Philosophy Of Social Media
Social media platforms (SMPs) are becoming both increasingly popular and ever more encompassing of human life; these platforms now have billions of users and take prominence over real-life socializing: for instance, it is common, amongst friends at a dinner table, to be on a cell phone using social media. The younger the user is, the more acceptable the behaviour as well. But, even though social media platforms have a much bigger impact on younger generations rather than the older generations, it, nonetheless, has a massive impact on both.
Whether we agree with the introduction of technology into our social lives or not, SMPs play a huge role in human social interaction. We update our friends about the content of our lives, we stay connected with colleagues, and we find potential romantic partners all through social media. This profound change in human social structure is full of complexity. This change in social structure impacts our biology, social behaviour, and the expression of our psychology. Be it from the interactions between old biological mechanisms and new technological mechanisms, or an alteration in the ways which we express our personality traits, SMPs have had a massive impact.
Your Brain on Social Media
Biology evolves, and technology develops; biology requires hundreds of millions of years, technology develops exponentially faster with each year that passes. Much how evolution lacks foresight, so too does technology: evolution solves problems which are currently in the environment or body, and technology also attempts to solve problems which are currently in the body or environment. In essence, biology has given birth to a faster and stronger process of evolution. However, although biology and technology are similar and have common developmental goals, these two do have issues when intermixed. Indeed, this is not always the case, but there are areas where the two go through rough patches. One of these areas is social media and the brain.
Social Biology and Social Platforms
Humans are social animals; we have a neural-network designed for socializing (1). A neural network is an X number of cells that demonstrate a complex and well-coordinated organization within the brain; these neural networks perform cognitive functions: I.e. language production, long-term memory, word meaning, and so on. In fact, all behaviours and beliefs stem from the function of neural networks and their many electrochemical properties (10). Moreover, the neural network responsible for socializing, often called the Default Neural Network (DNN), is an adaptation, much how the physiology for emotional expression, indeed, is an adaptation (2;3). Emotion physiology is complex, organized, and appears in all humans; similarly, the physiology for the DNN, indeed, is complex, organized, and appears in all humans (4). Humans evolved to be social. This becomes even more evident from comparative studies on chimpanzees and bonobos, which are our closest living relatives; they both share these neural properties and have complex social structures (5). The DNN not only has similar anatomical properties, but also has similar metabolic functions between chimpanzees, bonobos, and ourselves. So, to be human is to be social, for social cognition was selected for throughout human evolution.
This is where a problem between biology and technology arises. Some new technologies do not intermix with old biology, because old biology, more often than not, has an ecological problem to solve; and so, new technology alters the environment, which therefore alters the problem. Consider, the DNN has many functions, and amongst those functions is a social comparison function (4). We compare our social status to that of our friends, we compare our beauty to that of our peers, and we compare our like to dislike ratios on Facebook posts with other Facebook users. Now, social comparisons may have served some adaptive function in real environments, but the social comparisons can cause us problems on social media platforms. Of course, with conscious reflection and learning, we can combat these problems; however, not everyone has the necessary knowledge to do so.
Consider the radical difference between comparing one’s self to their siblings and fellow tribe members to someone on social media. Relatives and neighbours all have the same living conditions as us; they live in the same area, they dress similarly, they have similar lifestyles, and etc.. In such environments, the social comparisons are between highly similar people; so, if one had compared themselves to a sibling in some dimension of life, and had decided they wanted something similar, it was much easier to obtain because there was already a high-degree of similarity: I.e. if a sibling had had an interesting T-shirt, then one could travel down the street to the store from which the sibling acquired the T-shirt. Because the difference between people is small, it is easier to conform to the behaviour of others and fit in.
Now, contrast that to the digital environment. In such an environment, we compare ourselves to celebrities, to photo-shopped humans, and to various idealized representations of human life. These comparisons cause problems, given the discrepancy between one’s own lifestyle and a celebrity’s lifestyle, for instance, are massively different; consider that the video representation of a celebrity’s lifestyle is drastically altered, so as to appear more ideal than it is. We may see the 15 cars, but we never see the 100-hour work weeks; we may see the big houses, but we never see the millions of dollars of debt; we may see perfect physique, but we never see the photo editing behind the scenes. We, essentially, compare ourselves to an ideal representation that consists both of imagination and reality, skilled editing with compartmentalized presentations. Even if we exclude celebrities, we are, nevertheless, left with people who deliberately choose to present the best qualities of their life and hide the worst.
Since we cannot possibly obtain the idealized presentations on social media, it results in the social comparison bringing about feelings of inadequacy (6). To elaborate, when people are placed in an fMRI and given a task that involves multiple-people playing a game on a computer screen, an increase in opioids is experienced by those who are left out of the game (4). This phenomenon is referred to as social pain.
By a similar logic, people will avoid the things which most people dislike, and conform to the things which most people like: i.e., females find men that are surrounded by other women to be more attractive (7); people are more likely to smile and laugh if others are doing so (8); and self-esteem can be lowered when one cannot wear mainstream brands (8). In other words, conformity is rewarded and nonconformity punished. Thus, when a teenager sits in their room and treats Justin Bieber as a comparable peer, they will engage in social comparisons with him; as a result, a teen may begin to think that Bieber’s attire, persona, or behaviour is deemed socially desirable because everyone likes Bieber. Anything else may be deemed unpopular or uncool. Given that these celebrities are beyond reality, teens can possibly experience social pain because they are unable to meet the idealism of Bieber or whomever. And, in fact, teens can experience lowered self-esteem when using social media (9).
Of course, this is not to place too much emphasis on celebrities and social media, as parents also influence children, but social media is becoming a big part of young people’s psychosocial development. And since the problems of our biology can be exacerbated by the digital environment, it is important to pay attention to the social media developments; such that we can mitigate potential harms.
