Can you trust social media anymore? Social media is a fantastic place that allows people with common interests to connect with one another, share various types of content, and build relationships online.
To others, it’s a creepy Orwellian nightmare that uses your personal data to micro-target you with advertisements and exposes you to so much malware that companies like Microsoft have even had to create new security codes just for Windows users. The Netflix show Wednesday had a great quote for all those that hate social media:
Social media is a great source of information about almost everything; be it your favourite celebrities or the latest viral trends. However, in this digital world, it’s not safe from the threats of cyberbullying, trolling and privacy breaches.
With new controversies arising around social media platforms almost every day, there are many people who aren’t sure if they can trust social media any longer given the variety of issues it has caused in recent years.
Dangers of Social Media
One of the main problems with social media currently, is that information can be taken out of context. A short snippet of content gets blown up out of all proportion or gets misrepresented. Sometimes it’s humorous, other times it’s misleading or disingenuous. The original content can then get distorted further by other users and one piece of information can end up being conveyed very differently across a wide global audience far removed from the original source. Worse, sometimes statements get attributed to people who actually never made them.
Young adults tend to rely on social media (45% do), television (15%) and online news sources (14%) as their primary news source, while those aged 40 and older rely on television (39%), social media (17%) radio (13%), and online news sites (11%).
You are also faced with information being used which is out of date but shown to be current. A video clip will be played which was recorded years ago (or even from films) and made to fit a context as if it happened only yesterday. This is often done to achieve an emotive reaction. It works very well at getting attention on serious matters and many don’t question the validity of the video and simply take it at face value.
Kate Winslet recently voiced concerns relating to how parents can feel powerless over their children’s social media use. She believes that the Government should enforce age limits to ensure that it doesn’t impact children’s mental health.
This is partly because sometimes, social media just flat-out lies and it can completely warp someone’s frame of reference, especially the young.
There is also the danger of catfishing whereby someone impersonates someone else or a character they make up and end up befriending someone online for their own means, often to scam them. It is so common that MTV even has a show called Catfish. There is even research to suggest that 28% of women and 38% of men have catfished someone online at some point.
Unrest in Leicester
Over the weekend of September 16th 2022, disorder broke out in Leicester between Hindu and Muslim communities in the area.
Social media disinformation and the distortion of facts. 15 people were arrested, some injured and the Police announced that there had been a “deliberate attempt to use social media in a destructive way.”
The flashpoint for the disorder was a false story referenced numerous times via social media about an alleged kidnapping which never took place. They stated that their 15-year-old daughter was almost kidnapped along with other falsehoods and the story spiralled from there.
A day later, Leicestershire Police issued a statement confirming that the alleged incident did not take place. The post was deleted but the damage was already done.
Something did happen, but it’s still not clear what lead to the scale or level of the disorder. The disturbing aspect is the role of social media and the speed at which false information was shared as events unfolded over the weekend.
Once the news became mainstream about the unrest in Leicester, the noise from social media users surged with many using manipulative hashtags and multiple accounts to push a false narrative, some going viral.
The most manipulative user of those hashtags was actually tweeting from an account located in India. An account that had never uploaded a profile photo and an account that was only months old. The individual was deliberately using multiple social media accounts to push their narrative and agenda in a country thousands of miles away.
A Lack of Values
Recently, the BBC radio presenter Jeremy Vine branded social media companies as having a “lack of values” due to videos and scandalous posts targetting his credibility posted by a stalker.
His stalker was another former BBC radio presenter Alex Belfield who has now been sentenced to 5 years and 26 weeks in prison for the harm he has caused.
What seems completely nonsensical is that he is now in prison, but still has a Twitter account and posted a video vowing to be back soon.
Influencers Charged for £90m Stock Scheme
At the end of 2022, a group of social media influencers were charged with conspiring to manipulate stock prices which netted them £90 million.
The eight men in question exaggerated their market-traded securities to their followers and posted photos of their exaggerated lifestyles to their followers without ever disclosing that they planned to sell their stocks once the price rose. They promoted themselves as successful traders and lured their followers to back them. Each of them had over 10,000 followers and they used their platforms to share in their financial rewards.
