What Kind of Social Change Do We Want from Social Media?

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In last week’s New Yorker, staff writer and author Malcolm Gladwell states in “Small Change” that social media platforms render true social movements obsolete. He asserts that social media creates weak ties that dissolve easily offline, and that inherent in this structure is a lack of hierarchy and relative equality on social media platforms which don’t allow for a leader to emerge.

I liked his premise, but there’s a glaring explanation that begs a revision: There is, in fact, a hierarchy online, and it’s a hierarchy of one: The self. Every user online is a legend in his or her own mind; though certainly some operate in this imaginary realm more than others. And therein lays the seeds for why social media platforms are incongruent with real-life, offline activism on the kind of Civil Rights scale that Gladwell points out: Not everybody can lead but everybody wants to be the star.

 

Social Network Social Media People Meeting Teamwork Concept

Aggrandizing self-documentation not only kills social movements before they get off the ground, but it also creates weak ties in real-life relationships. Ultimately, the temporary shot of illusory self-esteem provided by daily participation in self-promotion clouds our judgment and leads us to overestimate the value of social media platforms in our lives. Along with the likes, Buy Instagram Views for the promotion and advertisement of the products. There should be no under estimation of the benefits of the social networking sites. Plenty of benefits will be provided to the business person. 

So, What is The Value of Social Media?

Social media’s value depends on whom you ask. Businesses make money from user participation, while users power the system and make it valuable for businesses. Users rarely reap large financial benefits from participating, so what is it that social media platforms provide to everyday users?

For many, social media provides an entertaining escape from daily life. It’s interactive television that’s always on-in the morning, at work, at night. It can also be a looky-loo window through which to peer in on our peers and those from a past long gone. On the surface, it seems like a place the express and share ideas, but in reality, most status updates are used opportunities to narcissistically self-brand, even when containing worthy information, because everyone wants to be a leader of the smartest, funniest, most informed, and most in-the-know and on-and-the-go-for themselves. It seems that in social media platforms all we want is to be entertained and admired.

Social movements, on the other hand, have much loftier goals based on equality, not self-differentiating branding to keep an ego afloat and justify personal lifestyle decisions. Powerful movements are united around a common cause of one for all and require the kind of participation which rises above digital banter and argumentation of only select, exclusive groups who will de-friend at the mere hint of a challenge to ego and authority. True social movements require participatory audiences of many who share the same goals and are willing to shelve their own egos, often times at the risk of ridicule, scorn, and maybe even physical altercations and violence. From what I’ve seen online, mere disagreement in denominational theory alone can keep activism confined within daily comment flame wars.

Because of the inherent nature of self-promotion in social media participation, we’re also experiencing increasing transaction costs; meaning every single profile, whether personal or business, must up the ante with every post to stand out among sea of other profiles. Business people call it “soliciting engagement”; off the business grid it means that we’re all seeking more and more of an enjoyable experience when we use social media. While there’s nothing wrong with seeking short-term value in our activities, we should consider our longer term priorities in what we consider valuable in the context of the kind of world we want to live in. Thanks to the Internet and mobile devices that give us what we want in a few clicks and taps, our value-reward system is shortened to immediacy. If it isn’t immediate, it’s hard to see the value in it.

True social change is hard-won and takes time. It requires the diligent pursuit of multiple long-term goals that current social media platforms just can’t provide, given the way that we use them. It requires a much larger transaction cost than reading feeds and commenting. It requires waiting for rewards for decades, not minutes. It requires real-life self-sacrifice and as Gladwell points out, a hierarchy, with one leader. Most of all, it requires shelving self-promotion as the primary underlying motivator for social discourse online in order to care about something bigger than ourselves that benefits more than just ourselves or select group of our closest friends.

Perhaps the very first social movement to be pursued is the revolution of social media platforms themselves.