Social media. We all know what it is and use it in our everyday lives. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Snapchat, and several other platforms take up hours of our time regularly. What is it about these social media platforms that makes them so effective at drawing us in and spending our time on them? Why is it so easy to lose time scrolling through these seemingly never ending sources of information and entertainment? Even more importantly, how do we moderate our use to keep it within healthy parameters?
Studies and research have been conducted about this phenomenon of social media, and all of them have similar results, showing that social media has become a massive force in the lives of most of the people on earth, in some way. “The numbers make this clear. In 2005, about 7 percent of American adults used social media. But by 2017, 80 percent of American adults used Facebook alone. About 3.5 billion people on the planet, out of 7.7 billion, are active social media participants. Globally, during a typical day, people post 500 million tweets, share over 10 billion pieces of Facebook content, and watch over a billion hours of YouTube videos.” These numbers show social media as a global presence, with about half of the people in the world actively using these platforms.
But what is it, really, that makes these platforms so effective at gaining users? The algorithms that have been used in the creation and ongoing development of these platforms have been created specifically with one goal in mind. That goal is, of course, to gain as much of your attention and time as possible, and to use those to make money off of advertisements and your time and attention themselves. Notifications are the most obvious example of how these algorithms work. Giving you notifications when someone messages you on these apps, or when there is something that needs your immediate attention, are of course, more common. However, have you ever stayed off of a certain app for a while, only to have it start sending you notifications? This person posted for the first time in a while! Your friend liked this post! This post is recommended for you! All of these little blips are specifically designed to get you back on the app, and once they do, they start giving you more content to keep you scrolling. Before you know it, you’ve lost 30 minutes on the app without even realizing. For anyone, there can be a fear of missing out on something. These sorts of notifications play on that fear and give you reasons to check into the app that much more.
Another tactic of these social media platforms is the specific design of the content that you see. No one person’s page will look the same as the other, and that is no coincidence. The platforms take into consideration what you like, what you watch, and what you click on. They collect all of this information about you, and then use it to continue giving you content they know you will like, based on what you already have. Someone is much more likely to keep returning to a place, or a platform, where everyone they see and interact with agrees with them, and has similar beliefs. This sense of narrow minded dashboards, and such narrow communities becomes very concerning. If a user only sees one side of a situation, no matter which side that is, they can be too easily convinced, slowly but surely of things they wouldn’t be with all the information. In times like this year, only seeing those you already agree with, and not getting both sides of the story can be incredibly damaging. This catering of content makes it far too easy to manipulate a person’s mind, and shift their behaviors and views as they are inundated with information and content.
Of course, all of these concerns are completely valid. However, social media can not purely be painted in this negative light. There are many plus sides to the existence and use of social media. Especially in a time like this, with not as much ability to meet in person, social media allows for keeping in touch with those you care about. Instant messaging, video and voice calls, and social interactions can be accomplished through these platforms. These platforms also offer convenience and aid to those who might not be able to go outside and shop, those with disabilities, the elderly, and others who prefer to stay at home. Anything can be delivered to your home with just a few clicks, whether that’s groceries, food, household items, or clothes. Social media has many uses that aid us in our day to day lives, and so it can not be painted as all bad. However, we still need to be aware of the negative aspects, and be careful of how we let them affect us.