One of the most haunting stories is that of 14-year-old Molly Russell who took her own life in 2017. She had subscribed to a number of sites and channels with images, videos and text concerned with self-harm and suicide. The platforms she accessed which included Instagram and Pinterest, used algorithms which meant she was effectively “binging” on material which was selected and provided by the technology without Molly requesting it. A lot of this content romanticised self-harm by young people on themselves.
On September 30th 2022, Coroner Andrew Walker concluded that Molly Russel died from an act of self-harm whilst suffering from depression and the negative impact of consuming online content via social media. He stated that the images of suicide and self-harm that she had been viewing should never have been available for any child to ever see. The NSPCC have stated that from this, technology companies must be held accountable when they put the safety of children second to commercial decisions.
No parent should ever have to endure what Ian Russell and his family have been through. They have been so incredibly brave. Online safety for our children and young people needs to be a prerequisite, not an afterthought. W
— The Prince and Princess of Wales (@KensingtonRoyal) September 30, 2022
The war in Ukraine has been one of the first modern conflicts in which user-generated content has been used as a means to show what is happening as it happens in a war environment. But it is also the first example of how misinformation and “fake news” has been used to push an agenda as a means to an end.
Videos, imagery and facts have all been manipulated to frame the perspective of events almost to the point where personal biases are the only means of verification. If something is touted as truth, there is an immediate rebuke by someone with a “reasonable” explanation as to why it cannot be true. There is so much fake news, that it has in itself become meaningless as it is proving too difficult to verify sources, bamboozles even the most educated users and by the time they are verified, it’s too late, and the news has spread.
These examples present an interesting paradox. For example, can you trust social media users and the information they create or if social media is to increase trust, does the problem lie with the companies behind the platforms looking to turn high profits from advertising upon the user-generated content and data?
Can You Trust Social Media Platforms and Companies?
As social media platforms become more and more popular, people are beginning to question how much they can trust them. After all, these platforms are run by companies that are profit-driven, and that means that they may not always have our best interests at heart. In addition, the personal data that we share on these platforms is often used to target us with ads and other content, which can be a little creepy.
Social media platforms have also supported the growth and reach of conspiracy theorists too. Conspiracies such as there being a “Deep State“, tracking devices from Covid-19 vaccines, 9/11 conspiracies, QAnon, 5G spreading Covid-19 and more.
All of these are dangerous in their own right and anyone who reasonably argues against them is often met with a “well that’s what they want you to think” or “that’s what everyone says.” Unfortunately, the re-confirmation of many believing the same theories only goes to support beliefs further oxygen, and what started out possibly as a bit of fun can become downright dangerous.
Lately, Twitter has led the way in introducing payment for blue tick verification. Facebook and their Instagram service have followed suite and charge a premium for enhanced account verification. What’s interesting, is that by linking your identity to a bank account, the industry is in effect confirming that they can’t fully protect accounts and secure them without getting deeply personal information. It’s an interesting move, and one that might spell the end of the free social media accounts as we know them.
Now that social media companies are starting to take things seriously, can we trust the social media platforms themselves? Here are some highlights of the controversy across some of the mainstream social platforms that have hit the headlines and why we are now having to pay a premium for verifying our accounts:
Facebook: Privacy Breach and Data Scandal
Perhaps the biggest issue that has plagued Facebook in recent years has been its handling of user data. This has been one of the many reasons that people have become increasingly concerned about privacy online. In March 2018, Facebook was hit by the worst data breach in the company’s history.
Hackers were able to access the accounts of 50 million Facebook users, stealing their login details and taking over their accounts. The breach was due to a vulnerability in Facebook’s “view as” feature, which lets you see what your profile looks like to other people. It allowed hackers to steal Facebook access tokens, which they could then use to log into other people’s accounts.
In July 2016, Facebook was also at the centre of a data scandal involving the political research firm Cambridge Analytica.
The company was accused of harvesting the personal data of millions of people to influence the 2016 presidential election. The data breach scandal raised concerns over Facebook’s approach toward privacy. Many criticized the social media giant for failing to protect user data. Facebook’s stock price also took a nosedive after the scandal.
