More than 2 billion social media accounts fill our world with 15.5 billion tweets, 2.2 billion images and 139.5 billion likes per month. The staggering amount of information that bombards us every day through social media is barely comprehensible. Even more numbing is that social media is reported to be the third largest source for news in America.
Despite the vast popularity of sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the latest trend is to boycott one or all of the sites altogether. Cancelled accounts are stemming from reasons ranging from the information that is being gathered for marketing purposes to people simply being annoyed that anyone can wax and wane about the world at any time. These sites are becoming supersaturated with content that is muddying the waters of relevant information to the point that it is hard to decipher reality from fiction.
The debate of the pros and cons around social media could be endless. Despite the value it may, or may not, bring to our lives, there is research that supports the notion that social media is not be as good for you as you want it to be.
More Like “Selfish Media”
A study done by the New York Times Consumer Insight Group late last year found that the top three reasons people share information via social media is to build relationships, support a cause and for their own self-fulfillment.
Relationship-building would explain why businesses thrive on social media. We all know that sales begin with relationships. Support for nonprofits or cause-driven companies explains itself fairly clearly on social media. You reach a large audience very quickly. However, the underlying message in both of these reasons to post is that they feed into a level of self-fulfillment that social media fosters like no other entity in the history of mankind.
Comedian Brian Regan refers to the self-fulfillment mind-set as “the me monster.” Social media has become the most abundant feeding ground for the “me monster” in all of us. Everything we do on social media is about boosting our self-fulfillment.
Our posts to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all advertisements, of sorts, for ourselves. Every comment, picture and like reveal a little about who you are and what you believe. Sharing a link that saves puppies automatically assumes that you are a good person. Signing an online petition for the liberation of third-world countries assumes that you are worldly and have intelligence outside of your immediate community. Social media is a place where we view promotion as contribution. In other words, we get credit without doing any work.
Studying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can illustrate the truth behind this idea. The reasons that we share thoughts in online forums are rooted in our upper level needs. Once our basic needs of physiology, safety and love or belonging are met, we reach the levels that can be filled by social media. Those are esteem and self-actualization. The self-fulfillment levels of needs.
We all need, and want, to feel good. We want our desires and dreams to become reality. Social media allows us to create a timeline of things that make us feel good. However, as we become more aware that people and businesses are promoting causes and not, necessarily, contributing to them, we begin to grow skeptical of the words we read. Online relationships become less tangible, less believable and permeate the real world relationship eventually. Social media becomes a petri dish of doubt.
If you walked into your workplace, school or mall, stood on a table and shouted “I’m going to the Caribbean for seven whole days!” what response would you expect to receive?
We post that very same sentence on social media and expect people to acknowledge our good fortune. It has no social value. It does not help anyone else. It has even grown to make people who read it angry. Thus, social media is starting to adopt the responses of the real world. If you were to stand on a table in a public place and shout those words, no one would congratulate you. You would not, likely, receive a single thumbs up. Yet we expect one on Facebook.
Ten years ago, as Facebook was in its infancy, most people would browse the posts and like a lot of the things they read. Someone is in a good mood. Like. Someone got a new puppy. Like. Someone is having trouble with a coworker. Like. Over the last 10 years, our attention span has continued to dwindle to below eight seconds. Which means we simply do not have the time to like as many things.
As the number of likes faded, our desire for them rose. We have grown hungry for people’s eight seconds of attention. We will do ridiculous and, sometimes, dishonest things to get it. Then, once we get it, we want it again.
One of the most successful awareness campaigns was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It capitalized on our love for filming ourselves, having the power to challenge three other people and, at the same time, it allowed us to promote a cause without donating anything to the cause. If you dumped ice on your head, you did not have to pay. Those were the rules. Yet, we omit that part of the equation in our memory. The campaign went viral, at least as we recall, because it was viewed as support for ALS research. The truth is that it created a desire for inclusion. Promoting without participating. It created a stage for each of us to put on our own show and we did.
ALS raised more than $100 million in donations and capitalized on our self-fulfillment needs in a brilliant way. We wanted to be challenged, we wanted to post our own version and we wanted the power to call out other people. As a bonus, we did not have to pay to do it. It was that involvement that sparked the viral success of the campaign and achieved their goal of awareness. Ultimately, that led to a staggering influx in donations.
