, or people they don't know online. It allows users to share pictures, music, videos, and articles, as well as their own thoughts and opinions with however many people they like.
Facebook is one of the original social media platforms which was launched in 2004. It was the first social media platform to reach 1 Billion users worldwide.
In 2016 the company’s Vice president’s memo was leaked and it stated that:
“We [at Facebook] connect people…Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still, we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect with more people more often is de facto good. [emphasis added]”
I don’t want to get too deep into it because the whole point of my article is not to talk about how awful and terrible social media platforms are, that’s not my motive or goal. But the Vice president's point was that “the end justifies the means” and that statement has a lot of implications in how they (Facebook) go about things. In general, I just want to show how these platforms show our true faces, but we have to understand that these platforms know exactly what they are doing. They just choose to ignore the red flags because to them it’s all about maximizing user interaction no matter how negative that interaction could be. Facebook is a prime example of that.
According to an investigation led by the Wall street journal (you can find it here) Facebook had a huge role in how it uses its algorithm to cause conflicts and tribalism around the world. A quick summary of its consequences laid out by the WSJ as summarized by Business insider is as follows;
v A 2016 internal Facebook report showed that "64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools."
v A 2018 internal report found that Facebook's "algorithms exploit the human brain's attraction to divisiveness" and warned that if left unchecked they would simply get nastier and nastier to attract more attention.
v An internal review also found that algorithms were amplifying users that spent 20 hours on the platform and posted the most inflammatory content (users that may not be people at all, but rather Russian bots, for example).
v Facebook executives, especially Mark Zuckerberg, time and time again ignored or watered-down recommendations to fix these problems. Executives were afraid of looking biased against Republicans — who, according to internal reports, were posting the highest volume of antisocial content.
v And of course, executives had to protect the company's moneymaking, attention-seeking, antisocial algorithms — regardless of the damage they may be doing to society as a whole. Politics played into that as well.
The last point goes back to the remarks the Vice president of Facebook (or meta, who cares) had made.
The way people live in reality might not necessarily coincide with the life they live online. So, given the above information, I believe the face — of Facebook (Facebook was a stupid name for a company, I get why it was changed to meta) creates a pool of people living in their own echo chambers talking about toxic topics to elicit, anger and create a divide among their opposite counterparts. And I personally believe, the point at which our world is at now — makes it really hard for us to unify.
“Twitter” is a free social networking site where users broadcast short posts known as “tweets”. These tweets can contain text, videos, photos, or links. It is basically a microblogging service (Microblogging is a blend of blogging and instant messaging) that enables registered users to post, share, like, and reply to tweets with brief messages. It's known as being a good source of news since you can get it in real-time. But that generally opens the door for misinformation and that has been a big issue throughout the world.
One of the best ways for writers and journalists to draw attention to a problem is through Twitter. As a result, issues could arise and get heated. Additionally, when billions of people are using the same hashtag to voice the same concern, the platform and the community that uses it are only able to hear the voices of only a few diverse topics.
Additionally, the platform is now frequently utilized as a stage for speaking out and bringing attention to a problem. But 280 characters isn’t enough to address pressing issues. It lays waste to the possibilities of what this platform could bring.
The other main issue with Twitter has been “bots”. Twitter is known for having millions of bots. These Bots are automated accounts that can do all of the same actions as real people on Twitter, including sending tweets, following other users, liking, and retweeting other users' posts. These capabilities are used by spam bots to engage in behavior that could be misleading, damaging, or unpleasant.
Twitter determines what is trending based on an algorithm and users' preferences, locations, and interests. This algorithm also determines what is popular now and highlights emerging discussions and topics. The main issue with that is, who wrote the code for the algorithm to determine what’s trending?
You might say it all comes down to the amount of interaction a specific topic/tweet gets, and if that topic is somewhat a divisive one then it’s only going to breed hate, and make you say things you wouldn’t actually say in real life. So, I’d say the face of Twitter is getting you to write things you wouldn’t necessarily say in real life (not always but in general) to garner attention.
As I’ve mentioned before, these platforms' main goal is to increase individual usage. They want you to use their platforms for as long as you physically can (to say mentally would be debatable).
I can write a whole article/essay on each one of these platforms but I don’t have the time or energy to do so. Social media can be a helpful medium but it all comes down to how you chose to interact with it.
These companies have blocked material and banned users due to the prevalence of hate speech, trolling false information, and fake news. Should they have full autonomy to do so? That's a topic for another day.
Social media networks are currently attempting to address issues that they helped create in ways that only serve to exacerbate the situation. Online social networking platforms shouldn't have anarchic rules. Online abuse and hate speech should be prohibited by the same laws that are in place offline. But the problem lies in who makes the rules, where does the line get drawn? Just because I offend someone should I get de-platformed? These are the questions we should be asking but at the end of the day every social media platform has its own distinct face, and we shouldn’t lie pray to it, and instead try to lie above it.
References and further readings
Everything bad about Facebook is bad for the same reason
7 Negative Effects of Social Media on People and Users
Teens and social media use: What's the impact?
Does Social Media Do More Harm Than Good for Society?