Former Facebook vice president Chamath Palihapitiya unleashed a typhoon in the virtual world with his "social media is ripping apart society" remark. He minced no words stating that social media sites encouraged "fake, brittle popularity," pushing users into a "vicious circle" of sharing posts to gain others' approval. Palihapitiya is not the only one to raise concerns about the downside of social media usage.
The Chinese government was the first in the world, in 2008, to recognise internet addiction as a condition and set up bootcamps to help people overcome it. A report published in June 2017 by the UK-based think tank Education Policy Institute found that 27 per cent of children who spend more than three hours a day on social networking sites on school days displayed 'symptoms of mental ill health'.
The crux of this issue is biological, says Siddharth Deshmukh, Associate Dean, Area Leader - Digital Platform & Strategies at MICA. "People get addicted to the dopamine rush when their friends 'like' or comment on their post." Dopamine is the 'reward molecule' that gets released in the brain after an accomplishment. Social media has catalysed the feedback cycle through instantaneous comments or likes in a way it was never possible earlier. "This feeling of exhilaration from quick social reinforcement drives people to check new notifications again and again - especially those suffering from insecurities and wanting external validation to make meaning of their lives," Deshmukh adds.
Professor Sudhir Voleti, Assistant Professor Marketing, The Indian School of Business, points to the algorithm at play on social media platforms with the singular motive of driving engagement. This means a user will see content that he/ she is mostly likely to view, share, comment or read, and not content that may prompt any kind of cognitive dissonance, introspection or critical thinking. "Always reading 'comfortable' posts reinforces their own bubble of contentment, entrenching their beliefs further and making society more dismissive of counter narratives," Voleti adds.
The criticism of Facebook, for instance, stems from its power to sway the intellectual capabilities and belief systems of the society at large. Many attribute the increasing incidence of trolling and political divisions across the globe to social media platforms. Sean Parker, former president of Facebook, recently talked about how the social network "literally changes your relationship with society and with each other..."
A blog post written by Facebook's senior research executives, acknowledges the unpleasant effect the social network can have on people. "When people spend a lot of time passively consuming information - reading, but not interacting with people - they report feeling worse afterward," the post said, referring to an experiment conducted on students from University of Michigan.
Though shunning social media platforms altogether may be an overreaction, experts say limiting its use and exercising discretion would certainly help.
Twitter is taking on Facebook by adding new features to its mobile app. Now, with features such as Moments and Threading, users can weave together their standalone tweets and present them like a story.
Snapchat had earlier launched animated filters, such as twinkling stars, that could be added to photos or videos. Now, it is letting advertisers animate filters that people can use as overlays on photos and videos. Dunkin' Donuts is the first to come on board. The doughnut company has bought the sponsored animated filter that celebrates winter solstice - the darkest day of the year - to promote the brand's dark roast coffee. The creative is designed such that it gets darker as the day progresses.
In its Government Requests Report, Facebook revealed that India requested for data 9,853 times in the first half of 2017 - up from 6,324 times in the first half of 2016