Social networks: what you already know and what to expect

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What was once a simple platform for making connections has turned into a powerful propaganda machine. PHOTO BY PEXELS

Social networks are a puzzle of modern times. What was once a simple platform for making connections has turned into a powerful propaganda machine. His perceived influence is so great that some sectors describe him as a monster that can no longer be tamed. How did it happen?

The power of social media likely took center stage in the world in 2011 during the so-called Arab Spring. It is collectively recognized that social media played an important role in facilitating communication and amplifying interaction during the political turmoil that rocked the Middle East and North Africa during this time.

Social media was no longer just a way to exchange recipes and cat videos; it has become a means of igniting political and ideological debates and, to some extent, even overthrowing governments. For the latter, the Philippines can probably even claim to have done so first through the text messaging that animated EDSA 2.

No one today can deny the reach, influence and power of social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube icons on billboards highlight the changing communications landscape. If you’re not on social media, you’re probably not someone a business would want to sell to.

The new “boob tube”

In the 1950s and 1960s, the rise in popularity of televisions did not escape criticism. Watching television has been criticized as a “foolish activity for the foolish masses”, hence the term “boob tube”. It has been described as “a guilty pleasure capable of corrupting young minds and gnawing at society”. Fast forward to the present and the same can be said of social media today, but there is a difference.

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, information is centralized. The dystopian future designed by Orwell in the 1940s had Big Brother having the final say in everything in the totalitarian state of Oceania. Today, however, the saying “Big Brother is watching you” has become commonplace – many now probably associate the term with a TV show. Plus, it’s not just the state: now everyone is watching you.

Big brother, little brothers

Everyone has had a voice, an opinion, a story on social media. You could say it’s a victory for individualism, autonomy, freedom of choice and speech, but there is a downside. The flow of voices has become noise. Big Brother might not visibly be there, but he’s definitely here, still watching, enjoying what social media has achieved. The relentless public battles in the comment sections are a gift to the powers that want to distract people. Sponsored or not by the State, the voices of protest are drowned and the critics jostle the order of viewing.

As for the little brothers, it is the advertisers who watch your every move, clicks of the mouse and desires. Social media is the ultimate tool for targeting specific audiences, making the user the product rather than the customer. In addition, information has been decentralized and now comes from all directions. It is heartbreaking to see opinions become Bible truths. Simple minds with crowds of followers are organizing coups against universities and / or scientific research. The domino effect is astounding.

The time is over

In the 2000s, social media was just that, a way to connect and interact. MySpace, Friendster, YouTube, and even Yahoo Groups were all about making connections and interacting. Politics and toxicity were marginal. Today, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok – the successors of these early social media giants – have become weapons for better or for worse.

Gone are the days when staying in touch with family and friends was the main benefit of being on social media, not to mention quick access to information, news, and research from legitimate sources, among others. There’s also civic engagement from fundraising and social awareness, but most of the time these are overshadowed by toxicity. Civility has taken a back seat, so to speak.

Additionally, medical experts have pointed out that excessive use of social media can lead to “social anxiety, depression, cyberbullying, and exposure to content that is not age appropriate.” Social networks have become the new opium of the masses. Likes and positive comments are like gunshots. It’s like giving your brain a dose of dopamine, the “feel good” hormone, so it’s addicting.

Fear of Missing Something (FOMO) “often leads to continuous checking of social media sites,” where “the thought that you might be missing something if you’re not online can affect your mental health.” The effect on self-image is also a problem because “social media sites provide tools that allow people to gain approval from others for their appearance and the ability to compare themselves to others”. Simply put, social media is now a battle between “virtual and reality”.

The future

With over 3.5 billion people around the world fueling the social monster created by big tech, it’s the private information, the data of social media users, that needs to be protected. The less big tech, big brands, and big governments know about users, the better it is for privacy, which will always be a concern online. European governments have already established mandates to protect the private information of their citizens and many social media companies have complied. Unfortunately, in areas not covered by strict privacy laws, those same social media companies will take advantage.

With the number of users around the world continuing to grow, social media is obviously here to stay. The way we consume it in the years to come will also change. Over the past couple of years, videos have become the dominant format. On Facebook only, most branded content is in the form of video, while Twitter posts with video are more likely to be retweeted than a photo. Of course, who can ignore the unstoppable popularity of TikTok. Voice search and the use of digital assistants within a social media platform will also be the norm, all powered by artificial intelligence.

Augmented reality and virtual reality are continuously experimented with and it is only a matter of time before they are integrated into social media platforms. Cell phones will remain the main access device and broadband connections will extend to mas.

In the local context, you don’t have to look far to see the future of social media. Next year’s presidential elections will be the most social media-focused since 2012. From pre-election maneuvers to election day and even beyond, the role of social media in the country has become etched as the last words on a gravestone.

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With the number of users around the world continuing to grow, social media is obviously here to stay. The way we consume it in the years to come will also change. Over the past couple of years, videos have become the dominant format. On Facebook only, most branded content is in the form of video, while Twitter posts with video are more likely to be retweeted than a photo. Of course, who can ignore the unstoppable popularity of TikTok. Voice search and the use of digital assistants within a social media platform will also be the norm, all powered by artificial intelligence.


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