Over the years, social media has turned into something entirely different from what it started out to be. The new shifts in its functioning have set new norms on how social media platforms should be like. These platforms once used to be purely social networks where people keep up with their friends. Now it has become a place that carries out a multitude of user behaviors that are not social anymore. Due to this, there has been a lot of changes in how and why people have been using social media.
Networking behaviors these days have become less centered around sharing content about daily lives but more around fulfilling purposeful activities that have been laid outside the social arena. Hence there has been a constant comparison between the lives of the audience and the user projecting their content. The algorithm prefers content with higher engagement and prioritizes it over the others. A simple mundane activity shared by an individual would not gather as much traction as a fulfilling purposeful activity content that is being posted. Even though the engagement is not there in the content, it does not mean the content is less important than the other. This imbalance results in breaking the social fabric of how people see each other and in turn take a toll on their mental health.
Social media these days are used for Informational, emotional, and Peer Support. These factors are also indirectly used outside the realm of these networks and it contributes to the health behavior change of the individuals, But in reality, these are not influenced by algorithms. We handpick our experiences and information. In the realm of social networks, algorithms play a huge role in what you see and when you see it. This ultimately can take a toll on the mental health of the users.
I started social media account at a time when it had a chronological timeline. The platforms provided features just show our friend's statuses in ascending order. This helped us to keep track of what's happening in our social circles than being informed by a third party. Now algorithms have been designed in such a way that only content that has been engaged by your mutual connections gets shown in your timeline.
I personally manage an Instagram account that follows only 5 individuals including myself. The content that I had posted from my personal account a day back doesn't get shown until or unless one among the 5 profiles engages with it. This has serious implications on the social fabric of how we communicate passive updates. Unless your update or content isn't extraordinary, it does not get noticed by your respective peer circle at all. This makes users go an extra step to make their content more epic or even fake it so that it gets traction on social media, circling back to contributing towards a mental health crisis to themselves and their peer group.
Social Media platforms were designed as a tool for us to connect with our circles, But now it has pivoted so much in the way that they use users as tools to connect paid advertisers with them. Take a second to go through your social media account's story and news feed. You'll find that you are bombarded with content from brands and influencers that you don't know personally. You would rarely find content from people closest to you. The entire social aspect from platforms has been taken out as more and more brands and influencers use tactics to be prioritized in our feeds. These accounts make sure they post consistently with relevant content by positioning themselves well with their niche.
Would a normal social individual take this into account while posting a mundane update that is relevant to their peer group?
Right now in Facebook has become so saturated that has resulted in content getting minimal organic reach. It has come to a point where I need to pay Facebook to reach my own audience.
Now the world has been hooked to making the best from the algorithm. Rather than using the platforms as their tool, these social media giants are using content creators to make the platform more addictive to bring in more user retention. If you have a tracker to monitor your application usage, you would be surprised at how much time you literally spend on something that doesn't even contribute to your growth.
How do we get through this?
Technically, we can't. These internet giants would need to make a conscious effort to redesign the applications to bring the social experience back. Right now all of them are in the race to make as much money as possible to invest in their next-generation AR technology that would disrupt the way we live online completely.
These organizations can solve this entire social media issue with simple tweaks that would make a big difference to society as a whole. One of the simplest solutions is to bring up a chronological feed section for accounts that you want to follow on a regular basis without any interference from the algorithm. In this way, you wouldn't be influenced by paid ads or propaganda. Overall, you would be connected in the social space by individuals that matter and you share a connection with.
Craving out a separate feed similar to what Instagram did for reels can solve a portion of this social conundrum greatly.