Month: April 2016

20 Questions About “Listicles” – Opinion

Research has shown, time and again, that social media provides users with an ideal platform for self- and identity- expression. This expression can be explicit – sharing  information about ourselves and our lives – or implicit, where  we share links or content which alludes to who we are. In the last few days, for example, I have shared a link to a change.org petition asking the Irish government to prioritise mental health spending as a matter of urgency and a quote from Blade Runner.  These posts says something about me and what I believe and, to a certain extent, allow me to tell my community what is important in my life.

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Identity-expression, a core function of social media, has not gone unnoticed by content providers, who live and breathe on clicks and recently, the popularity and importance of implicit forms of self-expression have led to a flood of articles which are specifically designed to be shared. With the arrival of the “listicle” (short-form articles delivered in the form of numbered lists), pre-packaged, bite-sized facets of the self are now available to social media users to be share with “friends”. These sharable, clickable aspects of the self are just detailed enough to say something about  the user and broad enough to go viral. A friend of mine recently shared a listicle from Buzzfeed which lists 23 things only women with big boobs understand : suitably specific and suitably broad.

In the main, these listicles follow the same formula and build to the same crescendo: Ugh! Isn’t it awful when you (insert problem here), and then you (other problem associated with the thing we are talking about). Then there are all the times people don’t understand (other aspect of whattsit) and they make fun of you for being (d’ya know….we know…we understand…we care)…and you make fun of THEM…but, at the end of the day, you (and everyone who has this thing that quite a lot of people have) are tremendous and it’s not so bad!!

“Like”…click…”Share”…click…

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Don’t we all want to tell people that we are tremendous? That, despite our foibles, even Buzzfeed, Cosmo and the Huffington Post think we’re great! There’s nothing wrong with telling our social media community that we also belong to another community and that we are proud of them! It’s fun, there’s nothing wrong with that….surely?

When it comes to content providers like Buzzfeed et al distributing identity based list articles centered on mental health, I think there’s a problem. Yes, it is true that these articles raise awareness of issues like anxiety and depression, but there is a potential downside. Perhaps I am taking these pieces too seriously. Perhaps they are meant as fluff; something to help you through the day, or  just diversion. But isn’t there a danger inherent in allowing Huff Post staff the ability to list diagnostic criteria that are loosely based on actual diagnostic criteria? I am sure they are lovely people, but I am not sure about their professional qualifications. Is there not also a danger that, rather than suffering from anxiety or depression, the “sharer” is just feeling a little low or anxious? While posting these listicles may be therapeutic, is there not a danger that the “sharee” may see it as attention seeking or because the content comes from Buzzfeed, that it is not serious content?

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It is true that talking about and sharing your thoughts and worries with friends is empowering, but couldn’t it also be said that sharing a Buzzfeed list trivialises actual illnesses that can only be diagnosed by professionals? When these listicles take the format mentioned above, can’t they make an illness sound almost romantic; they certainly make the illness sound “liveable” and make us think that the sufferer is powering through…ladies with big boobs ROCK cocktail dresses, apparently, people with depression are super intelligent…introverts love great literature…everything is awesome. What is even more worrying though, is that the criteria for actual illnesses are being unofficially broadened and this could lead to people misunderstanding serious conditions.

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In the pursuit of “clicks”, listicles are efficient and successful; that’s why there are so many of them. We share these lists to express our identity, to share intimate details of our selves in an acceptable format and, we like to think that our online community understand and support us. However, when it comes to complex issues like mental health or physical appearance, there are better ways to share this information, “clicks” might not be enough.

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Types of social media: Similarities and differences.

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Social media (collective noun) describes online communications outlets which allow input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration to a shared community. Social media come in many forms, but most allow the formation of online communities, the sharing of information, and the distribution of ideas, opinions, messages and videos. The social media landscape shifts rapidly and, what could be a “go to” social media platform today, could be a nostalgic memory tomorrow. The following are some currently available types of social media.

Social Network Sites – The most common definition of social network sites (SNS) comes from Boyd & Ellison (2007), who describe them as, “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system”. These web services generally consist of a profile, allow users to interact with each other and afford connections to others with whom the user has a shared connection. Popular examples include Facebook and LinkedIn.