There have also been more recent incidents too, including being fined 17million Euros for breaching EU privacy rules and fines of over $ 5 billion following an FTC investigation.
Twitter: Bots, Trolls, and Misinformation
The world of political discourse has always been a hotbed of debate, and Twitter is certainly no exception. One of the reasons that people have questioned the legitimacy of Twitter as a platform is the prevalence of bots on the site.
The recent approach from Elon Musk to purchase Twitter was thrown into a farce when Twitter was unable to verify whether or not 5% of their user base was in fact just bots (code churning out spam content – not real people). Many have believed for years that the platform is overridden by an unverifiable user base. Musk estimated that 33% of Twitter accounts are either fake or bots but then he might say this as he is disputedly trying to pull out of the deal to purchase the company for around £36.6 billion.
There are many ways in which people use bots on Twitter. For example, celebrities and politicians often use bots to retweet and like their tweets to appear more popular than they actually are. Some people even use bots to spread misinformation and discord. Bots are particularly problematic for political discourse because they can create the illusion of widespread support for certain political positions.
They can also be used to artificially inflate the number of likes and retweets a given political position has received. Of course, Twitter is far from the only social media platform where people use bots. However, bots are particularly problematic on Twitter because they can easily be used to fabricate consensus and mislead people.
Instagram: Dark Ads and Insta-Scams
Another major concern with Instagram is that people can easily create fake accounts and use them to lure you into clicking on sketchy links. When you are browsing Instagram, there are a few warning signs to watch out for.
For example, fake accounts often use very generic names like travelgram, instablog, or photooftheday. They also tend to post very generic pictures like landscapes, food, or sunset pictures. If you click on a link from a suspicious Instagram account, you could end up on an “insta-scam” website.
These sites often look legitimate at first glance, but they are set up solely to trick you into handing over your personal or financial information. Instagram is also notorious for having “dark ads.” These are targeted ads that you can’t see unless you have been selected to see them. Unfortunately, with dark ads, you don’t know who is seeing your account or what they are clicking on.
Instagram is part of Meta, and they have been accused of enabling Instagram online fraud long after it was reported by simply not dealing with it soon enough, a sign that they still do not take online fraud seriously enough. Scammers know this and of course, this can make it much easier for scammers to take advantage of people.
An Over-Reliance On Social Media for Information is Impacting the Younger Generations
Today’s 15 to 24-year-olds are growing up in a world where the internet and social media have existed. For them, these social platforms, and the online world in general, have always been completely real.
Often in the current information environment, it can be challenging for anybody, of any age, to distinguish between fact and fiction in the material they come across and the piece of news being read.
A study conducted by the BBC found that almost 50% of young people between the ages of 11 to 16 believe any news they read on social media, and more worryingly, regardless of the source. Rather than question the credibility of digital sources, many are just accepting the short snippet of content they see as fact.
In the UK, we are also seeing a similar trend as to that in the United States where users of all ages trust almost anything a relative or friend tells them first, without checking where they get their information sources from.
Many believe the reason for this is the rise of social influencers and influencer marketing. These are people who post online who are “just like them” and usually of a similar age sharing content that their audiences are then more inclined to trust. This leads to information sharing that may be inaccurate, misleading and at best unreliable, fuelling distorted and fictitious stories which greatly impact other people’s lives. The concept is to make it look like you are getting advice from experts with all kinds of content available in short form and long form to support their case.
This works, because there is often no governing body like there is with mainstream news outlets, and after all, social media has a habit of beating the news.
YouTube also comes under fire for hosting videos with inaccurate information, especially in providing medical advice. As Forbes Magazine famously put it, “Social Media is a Good Source of Bad Medicine“. However, they do offer a platform for people to talk about their issues collectively and raise awareness of mental health issues for example, but when they step into cures for Cancer which are unproven and at best dangerous, more must be done to curb misinformation for the benefit of human health if nothing else.
Real or fake information often shapes the decisions the younger generation is making about their lives too. For this reason, it is crucial that information remains accurate and up to date to keep users safe and accurately informed about events happening in their community and the wider world. After all, if you see something enough times, you might just start to believe it, whether it’s fact or fiction.
