“People who smile while they are alone used to be called insane, until we invented smartphones and social media.”Mokokoma Mokhonoana
Social media is no Shangri-la. It is no utopia. The perfect world does not exist on the world wide web. Social media platforms have created many false, idealistic values and imaginary worlds that are not valid in the real world. These social sites twist and distort real life. People respond to these aberrations as if they are right, as if they speak the truth. Sadly, often it is all just a grand illusion.
The fall out from the mass fakery conjured up on social media can be profound and sometimes rather disturbing. In this article, let us consider just three of the many possible scenarios fashioned online, whereby social media produced outrageous falsehoods and then the participants paid some toll for their concocted interactions. They are:
- Everyone gets rich on social media
- False stories and fake news
- Bright and shiny lifestyles
I cannot count the hundreds of times some person has said to me, I will make my fortune as a social media influencer. They have some idea that they think is compelling and then they announce to the world, or any close friends who will listen, that they are about to embark on this amazing social media journey to seek fame and fortune from a rickety old chair in the baby’s bedroom.
Rarely, if ever, do these social media eminence daydreams become even close to a reality. They are typically forgotten as fast as they evolved, which is really, really fast.
Making meaningful money as a social media influencer is normally a side gig for famous celebrities and a very few incredibly lucky individuals out of the more than one billion internet users. You have a far better chance to win the lottery, and those odds are so tiny that it hurts my brain to even fathom them.
Yes, there are a few amazing success stories out there. Like the kid who makes millions talking about toys.
The first time I realized the true potential of YouTube was when I observed a friend’s kids, who were very young. Their young boys were sitting on the floor staring at the television and completely enthralled with what they saw – a child playing with toys.
I wondered what the heck was going on. What was this video? And more importantly, why were their kids watching this stuff?
After a quick Google Search, I found out the channel they were watching – Ryan ToysReview – was a wildly popular medium where someone, in this case Ryan, basically plays with toys so kids could watch. It was strange, I thought, but there wasn’t any harm in it, either.
Only a few weeks later, I learned that this wasn’t just some sort of hobby. The Ryan ToysReview channel was making real money at the time, which I found out after discovering the channel had more than 11 million followers!
Crazy enough, Ryan ToysReview now boasts over 28 million subscribers. It also brought in a reported income of $22 million dollars in 2018. And trust me, you would never guess it by watching one of his videos. A recent visit to the site will see that they are rebranding and expanding the topics to try to remain relevant. They are still here, so I suppose they are making it work for Ryan.
Most often however, these social media stars are always short lived occurrences as social media moves on quickly to the next big thing. These so called influencers are left with a vacant craving for attention that they had previously enjoyed. The psychological impacts after your 15 minutes of fame is over can lead to self destruction. That may not be the case for Ryan ToysReview, but many child celebrates have self destructed over the past decades when they outgrew their cuteness or tarnished their persona with wicked backlash behaviour. The impacts seem to affect the 20-year olds much greater after a brief romance with celebrity online.
Social media technologies such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook promised a new participatory online culture. Yet, technology insider Alice Marwick contends in this insightful book, “Web 2.0” only encouraged a preoccupation with status and attention. Her original research – which includes conversations with entrepreneurs, Internet celebrities, and Silicon Valley journalists – explores the culture and ideology of San Francisco’s tech community in the period between the dot com boom and the App store, when the city was the world’s center of social media development. Marwick argues that early revolutionary goals have failed to materialize: while many continue to view social media as democratic, these technologies instead turn users into marketers and self-promoters, and leave technology companies poised to violate privacy and to prioritize profits over participation. Marwick analyzes status – building techniques – such as self-branding, micro-celebrity, and life-streaming – to show that Web 2.0 did not provide a cultural revolution, but only furthered inequality and enforced traditional social stratification, demarcated by race, class, and gender.
Taters Gonna Tate
So recently there was an instance that involved two police officers in Louisiana, which might be how you came across the website Taters Gonna Tate in the first place. So, we had a situation where there was a police officer who was on social media, I believe he was on Facebook, and he saw a post that I believe he believed it was true. And the post talked about how one US congresswomen, it said something to the effect that she believed the military were overpaid for their services. And so, he read this article or whatever the information was on Facebook, felt really strongly about it and then posted a comment that was interpreted rightly as a death threat against the congresswoman. And then another police officer liked his post. Both of the police officers were fired, especially because of the post that the death threat was a bit much and that’s why they were fired from the force.