Media Sharing – Media sharing applications allow users to upload and share media e.g. pictures, video, etc. Most media sharing platforms now have social networking features like profiles, commenting, etc. The most popular are YouTube, Instagram (10 million members in 2011, 400 million in Sept 2015) and Flickr.

Microblog – Microblogs like Twitter and Tumblr let users post short updates to other microblog members who subscribe to receive updates. With many of the 111 microblogs (Yes! Really!) in existence, message length is restricted, but members can post other elements of content, such as pictures, video and links to websites.

Bookmarking Sites – Probably not as popular as they  once were, Bookmarking sites allow users to save and manage links to other websites and resources on the internet. Most allow you to “tag” your links, making them easy to search and share. The most popular are StumbleUpon, Pocket and Delicious

Social News – Social news sites let users post news items or links to outside articles and allow users to “vote” on the items. Voting is the central feature and items that get the most votes are most prominently presented on the sites. So, the community decides which news items get seen. The most popular are Digg, Reddit and Propeller.

Blogs and Forums – The numerous online forums allow members to post content and hold conversations by posting messages. Blog comments are similar except they are attached to blogs and usually the discussion centres around the topic of the blog post. There are many, MANY popular blogs and forums.

Anonymous & Disappearing – With the arrival of social media smartphone apps like Snapchat and Yik-Yak, the privacy concerns of younger social media users, are answered. It is now possible to make content available to closed, private communities, safe in the knowledge that they, and only they, will see it and that it will disappear, once seen. With anonymous smartphone apps (Yik-Yak, Whisper, Nearby, etc) it is possible for users to anonymously view, create, up/down vote discussion threads with other anonymous users in close proximity.

There is a trend for many content providers to include social media affordances, so it true to say that there is considerable overlap between these “categories” of social media types; Facebook allow microblogging in the form of “status updates”; Youtube allow commenting on videos; WhatsApp allows the formation of private groups and content sharing; Tinder and Grindr integrate Facebook and Instagram profile information.

This is by no means a comprehensive list; I have excluded document sharing (Dropbox, Google Drive) and Voip (Skype) media which people use to communicate and share information…the lines are blurred. I will add to to this list as new means of communication and interaction emerge. It will be fascinating, for example, to see how social media, VR and/or wearable technology combine to provide us with new ways to relate to each other and the world around us.

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Do “Comments” sections influence us?

The importance of understanding social media experiences was brought home to me this morning. Scanning through my Twitter feed, I saw a post by PsyPost which said that “Online comment sections may influence readers’ opinions on health issues”

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The article outlined a study conducted by Witteman et al., where participants were asked to carefully read the “Comments” section of a mock article, posted to social media. Some participants read positive comments which were unanimously in favour of the subject matter, while others read negative comments, in opposition to the proposal of the article. A third group read a balanced “comments” section and the final group read an article without comments. Participants were then asked to rate their opinion of the article on a scale 1-100. Despite the fact that the participants had read the same article, researchers found that opinions were influenced by the bias expressed in the “Comments” section. Participants who viewed balanced comments or the article without comments expressed a balanced opinion (52), while the average opinion for the negative comments group was 39 and the average opinion for the positive comments group was 63.

 

Social media, in allowing access to information and allowing users the ability to interact with content and express opinion, is important. Information searching and sharing, particularly health information, is a truly valuable facet of our social media experience and engaging with this information is a good thing. Our Social Media Experience is enhanced by this interactivity. However, given that some of us spend, on average almost three hours per day on social media, interacting with friends and consuming content, these findings reinforce the need for social media content moderators. More research is needed here and this study and its findings need replication, but this research exposes a possible threat. It is possible that, if the content of what British comedian Dave Gorman calls “the bottom half of the internet”, is biased or one-sided and if content providers allow polarised opinions to dominate, social media user perceptions can be influenced.

 

Organisations should be allowed to communicate with us and we should be allowed to communicate with them. I should be allowed to express my opinions, but it is also important and reasonable to expect that organisations ensure opinions which oppose mine be expressed. In the absence of this, content providers have a responsibility to ensure that the nuance of opinion expressed in “Comments” sections, is explained. Without this balance or these explanations, “those who shout loudest get heard first” and a vocal group can influence, not only perceptions, but perhaps policy.

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