What Snapchat unlocked was a desperate desire for users to not have their digital actions follow them around. Whether it was shitposts or thirst traps, the idea was that it didn’t need to live in your, or anyone’s, feed forever. That ephemerality, combined with the lack of gratification that typically comes with a main feed post, gave users the opportunity to have more fun and enjoy the internet without any of its traditional consequences. Why should we have to cling on to the minutiae of what we were posting? It treated the internet like a tool, not a catalogue. And through this it unlocked a new era: the Snapchat-cum-Stories framework of disappearing content that now exists on most mainstream platforms.
Which tactic worked best? Apologies and requests to switch to a private channel generally lowered virality, as long as they were communicated right away. Offering to compensate an unhappy customer had the opposite effect—a result that took the researchers by surprise. Expert opinion is mixed regarding the use of compensation as a service-recovery tool; it might ease a complaining customer’s frustration, the researchers say, but if companies suggest compensation immediately, other members of the community may see it as an opportunity to post a complaint in the hope of receiving something from the company themselves.
The tobacco industry never backs down.
Social media detective work started to reveal a few consistent themes. Whenever Marlboro branding appeared in the frames of otherwise innocuous pictures, the hashtag #IDecideTo would too, slotted in at the bottom of the post. Similarly, any picture prominently featuring Lucky Strike would be equipped with #LikeUs_Party. They also appeared to be region-specific, with the most common hashtags in, for example, Brazil – #AheadBR, #Quemtepira, #TasteTheCity and #Readytoroll – used by British American Tobacco to advertise Kent, Dunhill, and Lucky Strike.
What’s your view?
“Antisocial Media” is not a hopeful book. Vaidhyanathan doesn’t think Facebook can be reformed from within, however many times CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologizes and promises to do better. “The problem with Facebook is Facebook,” he writes. It’s not just that the company makes its money by pimping its members to advertisers. It’s that the network is now so immense that it has become impossible to weed out the scoundrels and creeps until after they’ve done their damage. “Facebook,” Vaidhyanathan concludes, “is too big to tame.” The company will always be cleaning up messes, begging our forgiveness.
So why are today’s teens opting out of social networking? Largely because of the effect social media has on their mental health. Thirty-five percent of anti-social media users cited that there was too much negativity floating around, while seventeen percent said it made them feel bad about themselves. Social media is often linked to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, and eighteen percent said they felt too much pressure from sites to get attention.
Twitter, the company, retweeted my talk in a call for job applicants to “join the flock.” The implicit understanding was that Twitter was a force for good in the world, on the side of the people and their revolutions. The new information gatekeepers, which didn’t see themselves as gatekeepers but merely as neutral “platforms,” nonetheless liked the upending potential of their technologies.
I shared in the optimism. I myself hailed from the Middle East and had been watching dissidents use digital tools to challenge government after government.
But a shift was already in the air.
FOMO – Fear of Missing Out
Psychology Today states, ‘Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger — if we didn’t feel it, we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But often we fear situations that are far from life-or-death, and thus hang back for no good reason.’
Hang back for no good reason? Isn’t that the same as ‘sticking to what you know’ or ‘playing it safe’?
Fear, and the fight-or-flight response have been around forever. However, if early humans missed out on information and, as a result, were rejected by their fellow tribes people, they would be alone. Properly alone and likely to die. It was then humans developed a paralysing fear of being disliked.
Thoughts of some of my Facebook friendships came to mind recently as I read an essay by William Hazlitt. In “The Pleasures of Hating,” Hazlitt talks about the many things we come to hate, especially as we age. “We hate old friends: we hate old books: we hate old opinions; and at last we come to hate ourselves.” He continues:
Old friendships are like meats served up repeatedly, cold, comfortless, and distasteful. The stomach turns against them. Either constant intercourse and familiarity breed weariness and contempt; or, if we meet again after an interval of absence, we appear no longer the same. One is too wise, another too foolish for us; and we wonder we did not find this out before. We are disconcerted and kept in a state of continual alarm by the wit of one, or tired to death of the dullness of another.
Have you ever got a notification or a reminder from a friend who has died? The social profiles of people who have left us are still there and they look no different than that of a friend who you have not reached out to in a long time.
A fortnight ago, a friend sent me a light-hearted reminder that it was her birthday in a few days. She does this every year.
The problem is that she died a couple of years ago, and I simply cannot bear to block her (and her digital messages) from my account. I wouldn’t want to either: her satirical messages still make me smile. Like millions of other people, her continued digital life serves as a reminder of her unique identity. Her messages from the grave are a profound example of a contemporary revolution in dying and death.
Humorous article looking at how Morse with his Morse code was in fact social media’s true inventor.
Standage noted a journalist’s complaint from an 1891 issue of Atlantic Monthly.
“America has in fact transformed journalism from what it once was, the periodical expression of the thought of the time, the opportune record of the questions and answers of contemporary life, into an agency for collecting, condensing and assimilating the trivialities of the entire human existence,” the complaint went. “The effect is disastrous, and affects the whole range of our mental activities. We develop hurry into a deliberate system … the pursuit of novelties and sensations into the normal business of life.”