- The Problem With Social Media Consumption
- What is Social Responsibility & Why Does It Matter?
- The Solution – 3 Steps In the Right Direction
If you’re like nearly half the world’s population, you are probably on social media.
According to Statista, roughly 3.6 billion people globally have used social media in 2020 – and that number is only growing. According to Pew Research Center, a whopping 72% of teens ages 13 to 17 say they use Instagram.
When initially founded, Mark Zuckerberg claimed that Facebook’s mission was to “make the world more open and connected,” and today, social media has evolved to more than just that. Today, these platforms have made connecting, organizing, discovering, and learning more accessible – but it has come at a cost. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, and Twitter have created addictive algorithms that can keep their users scrolling through meaningless content for hours. Why? Because our attention is an asset worth billions of dollars per year.
As stated in The Social Dilemma, we live in a world where trees and whales are worth more dead than alive. To these tech giants – we’re worth more glued to our screens than enjoying fresh air outside with family and friends.
In our capitalistic society, the big question is: what social responsibility do these companies have to protect their users’ mental health and wellbeing?
First, let’s unpack the problem.
The Problem With Social Media Consumption
A big issue with excessive social media consumption is its impact on the mental health and happiness of their users. See the chart below by Sage Journals:
Here’s a breakdown on why this is by helpguide.org:
- Inadequacy about your life or appearance. On social media, people post things that they want you to see; they don’t show you the full picture. This fools viewers into believing their lives are not as fun or interesting.
- FOMO. Viewers lose appreciation for the present and wish they were elsewhere, doing what their friends are doing.
- Isolation. Social media users feel more lonely despite the mission of social media being to connect people.
- Depression & Anxiety. People are substituting real human interaction (which actually makes people happy) with time online, causing them to be more depressed.
- Cyberbulling. Social media can be used to bully or make mean comments online.
- Self-absorption. Constantly sharing pictures or thoughts can make users lose sight of reality and distance them from real-life interactions.
Clearly, there are plenty of side effects to social media use.
But why should companies care?
What is Social Responsibility & Why Does It Matter?
According to Investopedia, social responsibility means that individuals and companies have a duty to act in the best interests of their environment and society as a whole.
I firmly believe that businesses that prioritize social responsibility are inherently more sustainable businesses for a few reasons:
- Consumer behavior and expectations. As millennials and Gen Z look for purpose and transparency, they care more than ever about social and environmental issues and will choose brands based on how they act.
- Laws. Laws around a businesses impact (environmental specifically) are becoming stricter. The businesses that put responsibility at the forefront of their offering now will be well-equipped for changes in the future.
- Core principle. With our current environmental crisis, continuing to make straws is like saying, “my business is creating a world that won’t exist.” Similarly, proactive brands that look to feed the hungry or educate the youth are preparing for a world that will only be stronger. If the underlying principle of your business is that you’ll make money in the short-term despite long-term risk, then it’s fair to say you’re business is not quite sustainable.
- Crisis. When crisis hits, the proactive, purpose-driven businesses will be prepared to grow stronger while other businesses crumble. We’re seeing this with WELL right now. The building standards company focused on making indoor spaces cleaner and healthier has seen a 350-million-square-foot increase in demand due to COVID19 according to Reuters.
Now that we’re aligned on the importance of social responsibility, let’s dive into what tech giants can be doing.
The Solution – 3 Steps In the Right Direction
A big part of the problem is the algorithms these social media platforms use to keep users on for longer. While this can have a negative effect, we can’t argue with the convenience of seeing our favorite content first.
My proposed solution is to increase transparency and users’ choices and options in their settings.
Instagram took a huge step in this direction when they introduced the “Your Activity” feature, as shown below.
3 iterations for Less Addicting Platforms
While the following iterations could be applied to most platforms, we’ll use Instagram as an example.
Here we go!
Default Notifications Settings
I try my best to stay off Instagram during the workday. It’s gotten to the point where I deleted the app and only use Instagram.com now.
Not only is the user experience so bad that I want to leave the platform immediately, but there are no unsolicited notifications that come in to disrupt me.
At times when I did have the app, I found myself endlessly scrolling and asking myself, “how did I get here in the first place?” only to find out it was a meaningless notification that roped me in.
A perfect would be to have the default notification setting set to off and then allow users to turn them back on - instead of the other way around.
Taking the “Your Activity” feature a step further, users should be able to set strict timers to limit daily use.
There is a disconnect between the time people want to spend and do spend on social media. If they could set stricter limits, users would be much happier about their social media use, knowing it’s within their boundaries.
I use an Android with strict features that will not allow me to open an app once I pass its daily limit. Social media platforms should do the same.
Check-In Sponsored Posts
TikTok introduced their check-in sponsored posts to notify their users they’ve been on the platform for too long. Learn more about that feature here.
I’d love to see Instagram do something similar on their platform, using advertising space to encourage their users to get off their phones to get sleep or enjoy time outside.
To picture this, imagine you are scrolling through Instagram stories, and someone pops up to tell you, “you’ve been on Instagram for quite some time. Care for a break?”
Social responsibility is a critical topic for businesses, and social media companies have a lot of work left to do. While they have been making steps in the right direction, they must tighten their responsibility efforts before a crisis happens.
The fate of social media depends on their willingness to create products that do more good than harm, and right now, we’re seeing quite the opposite.