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Social Media's Impact on Society

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Social media is an undeniable force in modern society. From giving us new ways to come together and stay connected to the world around us, to providing an outlet for expression, social media has fundamentally changed the way we initiate, build and maintain our relationships.

But while it feels like social media has become commonplace in our daily lives, the reality is that social media, as a technology, is still in its infancy. We still have so much more left to learn about the intricacies of the algorithms and design, especially when it comes to their impact on society.

Read on to see what’s on marketers’ minds when it comes to the impact of social media:

Mental Health

You’ve likely heard at least something about the negative impacts that social media can have on mental health. Recently, experts are weighing in on the role that the design and build of social media platforms plays in exasperating these concerns.

For example, at SXSW 2019, Aza Raskin, co-founder of the Center for Human Technology, spoke on a panel about the “digital loneliness epidemic,” which focused on the global rise in depression and loneliness as it correlates to social media use. In that discussion, Raskin spoke about the “infinite scroll” or the design principle that enables users to continuously scroll through their feeds, without ever having to decide whether to keep going.

It’s hard to imagine what the bottom of an Instagram feed would look like, so we certainly can’t envision what it would be like to have to choose “next page” if we were to get there. That was an intentional decision made by the designers of these platforms because at its core, it’s good design. But the dilemma we’re now facing, in the wake of momentous mental health concerns that are being linked to social media, is whether good design is humane design. And more importantly, what do we do when it isn’t?

Extremism & Hate

Another trend on experts’ minds is how the algorithms behind these massively influential social media platforms may contribute to the rise of extremism and hate online. For example, YouTube has faced its fair share of backlash lately, with concerns over how quickly its algorithm leads viewers to increasingly fringe content.

Similarly, Facebook has been a hot topic of conversation in the space, especially when it comes to the influence that closed Facebook groups have in allowing extreme communities to form and build power, in a relatively unmoderated way, online.

However, organizations, brands and social media users are working together to fix some of the functionalities that have the potential to result in dangerous outcomes – and it seems to be working. Facebook, for example, recently announced that it will be banning white nationalism and separatism content from its platforms.

So, What Does This Mean for Marketers?

Nearly 40% of the world’s population uses social media daily, and that number is only expected to grow. Potential negative impacts aside, social media is, and will remain, a crucial way for marketers to reach their audiences.

Each scroll, video view, like, comment or share, teaches us something new about the impact of social media platforms and the way in which they’re built. It’s important for platforms to take those learnings to heart and use their sphere of influence to better our society.

But until we find a way to curb some of the negative impacts of these platforms, from a technological perspective, it’s up to all of us to take a bit of the responsibility. It’s increasingly important that we focus on imagining, designing and utilizing content and technologies that are socially responsible.

Together, we can create and share social media content that has the power to positively impact the lives of billions of people around the world.


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