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The Insider Look: Is Social Media Good Or Bad?


  1. Introduction: Society Vs. Social Media

  2. Life’s Somewhat Secret Social Rulebook

  3. Social Media Made Social Life More Complex and Demanding

  4. Society’s Subconsious Mimcry Effect

  5. How and Why The Online World Is So Different To The Offline World

  6. Conclusion: The World’s Changed



Introduction: Society Vs. Social Media

As a society, we are embroiled over the positives and negatives of social media. And although intellectual debate proves to provide note-worthy stimulus, such conversations can last centuries without arriving at any substantial conclusion.

But now, more than ever, there’s a race against time for any stakeholder to devise a constructive plan on how society should deal with the negatives and even positives of social networks - particularly as the effects social media has on society’s culture is not only tremendous but also instantaneous.

But this task is met with exponential resistance - with new data, mixed with false information, being released daily. Put together, this results in a near-impossible task to somehow be decisive in such volatile times.

Currently, social media is becoming increasingly integrated into today’s society. This is evidently so as the average internet user in 2020 spent 145 minutes daily on social media, compared to 90 minutes in 2012. But even putting aside the figures, the cultural change social media has created in recent years is enormous.

Although social media has become a place where people earn, learn and live, it has the ability to ruin lives; there’s a desperate need to step carefully and provide, at worst, an adequate solution for how society and teens should deal with social media. Yet, realistically, even an adequate solution would be a phenomenon.

The main issue is that we’re not entirely sure in what ways social media could ruin lives; although there are ideas, it isn’t currently possible to confidently confirm social media is the main perpetrator. Is it, as many say, that it provokes suicides with the ease of being bullied online? I’m not so sure.

So, we need to solve a problem - but we don't really know what the problem is. Seems preposterous.

Immobilising the unknown is a near-impossible task. But life isn’t always fair, so regardless of knowledge - decisions and actions need to be taken.

After spending thousands of hours analyzing the psychology of social media and running a social media management company - I’m confident in my knowledge in this space. And in this essay, I’m going to attempt to discuss the points that are being hushed up or that aren’t known. With the power of social media, that’s likely bringing in viewers like you here, let’s face the (harsh) facts together.

Life’s Somewhat Secret Social Rulebook

Every social connection, such as acquaintances, friends and family, is applicable to categorization, essentially quantifying a friendship scale. This is how it works:

Each connection can have a numerical figure applied to them based on how strong your relationship with them is, which in turn shows how to act towards them and what can be shared with them. As an example, with 1 the least and 5 the most: 2 for acquaintances, 3 for friends and 4 for family.

Here’s a challenge for you, the reader. Write down five people in your life and assign a number to each, on a scale of 1 to 5 as reflective of how close you are to them.

Write 5 people and assign a number to each:

Write rules for each number:

This assignment is not an easy one, and it’s only on a minuscule scale. To effectively test this to the full extent, add in all social connections such as neighbours, workplace line managers, workplace associates, security guards, child’s teacher, etc. Also, is the range of 1 to 10 too limiting? Heck, change it to 1 to 100.

Not simple, right?

So, what does that show? Well, firstly, social life is pretty complicated. But, more importantly, each person creates a chart, whether consciously or not, deciphering a set of rules to live by. A set of rules on how to interact with others.

Next question: who decides what numbers make of what action?

You. You have to set the rules of the game and then also play the game. And the referee is society’s social code which differs in different places.

I’ve seen mention of a similar system in a TV show, The Big Bang Theory, where a socially awkward character creates a chart that details what can be said to different people, depending on how close he is to each, to help him navigate social situations. In this particular case, the chart is explicit and drawn out; for most, although, it remains implicit in our minds.

Social Media Made Social Life More Complex and Demanding

Imagine a nineteen-year-old who recently completed high school. It’s been a hard push to live regular life - to be socially active, to go through life’s learning stages and to learn who he really is.

At the same time, he’s trying to somewhat impress his parents, teachers and friends - with a different for each.

All this rule-keeping is hard. Really hard. There’s no way around it.

But wait, there’s more.

He’s also created a subconscious rulebook for social interactions in his mind, which is based on personal influences and surroundings.

All of this together is not easy. In fact, it’s pretty damn complicated.

All this rule-writing is just so much to take on at such a young age when you’re just trying to enjoy life’s wonders. It’s a lot to take on. Even if it’s subliminal, it’s still there.

Now, let’s change the story from talking about an eighteen-year-old to a fourteen-year-old.

