How Social Media Evolves and Influences Us [Op-Ed]
From the way we communicate to the way we do business, there is a change catalyzed by social media at every corner. This is the very reason that social media is perhaps one of the most sought-after and well-researched themes of the last decade. Psychologists and sociologists, market researchers, in fact, people from every field have tried to dig out facts and statistics about different aspects and effects of social media.
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Jumping on to the bandwagon, I resolved to perform my own dissection on social media, albeit by seeing things from a different angle, an angle so tilted that you get to see things which you don’t realize were there this whole time.
Consequently, following are some of the results of my observations regarding the animal called social media.
We carry an alter ego on social media
There have been many books and movies about MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder) in which a person carries multiple personalities and can change into any of it at any time.
These personalities are totally different from one another as well as from the original personality of the carrier and are called his ‘alter ego’.
Similar to that, every one of us carries an alter ego on social media platforms. We post only the best photos of ourselves and usually maintain a profile that is quite contrary to our daily lives.
There is even a complete nerdy study on this phenomenon with respect to Facebook in particular, where the psychologists call it "Facebook self".
Our social media alter ego has its own personality, requirements and group of friends (some of whom we might not have met in real life). There are people who go to such great lengths in nurturing their social media alter ego that it is almost uncanny.
For instance, I once told a friend that I really liked her dress. She immediately asked me to go and like her Instagram and Facebook pictures on of the same dress. Privacy, it seems, is not top of the list anymore.
Our personal information, likes, dislikes and the trends we follow etc. were once exclusive to ourselves or certain market research questionnaires that we ever filled in.
However today, we share this information with social media platforms that we are a part of – and the most interesting thing is that we are quite ok with it as well.
Privacy versus Popularity
Initially, everyone had privacy concerns about social media. However, as soon as the circumference of their popularity increased, its active users reached the conclusion that privacy thing isn’t all that important; to them, it is more of a hype.
Somehow we have forgotten the importance of maintaining our privacy on social media networks and why it matters.
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Our carelessness towards privacy makes sure that instead of social media being a product for us, we in turn are products for social media platforms.
The data we put in our social media profiles, the pictures we share, the check-ins we do and the hashtags we create, every single piece of information is precious to the marketers – to whom our information is sold!
Everyone is living in the same time zone
The Internet never sleeps. There was a time when if you live in Asia, you could watch American morning news only at night, or you had to wait for the daily newspaper to catch up with yesterday’s happenings.
But on social media platforms, there is no day or night – the whole world lives in the same time zone.
Take for instance, news about the death of Muhammad Ali. That spread all over social media within minutes of the announcement. Similarly, when the attacks happened in Brussels, people from all over the planet contacted their friends in the affected area within hours of the event.
Social media has also changed the way we receive news. I can’t remember the last time in the past decade that I sat down and watched an entire news program on TV. I rather get all of my breaking news from Facebook or Twitter where I just have to skim through the headlines and intro to get updated with the latest.
Someone is always listening
People can say whatever they want on social media platforms, a thought, an opinion, or simply a statement that they find amusing. But what they may not realize is that these platforms are instantaneous, viral and more potent than traditional media.
Anything they say could easily backfire if said in the wrong context. There are hundreds of examples where people got themselves into trouble due to their social media posts.
For instance, Mike Bacsik, a former professional baseball player posted a racist tweet: "Congrats to all the dirty Mexicans in San Antonio," or Justine Sacco, a PR consultant who tweeted: "Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!". Both of them got fired from their positions.
It doesn’t matter if you post within friends circle or have only a bunch of followers, someone is always listening to what you are saying and the whole world will respond if your social media posting – good or bad – goes viral.
A concluding look
Social media is indeed one of the most powerful mediums in today’s world, and there are countless benefits of social media networks. Before it came into existence, governments, along with the traditional media, were the gatekeepers of information.
Today social media has given empowerment to an individual’s voice and there are no information elites anymore.
Civic participation and engagement has also been transformed with social media. Take the case of Arab Spring for instance, a campaign that started from social media and transformed a whole nation within days. All these prospects make social media from "interesting to have" to "must have".
However, among all the rapidly changing scenarios we get carried away and tend to overlook certain aspects of social media. This article is not a call-to-action suggesting that the wave of social media is threatening and needs to be stopped.
Change is good. Change is rather inevitable. The point however, is to be aware of this change and its effects for better or for worse.