But the post that they were responding to was from Taters Gonna Tate – like that’s the name of a website, right? But they have a social media account, they posted this post it was intended to be satire but obviously when the officers read it, they didn’t understand that it was satire, believed it was factual information and it led to you know strong emotions, feeling upset which led to the posting. And you know, we know that you know, those types of things can lead to changing our attitudes, we’re not certain to the extent at which it can impact our actual behaviors. We know attitudes can influence behaviors, but we have to do more research to connect those dots and make sure that there’s a clear path. So, that we better understand how fake news and misinformation, false information can impact consumers.
It is said that the previous US President was elected due to the use and abuse of social media as an influencing vehicle to sway the general public with fake news and ultimately influence the electoral outcomes. Falsehoods online can be have a powerful affect and unwarranted twisting influence to unquestioning minds.
In social psychologist Kenneth Gergen’s 1991 book, The Saturated Self, he warned of an Orwellian world where technology might saturate human beings to the point of “multiphrenia,” a fragmented version of the self that is pulled in so many directions the individual would be lost. “I am linked, therefore I am,” he famously said, playing on Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am.” Little did Gergen know how dead-on his prediction would be.
Because as our society sits here more than 30 years later with our tablets and cell phones and electronic gadgets – seduced by the lure of the blue light glow – we have never been more linked, more connected, and more bound to a virtual reality that many of us can no longer live without.
“Tethered to technology, we are shaken when that world ‘unplugged’ does not signify, does not satisfy. We build a following on Facebook or MySpace and wonder to what degree our followers are friends. We re-create ourselves as online personae and give ourselves new bodies, homes, jobs, and romances. Yet, suddenly, in the half-light of virtual community, we may feel utterly alone,” writes licensed clinical psychologist and MIT Professor Sherry Turkle in her best-selling tome, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other. Founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, the book is the third in a series on the effects of technology on society and culminates 15 years of research on the digital terrain.
The long-term psychological impact of social media on individuals and their individual sense of “self” remains to be seen. But there is one thing we do know. Our daily lives have been digitized, tracked, and tied up in metrics. Our real selves have split into online avatars and profile pictures and status updates. And while social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are powerful tools that have the potential to build communities, connect relatives in far-flung places, leverage careers, and even elect presidents of the United States, they are also unleashing a myriad of complex psychological issues that have altered our collective sense of reality.
A virtual life is shiny and bright. It’s where you post your prettiest pictures and tell all your best news. “In games where we expect to play an avatar, we end up being ourselves in the most revealing ways; on social networking sites such as Facebook, we think we will be presenting ourselves, but our profile ends up as somebody else – often the fantasy of who we want to be,” Turkle writes. But is it real? More importantly, is it healthy?
While there are many other concerns and topics to discuss regarding the affects and impacts of social media on our society, these three examples highlight a few of the issues that drag down the value proposition of being forever connected. As with everything in life, there are both PROs and CONs to be weighted and maintaining equilibrium is therefore essential to control social media’s influence on ourselves.
Marwick, A. (2013). Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age. Book. Yale Press. 368 pg. ISBN: 9780300209389
Rose, J. (2019). How Much Do YouTubers Really Make? Forbes. Retrieved on March 5, 2021 from, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jrose/2019/03/21/how-much-do-youtubers-really-make/?sh=4169255c7d2b
Thomas, S. (2016). A virtual life: How social media changes our perceptions. The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Retrieved on March 5, 2021 from, https://www.thechicagoschool.edu/insight/from-the-magazine/a-virtual-life/
Wright, C. (2019). Speaking of Psychology: Fake News and Why It Matters. APA -American Psychological Association. Retrieved on March 4, 2021 from, https://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/fake-news
About the Author:
Michael Martin is the Vice President of Technology with Metercor Inc., a Smart Meter, IoT, and Smart City systems integrator based in Canada. He has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He was senior executive consultant for 15 years with IBM, where he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.