Can You Trust Social Media Influencers?
Simply put, an influencer in terms of social media is someone with a lot of followers, or put another way, someone who is popular online.
They post engaging content and promote products that they love with their followers (audience). In essence, in promoting products, they try to persuade their audience to buy what they are promoting. The more sales, the more the influencer gets paid.
Influencers can range from:
- Well-known celebrities such as actors or sports stars,
- Experts in a particular field, like well know CEOs or scientists,
- The general public who have built up a large following through their postings.
This topic of influencers certainly divides opinion, especially across different age groups.
Here’s some interesting data though on the role influencers play and their perception of them:
- 49% of traditional consumers actually depend on influencers when it comes to their buying decisions.
- Women use social media 82% of the time to seek advice on items to purchase.
- 70% of teens believe that influencers are more trustworthy than traditional celebrities.
- Grey and YouGov found that 96% of people in the UK no longer trust influencers.
So as you can see, influencers certainly seem to influence.
The issue is that it is difficult to know when an influencer is being paid or not to promote a product, thus providing a biased review or opinion. Legally, this has to be stated now, however, though some still try to get away with it to be “more authentic”. This just leads to an increased distrust amongst social media users.
According to BBC Radio 4, 82% of people who took part in a survey (of 1000 people) relating to influencers, said it was still not clear when influencers are being paid to promote products or not. It’s interesting, because the recent Gary Lineker scandal which hit the BBC, showed how the corporation was not sure how to react to the new social media age.
Depending on how many followers an influencer has, can determine the amount they get paid to promote a product or service. Quite simply, the more followers, the higher the fee they can claim.
Influencers generally like to show how great their lives are, and how you can be just like them! As social media platforms have grown, so have many of their followers, making some famous in what almost felt overnight. They use platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and TikTok but lately, they have begun to struggle to engage with their audiences as much as they used to. This is down to changes in social media but also the fact that for some, through their own success, their lives are now far removed from the lives they lead and the reasons fans followed them in the first place. Which, ironically, reduces trust towards influencers for many even further.
It’s more difficult than ever to know if you can trust an influencer, but at the end of the day, it will come down to your own judgement and personal interests as to whether you can or not.
10 Positives of Social Media and Social Networks
There is no doubt that social media has changed the way we communicate and interact with each other. It has also brought about new ways of networking and marketing. However, there are also some positive aspects of social media that are often overlooked.
Fun trends that go viral often make the international news, things such as the “Gangnam Style” trend that went viral in 2012, the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge” of 2014 raising awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or the “Harlem Shake”.
Most of the time these can be good fun and engaging, but other times such as the more recent resurgence on TikTok or the “Blackout Challenge“. There are also concerns about Chinese influence on the TikTok platform and whether or not it is used for tracking users.
Here’s a collection of positives that social media provides:
- Keeping Connected. Social media enables its users to remain connected and in touch. This means you can keep in touch with friends and family via tools such as WhatsApp and networking sites with ease.
- Promotion. Whether through adverts or organic content, social media is a great way to reach out to new customers and people in your local community about events, products or sales on offer. It is now a key marketing tool for any business.
- Building Your Authority. If you’re an expert in your field, you can quickly share content and ideas with many people which helps build your brand and share your knowledge with others.
- Education. Social media can also be used for educational purposes. Some spend hours a day on TikTok for example learning from the content posted on the platform which has many wondering if the way we learn and consume educational material needs to be reviewed.
- Good Fun Entertainment. Sometimes, social media is just plain good fun and is a way of voicing an amusing opinion or a different way of looking at something. Who hasn’t enjoyed the odd Internet meme now and again?
- Allowing You to Find a Voice. Because users of all ages across the world can use social media, many users have used the platform to voice their concerns. One of the biggest social movers from this was the #MeToo movement which all started from a reply to a tweet.
- Supporting One Another. If you want people to get involved in a cause, community work, businesses, events and more you can use social media to reach out and connect with others who have similar interests and ideas.