The most obvious self-fulfillment trend on social media is the selfie. It has grown to be an overly acceptable form of expression.
Until 2004, if you saw someone on the street taking a picture of themselves, you would think “that person is strange.” Through social media, we now see that person as someone who is “just taking a selfie.” It is completely acceptable social behavior to take pictures of yourself and look at them.
The world of selfies holds a distinct behavioral difference between men and women. Women take, on average, six pictures of themselves before they take the one that they will post to social media. Men take four. We want to project the best version of ourselves on social media at all times. We want the perfect smile, lighting and filter that will earn our picture likes.
For men, a selfie can be viewed as emasculating. Daniel Murphy of Myrtle Beach says that selfies are OK for “females once in a while and men never.” His sentiment is echoed by behavioral research proving why we think men should take less selfies. Ohio State professor Jesse Fox conducted a study that showed more narcissistic and psychotic behavior in men who posted selfies. It has become less about face sharing and more about mental health.
Females who are selfie-absorbed do not run as large of a risk for the same mental conditions. However, they display traits more fitting to self-objectification. Selfie-conscious women have been said to find their worth in their physical appearance and in being desired by other people. Most selfies are created to be candid, silly and situational, yet we stage, process and edit them to convey a message. For women, more staging and attempts are used to create the semi-candid moments.
Reinforcing inward habits is one thing, but there are concerns for physical safety and health revolving around social media use, as well.
The Dangers of Being Overly Connected
Outside of the perfect facade that is created through social media by people and businesses, there is a potential danger in being overly connected that is rustling through our social structure. The luster of having a captive audience for your entire life is fading and we are becoming more conscious of the damage that such access might do if not carefully managed.
It was not long after the masses logged in until the vacation picture posted to your social media timeline let the world know that you were not home for a week. Checking in via GPS during every moment of your day allowed predators to track your movements to the minute. Being tagged in other people’s images allowed all of your contacts to see where you were and what you were doing without posting anything yourself.
Social media fed our desires for attention, but it, also, put every aspect of our lives on display. For some, there is a real danger in that aspect of the technology. Being overly connected blurred the lines between fun and safe.
Katie Myers of Murrells Inlet deleted all of her social media accounts after a former co-worker was using the sites to track her daily routine and stalk her. She says that the offender was not a follower nor a friend on any social media site, but, because she posted regularly, he had access to more than enough information to know here whereabouts on any given day. Eventually the police were involved and, today, she is more comfortable living without the risks associated with social media.
The danger is not always in people we do not know very well, either. Sharing moments with family and friends is the most common validation for social media advocates. The average Facebook user has more than 330 “friends” but reports actually knowing around 10 percent of those people currently. Which means that more than 300 people, on average, who you do not know, are seeing your images and posts. We have connected with people who do not truly want or need to be connected with us in our lives. There can be as much danger in familiar faces as there is in new faces in a virtual world.
Why Quitting is Becoming Popular
The Department of Behavioral Science at Utah Valley University polled 400 students about their Facebook usage. The longer the students were logged on, the more likely that they believed that life was not fair and that other people had better lives than they did. Ultimately, the tool that was supposed to generate happiness and connectedness was, actually, creating unhappiness and isolation.
Happiness is a common theme among the people who abstain from social media. Citing that platforms like Facebook create emotions of jealousy, regret, time lost and can even keep you locked into your past if you choose. The scale of benefit and detriment tilts differently for everyone. More and more people are finding happiness without social media in their lives.
Time can also be viewed as something lost while searching the posts for something that spawns positive emotions. We spend an unrecoverable amount of time on social media. In fact, the average American spends 10 full days over the course of one year on Facebook. Some people are choosing to do something else with their time. Something that can be seen as more productive.
One of the main reasons social media is being perceived as a drain of time is the manipulation of data on these sites. Facebook conducted a nonconsensual study of nearly 700,000 people in the attempt to influence their emotions. The study controlled the content on their news feed to see how it impacted their own posts. That was enough to give some people a reason to quit altogether. Most people want control of the filter and, the truth is, we just do not have that control in the way that we are led to believe.
Social media has become such a large part of our lives. Most of us have a hard time imagining life without it. To others, living without it is liberating. Whether there is something new in the works to replace social media is yet to be seen. For now, participation is still a choice.