Social media has changed the world. Everywhere we go, we see people staring at their devices, laughing, smiling and sometimes even crying. From a waiting area at an airport to the living room of their homes, people sit together, but they are with someone else. According to a global digital snapshot, out of a total population of 7.3 billion, 2.3 billion people are active on social media. Advocates of the medium hold that social media has made the world a global village. People have found new friends, connected with old ones – and we have all become more social.
Is that true? Has the world connected on an emotional level or is it merely a physical connection. Has social media brought the world closer or has it been a catalyst in dividing the world. Has the world not become more hateful in recent times? Is this a coincidence or is there a link between global hatred and social media?
The day I started writing this blog, the following topics were trending. The Panama Papers, moulvis throwing chappals at a helicopter, Junaid Jamshed being beaten up, Qandeel Baloch being grilled by Mubashir Luqman. (As you read this, browse and see what is trending now and you will get the point even before I make my case.) There were a few positive topics trending as well, such as Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy winning an Oscar, but then I started to read the comments and I decided to write this article.
I started my social media journey on platforms like Orkut and My Space about 15 years ago, but my addiction began when I joined Facebook in 2006. This was the same time I started my business and being an antisocial introvert, I discovered that I could connect with prospective clients and showcase myself as a brand by simply sitting in my office. I could give my expert opinion on a broad range of subjects and establish myself as someone with an in-depth knowledge of advertising. Then Twitter came along and with it the realisation that giving opinions is the new normal. If you don’t have an opinion you have no reason to exist – at least on social media.
Social media gives us an opportunity to project ourselves in a way that makes us more ‘likeable’. Hence the selfies and the quest for more likes and retweets.
The top metric marketers use to judge social media performance is engagement. How many people have commented, liked, retweeted or shared a post. That’s how we judge ourselves too on social media. We like it when we see the reactions and the retweets. It puts pressure on us to give opinions which will generate more ‘engagement’. Hence, we have become experts on religion, politics, sports, morals and whatever subject is trending. The irony, of course, is that most of us are not experts on most of these things. Social media gives us an opportunity to project ourselves in a way that makes us more ‘likeable’. Hence the selfies and the quest for more likes and retweets. Everyone is in a race to prove that they are better than how they are perceived in real life. So, whereas people may be wary about giving their opinions in real life, on social media they feel obliged to do so, especially as there is no fear of being challenged face to face and proven wrong. The engagement that has marketers excited about social media mainly comes through the nonsensical debates we all love to participate in. To prove someone wrong is believed to be the best way to prove that we are better than the other person. So, if half of social media put up a French flag to express solidarity with the victims of the Paris attacks, the other half blames them for not putting up a flag for those attacks which happened in Pakistan. The two sides argue for a few days but it doesn’t end, it only changes when another topic starts trending. Although our elders taught us that debates are healthy, there is hardly ever a bright side to discussions on social media. Most turn into ugly verbal brawls, ending up in abusive comments and hateful rhetoric.
I created Marketing Next (the largest marketing forum on Facebook, with approximately 15,000 members) with the objective of engendering healthy discussions on marketing related topics. Instead it became a hostile platform and the favourite place for marketers to bash someone else’s work. We feared we would lose members and the group would fade out. So we curtailed the bashing and started to steer the group towards more positive discussions. In a week the engagement analytics fell dramatically, members started opting out and we started receiving complaints that it had become boring. We reverted back to insults and bashing and we are happy to report the analytics show great improvement.
This trend holds true globally. Case in point, read the stories trending today and their attending comments. There is always more hate than love. The hypothesis experts infer is that people are not real on social media, but in fact are pseudo intellectuals. But what if people are real on social media and are only pretending to be nice in real life?
What if social media is triggering reverse evolution, showing that humans cannot exist as individuals and can only survive and flourish in the presence of a leader; someone who will tell them what to say and not say.
Our animal instincts are curtailed by the presence of people, and more importantly authority. There is no authority to scare you off from accusing someone of being an infidel or a traitor or worse, on social media, whereas in real life you may not ‘dare’ to call someone that to their face. What if this crudeness is real and everything else is fake? What if humans were meant to have figures of authority and would obliterate each other in their absence? Hence, the creation of over 2,000 religions and gods to tell us what to do and how to behave. What if social media is triggering reverse evolution, showing that humans cannot exist as individuals and can only survive and flourish in the presence of a leader; someone who will tell them what to say and not say.
Someone like Harlan Ellison who said; “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”