- Growing Website Traffic. You can use your social media platforms to push traffic to your website increasing your potential for sales and brand awareness in the process. The more shares, and the more likes, the more you get out there. It also helps optimise your website.
- Providing a Different Point of View. Given a large amount of user-generated content, social media can give you a different point of view or perspective on life.
- Getting the News Out There. When things go viral, there are no faster means of spreading news stories and discovering current events. Social platforms offer swathes of audiences who are readily awaiting your every thought, like and share. There are some issues with this as we discuss below.
- Gaining Customer Feedback and Questions. Social media can offer a direct platform for customers to get in touch with you and provide valuable feedback or ask direct questions.
Here are some frequently asked questions into relation to whether you can trust social media:
You can use social media for a variey of reasons including:
- Connecting with friends and family
- Marketing and promotion
- Education and learning
- News and information
- Advocacy and activism
- Customer service
The amount of social media use that is considered “too much” can vary from person to person, as it depends on individual factors such as personal preferences, habits, and lifestyle. However, there are some signs that may indicate that someone is using social media excessively, such as:
- Neglecting responsibilities: If social media use begins to interfere with a person’s ability to fulfill their responsibilities and obligations, such as work, school, or personal relationships, then it may be too much.
- Lack of productivity: If social media use takes up a significant amount of a person’s time and reduces their productivity, it may be too much.
- Negative impact on mental health: If social media use is causing a person to experience negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, or loneliness, then it may be too much.
- Physical symptoms: If social media use is leading to physical symptoms such as eye strain, headaches, or disrupted sleep patterns, it may be too much.
- Dependence: If a person feels they cannot go without using social media, and they experience anxiety or other negative emotions when they are not using it, then it may be too much.
It’s important to find a balance between social media use and other activities in your life that are important to your well-being. If you feel that your social media use is impacting your life negatively, it may be helpful to set limits on your usage, take regular breaks, and engage in other activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.
The best social media platform for a business will depend on the nature of the business, the target audience, and the marketing goals. However, here is a list of some of the most popular social media platforms which are used by businesses:
- Facebook: Facebook is one of the largest social media platforms and can be a great option for businesses targeting a broad audience. It offers a range of advertising options, including targeted ads and sponsored posts.
- Instagram: Instagram is a visual platform that is particularly popular among younger audiences. It’s an excellent platform for businesses with a visually appealing product or service, such as fashion, beauty, or food.
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn is a professional networking site that is ideal for B2B companies or those targeting a more professional audience. It’s a great platform for sharing industry news, thought leadership content, and job listings.
- Twitter: Twitter is a fast-paced platform that is ideal for businesses looking to engage with customers in real-time. It’s a great platform for sharing news, updates, and promotions.
- YouTube: YouTube is the second-largest search engine after Google, and it’s a great platform for businesses looking to share video content. It’s an excellent option for product demonstrations, tutorials, and behind-the-scenes content.
Ultimately, the best social media platform for a business will depend on the specific goals and target audience of the business. It’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each platform and to develop a strategy that aligns with the business’s overall marketing goals.
Can you trust social media? Well, the challenge for anyone is that the vast amounts of information now available online can support or disprove any theory you may have. In essence, you can reinforce any bias towards any information you might have or want to know – just ask any question in Google for an answer to back you up.
Overall, the biggest concern that many people have about social media is the fact that social media companies can access their data.
People are often not aware that when they sign up for a social media account, they are giving the company behind the social media a significant amount of control over their data.
In many cases, social media companies can see the people you talk to and when you talk to them so always make sure you check your privacy settings within your account.
They can also see the websites you visit and what you like or dislike about them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Social media producers need this data in order to provide users with better service. However, most people don’t realise this when they sign up.
Generally, social media is still a force for good and has a lot to offer the world. Can you trust social media moving forwards? Well, I think the key to using it, positively is to not let your emotions get the better of you and question your assumptions and not believe the first thing you see, watch or read before you share it.
The positives of social media make it a fantastic marketing tool which in some ways is now evolving to new heights given its global adoption and success.
Social media is simply starting to grow up and take more responsibility.