Recently, we had an article on the LMS (like my status) craze currently running through Facebook. Hundreds of thousands of social media users are losing their sense of humility by donning a publicity-crazed alter ego, mindlessly hounding their friends, colleagues and acquaintances for that coveted thumb up.
It’s all in good fun though, part of a game that everyone is tuned into and which paradoxically makes everyone who’s not involved bizarre and out of the loop, unaware of the social evolution. Facebook’s key to low bounce rates (a figure moving away after landing on a page) and high visit duration is its photo-sharing: over 70% of an average user’s time is spent looking at photos, which may explain why Facebook leaves security leaks that make it possible for you to view your acquaintances’ juicier private photos they didn’t want you to see – and, don’t forget, vice versa.
…to make us feel better about ourselves…
It would be funny if this state of affairs were harmless and only afflicted a sectioned-off online persona, but this obsession with followers, interaction and self-promotion extends far outside the realms of a like button of some night out – one that you’d used to want to forget, but that is now a fundamental source of interaction and likes.
Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, FourSquare, and Google+ (I’m told some people use it) cover not a select group of friends who may benefit from knowing that you’re depressed or that your sister’s just had a child – news which better suits a phone call or a sit down – but a homogeneous block of acquaintances and friends of friends. Users are sickeningly interested, to the point of addiction, about how others lead their lives, in particular where they are doing well, and, better still, where they aren’t: an obvious case of schadenfreude. This is the single most important reason why social media seems to work: to make us feel better about ourselves in comparison to others’ lives:
“Ah, that old school friend is 22 and has 4 children. I’m so glad I’m not her”.
“God, look at him, he’s still unemployed; I’m so happy I work at Debenhams”.
For the first few months of the social media explosion, this honesty was prevalent. But quickly, it’s become apparent it doesn’t work in practice. In order for you to feel happier at someone else’s distress, you become part of the cycle, revealing part of your trauma that makes someone else happy, but you don’t want yourself to be the downer. The natural countermeasure is to promote yourself; to, like any politician or celebrity, cut out the negatives – unless they can bring you an easy sympathy vote – and promulgate yourself as the world’s best designer/blogger/writer/photographer/scientist, etc because no one can tell you otherwise, and, as an added esteem boost, in acting like a celebrity you feel you are one.
Like celebrities, social media users have become obsessed with crafting their image. Twitter and Facebook, which are so often hailed as beacons of human freedom and unfettered ideas, are nothing more than a public relations dream: you can say what you want about yourself and there’s little room to undermine it: a great prospect if you’re job hunting and know how to impress a particular employer (but that’s already a dated strategy), but useless if you’re going online to feel better about yourself. You’ll end up feeling second best, belittled by an obscure acquaintance or by a friend who has become so detached from that voice inside that tells them to calm the ego. Without a massive social media shock, little is likely to change, but it would be great if people returned to being a little more humble or just plainly lied less.