Sociology and Social Media
Institutions have been part of human social-structure for a long time. These institutions, being great in diversity, serve social functions for our societies. Schools educate our children, Churches homogenize our beliefs and communities, and courts settle our disputes civilly. Institutions are fundamental to human social structure.
Institutions are so fundamental for human social structure that they begin to develop norms and regulations for operation; the norms and regulations develop around the function of an institution: i.e. child-hood education, mental-health aid, or legal resolutions. The norms and regulations allow for a greater degree of efficiency, though limit individuality. Moreover, given that each institution has a specific function, different norms and cultures unfold within each institution; that is, the norms for a church are radically different than the norms for a courtroom. This allows us to derive a generalization: namely, that the function of a social institution determines the qualitative features of the norms and culture that unfold around that institution.
Now, we can apply this to social media. The function of a social media platform determines the qualitative features of the social groups found on a platform, and therefore the social norms of that platform as well; for instance, LinkedIn was designed to be an online resume, and so it attracted online professionals. This lead to LinkedIn having boardroom social norms rather than frat house social norms. To understand this further, let us bring a comparison platform: Facebook.
Social Norms and Social Media Platforms.
On LinkedIn, a majority of the posts are around academic research, business, and politics. When one scrolls through the feed, the utmost professional posts are the ones with the most likes, comments, and shares. The content of the posts will always reflect the mindset of someone who subscribes to the notion of professionalism. Comparatively, on Facebook, a majority of the posts are around viral videos, personal life events, and people’s general thoughts at that moment. When one scrolls through the feed, the posts which come off as personal often have the most activity; even furthermore, many posts are devoid of professionalism entirely; instead, they represent some aspect of an individual’s personal life: for example, a photo at a sports event, or an update about a new pool the user is building in their backyard. The content of the posts reflects the social attitudes within the platform, though it goes beyond posts as well.
When we consider the profiles of both Facebook and LinkedIn, we can further see the differences in social norms on the two platforms. LinkedIn profiles do not encourage as much picture uploading; rather, the platform encourages the user to treat the profile similar to an online resume. Users are meant to share work experience, employable skills, etc… Comparatively, Facebook’s profile structure is like a family photo book. Facebook encourages its users to tag friends in photos, create albums for all the photos, and create short video collages of the user and their friends or family. Facebook’s profile is designed to be personal rather than professional.
Even if we zoom in on users engaging with a profile, we can see this is fundamentally different as well. On LinkedIn, when someone connects with a user, they do so with the intention of business networking; whereas, on Facebook, it is common for someone to add a user with the intention of romantic engagement. The social boundaries are much more relaxed on Facebook than they are on LinkedIn.
Of course, since the advent of these social media platforms, real-life social norms have also been influenced. Now, it is common to exchange Instagram usernames rather than numbers, or perhaps even meet a romantic partner through Instagram and then meet in person. Social media platforms are altering social norms in both directions: digital and in person.
Thus, we can see that social media platforms will set future digital norms. The function of the platform will determine social boundaries, social norms, and social attitudes. The future of digital behaviour will, in part, be shaped by large social media corporations.
Psychology of Social Platforms
Another important perspective to consider when reflecting on social media is psychology; more specifically, personality and behaviour on digital platforms. Although we will not go through all the known personality traits, we will consider social media behaviour and narcissism – (to be clear, I am not passing any value judgments on whether one ought to be narcissistic or not; I am not here to dictate the behaviour of others, only provoke thought).
Narcissism and Social Platforms
Personality can be expressed in many ways, and so it no surprise that personality traits have found a means for expression on social media platforms. Indeed, grandiose tendencies are highly prevalent on social media. What is surprising, however, is that the social media platforms tailor personality traits. Again, to demonstrate this, we can consider the profiles of both LinkedIn and Facebook.LinkedIn, having a more professional environment, sets a more professional stage; as such, what is deemed grand or amazing on LinkedIn is not whether one has a perfect family or not, but whether one has 5 Ph.D.’s or not; whether one has a better career, a bigger network, or more employable skills or not. Of course, not everyone who has 5 Ph.D.’s is being grandiose, nor are all CEOs grandiose. However, given that LinkedIn sets the standards for “grand” as career-related success, the narcissistic trait becomes sculpted by it; put more explicitly: “I have two Ph.D.’s and 100 more endorsements than that person, look how much better I am than them”. LinkedIn allows the narcissist of the business world to express themselves in the digital world.
Comparatively, Facebook has set the stage in more relaxed terms; that is, grand or amazing on Facebook is not whether one has a perfect career or not, though that may play a role; rather, Facebook’s grand or amazing is about a perfect family, excellent pictures of social events, and excellent selfies. And thus, Facebook sculpts the trait of narcissism to focus on personal life rather than professional life. Their child’s first day of school must be documented perfectly, their profile pictures require 4 hours of hair-and-makeup, and they have entire albums dedicated to photos of themselves. Facebook brings a less professional narcissist and allows that narcissist to express themselves as such.
So, we can see how personality traits, such as narcissism, can be influenced by the orientation of a given website; that is, if those with more Ph.D.’s get more attention, then a narcissist requires more PhDs; or, comparatively, if Facebook users get attention for great photos, then 4 hours of hair-and-makeup is required to get a great photo. Personality traits will express themselves qualitatively different on various social media platforms.
Social Media platforms will influence social norms, alter how personality is expressed, and interact with biology in unusual ways. Much how cultures from different countries contain various behaviour and beliefs, so too will social media platforms. An important aspect to understanding how any given platform will influence its users’ psyche is to assess the platforms primary goals, what aspects of human experience the platform focuses on, and the means available for personality expression. Social media is here to stay, so we’ll have to learn more about it as it develops.
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