A teenager’s job is to learn to constantly update their rulebook. It’s to test the limits of the different societal structures put in place. And then adapt. It’s constant learning and adapting, in such a short-timed phase. It’s not easy to do.

Now, let’s turn this challenge to a higher heat. At the age of just fourteen, instead of just having one set of rulebooks to create and live with - you have two.

Yep, that’s social media. One rulebook for online, one for offline.

To put that into perspective, a teenager has double the amount of work to do, to figure out the rules they need to create, in the same time frame.

Never mind one rulebook, is it really expected for any teenager to do sufficiently well at two at such a young age? Doesn’t this seem improbable to the point of delusion?

Society’s Subconscious Mimicry Effect

The chameleon effect hypothesis is the theory that singular humans act differently in different social circumstances to try to fit in.

Dubbed as ‘the chameleon effect’, this is referring to nonconscious mimicry of the postures, mannerisms, facial expressions, and other behaviours of one's interaction partners, such that one's behaviour passively and unintentionally changes to match that of others in one's current social environment.

On an individualistic level, our characteristics behave differently according to the people we talk to and interact with. Essentially, we mould ourselves to fit social situations, whether consciously or not; it’s almost as if we have basic character traits with different add-ons available.

So, this is the life we all live. No matter ethnicity, religion, age or any other common differentiation made between the man - we’re all the same, at least in this sense.

How and Why The Online World Is So Different To The Offline World

As it’s quite established, there are varying adaptions of social guidelines in different locations in the offline world. A good example of this would be the contrast in how to greet people in different countries. For a formal setting in the UK, the common greeting is to shake hands. In Japan, although, it is to bow.

But what’s it like in the online world?

Even online, social rules are fragmented within different parts; each application comes with different expectations. For example, messaging strangers on Snapchat wouldn’t be as peculiar as it would be on Instagram.

Essentially, whether offline or online - social rules differ based on surroundings. But it goes much further than just that; below is a further breakdown analysis of the social rules within the physical and virtual world, and how they compare to each other.

The offline world has different:

  • Countries.

  • Neighbourhoods, within the country.

  • Social groups, within the neighbourhoods.

Whilst the online world has different:

  • Applications, like countries.

  • Social groups.

  • Algorithmic connection suggestions which are based on your current social connections, usually friends’ friends.

From this perspective, the similarities are eerily close. But, even then, there are a few more points to remember; the first being that there although there are extra differences in both worlds - I’ve only included the prominent points.

As well as that, many countries can be set as a bunch to be comparable to each other. For example, the U.K. and U.S.A can be put together. Despite having differentiation in character - it’s not a complete overhaul to do this in the physical realm.

In the virtual, although it can be done, although not as common. Many of the most popular applications are quite different: Instagram is based around more formal photo sharing, Snapchat is informal photo sharing, Twitter is formal and informal text sharing, and the list goes on. The differences may not seem so major, but it changes how communication works on each application to something quite substantial.

As the material world physically limits humans to being present in one location at a time, another point is that the offline world gives a resting period to change perspective or alter behaviour, with regards to the chameleon effect, when travelling from one social situation to another.

Although in the online world, it’s possible to, and many do, converse on different applications with only a few seconds in between. For the online world, this gives rise to the dangers of the chameleon effect - certain specific social behaviours are more likely to spill over to non-appropriate social situations with little time to adapt.

As well as that, in the online world, different applications merge certain product aspects to compete with each other, as would be expected in a capitalist society, with the hope to attract a larger user base.

For example, in order to compete with Snapchat, Instagram started offering options for one-time informal photo sharing on private messaging, with the ability to send a notification if screenshotted. But what does that mean to the consumer; should Instagram be treated like Snapchat, an informal application - but Instagram is still a formal application? How does that fare well for the mind?

Also, socialising online could result in different quality connections due to the current limited ability with facial expressions and speaking tones on a basic one-dimensional communication application. Talking offline with those ‘extras’ gives a higher chance of understanding and connecting with the other person.

Conclusion: The World’s Changed

As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the issues social media has the ability to cause, or does cause, aren’t so known. Hopefully, this essay is a constructive step toward understanding social media and therefore finding a solution.

To finish off on a quote by Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and chief executive of Meta (which is the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and more) said,

‘Te real world is a combination of the virtual world and the physical world. But I think over time as we get more technology, the physical world is becoming less of a percent of the real world.’

The solution to social media has to be within living with technology, not fighting against it. It has to within adapting to the times, not in opposition to it.


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