The Social Dilemma, currently taking Netflix by storm, presents some uncomfortable and at times shocking truths about the extent to which social media algorithms now go, to create addiction habits. The premise and objective is simple. The more people using the platform, the more it can be monetised.
What’s the cause?
Monetisation isn’t the problem here. Every consumer brand in the world aims to create products and services that influence consumer buying behaviour for commercial gain, charities included! The issue is around regulation and ethics.
For a long time now, many in our industry have advocated for regulation, not just across social channels, but across digital marketing as a whole. And whilst some attempts are being made, we have a long way to go.
As highlighted in The Social Dilemma, updates made across social platforms have very real power to influence behaviour, world-wide. But yet these changes are unregulated and made by a group of, albeit very talented tech nerds; who I’m guessing have limited insight into the potential mental health impacts of these updates. And, whilst platforms like Facebook have achieved incredible growth and success in doing this, is there a line they have crossed that is now causing significant psychological strain and mental health, particularly in younger audiences? In the documentary, younger social media users asking cosmetic surgeons to “make their faces look more like filters” clearly demonstrate social media has gone too far in its influencing powers.
But, what about the benefits of social?
As a digital marketing agency, using social media platforms to achieve a number of different outcomes for our clients, is a huge part of our business. And, from a commercial point of view, these platforms create jobs, help businesses grow, and even make owning a business for aspiring entrepreneurs easier to reach.
On a personal level, it can help connect people, keep lines of communication open, and can even facilitate support groups, where patients suffering from the same condition can stay in touch. It has also become a life-saving way for isolated loved ones to communicate during this pandemic.
We owe a lot to social media, and I think we all need to remind ourselves of this. This doesn’t mean we can’t demand change, when change is needed.
What’s the solution?
Perhaps one of the ways forward in regulating the industry is to integrate highly skilled psychologists and mental health experts (employed independently of course) at a board level, but also at an implementation level, working with tech teams on platform development and algorithm changes? We need to be able to predict and diagnose possible psychological impacts before changes are rolled out, so perhaps this approach will help?
And whilst this may reduce the level of stickiness, we think platforms like Facebook can afford it. What we can’t afford is to continue negatively impacting people’s mental health.