Category: technology

Social media and the Quantified Self.

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Maybe it’s the company I keep online, but every day there seems to be more and more posts appearing on my timelines about health, fitness and wellbeing. On any given day, when I look at my timelines and newsfeeds, I note that many of my friends are sharing the fact that they are running (from jogging to marathons), doing crossfit, attending the gym or a personal trainer and eating healthily. It is true that some people in my social media echo chamber are “of a certain age” and because we are being constantly reminded of our mortality, have begun to take better care of ourselves. There is also the “algorithm” debate/conspiracy; that searches which I make influence the information which appears when I am on social media. But, let’s assume, for a minute, that my “Friends” list is a quasi representative sample; are people turning to tech and social media to help them with their health and wellbeing goals and, if they are, is there evidence to support this approach.

There are countless apps available (there are over 13,000 health-related apps in the Apple App Store, here are 39 of them! And yes, I know I said “countless”) which allow users to connect and track performance. There are applications which, along with providing health and medical information, present objective anatomical information. Even the most basic applications for mobile devices allow users to measure sleep, diet, exercise, weight, mood, medication and numerous bodily functions. Additionally, realising the importance of a motivational and support component to the process, quite a few of these applications have reward systems (badges, points or counters) and functionality where collected data can be shared on social media. These apps can be helpful for those trying to get into shape, with even simple smartphone apps helping to significantly increase physical activity (Glynn et al, 2014; Walsh et al, 2016). With the data the applications collect, workouts can be tracked, goals can be set and progress can be monitored. Health psychologists tell us that monitoring, planning and goal setting are all important factors in changing behaviours. Further, if users engage on the social level, interactions with friends can trigger action and the support received from others can help motivation (Ba & Wang, 2013).

Monitoring our health and maintaining healthy behaviour electronically is not new; we have been doing it since the 70’s. Developments and advancements in technology and the rise in popularity of social media, in the last decade, has created a new paradigm, though – the intersection between the Quantified Self and social media. It’s all well and good using apps and mobile devices to monitor and maintain behaviour, but when we go online, or when we interact with others, or click “Share” and our new, changing behaviour is proclaimed to our social circle, something different is happening. From my own limited experiences, participating in Twitter chats and “Liking” the Facebook page of my local Parkrun has already linked me to like-minded people; novice, amateur fun-runners. Getting updates on times, event information, and other runners has inspired and motivated me. Checking my timings, aiming to set a new “PB” and achieving that, has given me a sense of achievement and I feel good!

So far, research into the reasons why people use self-tracking digital devices for health is limited. Research into why people share their health, fitness and wellbeing information on social media, even more so. In the U.S. The Pew Research Center have found that 21% of the adults surveyed report monitoring their health (weight, diet, exercise, blood pressure or medical symptoms) using technology; a medical device (8%), app or tool on a mobile device (7%), computerised spread sheet (5%) and website or online tool (1%). Further, 20% of respondents had downloaded an app to a mobile device to manage and monitor their health behaviour (weight, diet and exercise). Eventhough a recent study  has found that wearing a device which monitors and provides feedback on physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard behavioral weight loss approaches and may result in less weight loss over two years (Jakicic et al, 2016), benefits to wearing these devices  have been uncovered. It has been shown, for instance, that aside from the perceived usefulness of the equipment, self-regulation, social motives and enjoyment explain why some people use these trackers (Straiger et al, 2016).

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It is likely that those who use this technology will, in some cases, share their information of social media; you are encouraged to do so. So far, social media is loaded with inspirational images. Pictures of fit, healthy, active, thin, attractive people running and training effortlessly, eating picture perfect meals abound. Motivational “before and after” stories appear regularly and, while much of this content is intended to inspire, it can have a negative effect. One can’t help but compare oneself to these “fitstagrammers” and, while it has been shown that “fitspiration” images have a positive effect on motivation to pursue healthy goals, these images can have a negative effect on body image (Tiggemann & Zaccardo, 2015) and they can decrease body satisfaction (Benton & Karazsia, 2015). Moreover, Facebook social comparison has been negatively associated with subjective wellbeing (Gerson et al, 2016).

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Like with most things to do with social media, it is early days, research is in its infancy, care needs to be taken and we need balance in our discussion around the subject. Care needs to be taken when taking inspiration from people online. As we discovered last year, with the Essena O’Neill saga, it is very easy to set up a blog or an Instagram account; near perfect pictures are easy to produce; it’s very easy to dispense advice; it’s very easy to make recommendations. It’s not so easy to qualify as a dietician, sports psychologist or for that matter, a mental health professional. And that Insta-Life may not be what it seems.

The intersection between technology, the quantified self and social media is exciting, though;  not just for users, but for research. Extant theories around reward, punishment, motivation, comparison, etc are going to be able to explain a lot, but research on this truly modern paradigm could also shed new light on human behavior.

 

References

Ba, S., & Wang, L. (2013). Digital health communities: The effect of their motivation mechanisms. Decision Support Systems, 55(4), 941-947.

Benton, C. & Karazsia, B. (2015). The effect of thin and muscular images on women’s body satisfaction. Body Image, 13(3), 22-27.

Gerson, J,. Plagnol, A., & Corr, P. Subjective well-being and social media use: Do personality traits moderate the impact of social comparison on Facebook? Computers in human behaviour, 63(10), 813-822.

Glynn, L., Hayes, P., Casey, M., Glynn, F., Alvarez-Iglesias, A., Newell, J., O’Laighin, G., Heaney, D., O’Donnell, M., Murphy, A. (2014). Effectiveness of a smartphone application to promote physical activity in primary care: the SMART MOVE randomised controlled trial. British Journal of General Practice, 64(624), 384-391.

Jakicic, J., Davis, K., Rogers, R., King, W., Marcus, M., Helsel, D., Rickman, A., Wahed, A., & Belle, S. (2016). Effect of Wearable Technology Combined With a Lifestyle Intervention on Long-term Weight Loss. The IDEA Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA, 316(11), 1161-1171.

Stragier, J., Vanden Abeele, M., Mechant, P., & De Marez, L. (2016). Understanding persistence in the use of Online Fitness Communities: Comparing novice and experienced users. Computers in Human Behavior, 64(11), 34-42.

Tiggemann, M. & Zaccardo, M. )2015). “Exercise to be fit, not skinny”: The effect of fitspiration imagery on women’s body image. Body Image, 15(9), 61-67.

Walsh, J., Corbett, T., Hogan, M., Duggan, J., & McNamara, A. (2016). An mHealth Intervention Using a Smartphone App to Increase Walking Behavior in Young Adults: A Pilot Study. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth, 4(3), 109.

Active Vs. Passive Social Media Experiences

Given the inconsistency of findings arising from social media research, it is necessary at times, to take a step back and consider the different social media experiences which young people have. Much social media research simply requires participants, when undertaking research, to be members of a social media platform, to use “social media” or to have a social media profile. While gathering this data is useful, and correlating it to various outcomes informs , it tells us little of the social media experience and the nuances of user interactions with the media and other users. A young person can, for instance, be a member of Snapchat but, is she merely “snapping” or is she serious about her Snapchat game, applying filters and compiling “streaks”? One can be a member of Facebook without ever completing a “status update”, uploading photographs of one’s food or indeed, commenting on a friend’s post. Can’t one Instagram (Yes! I’m using it as a verb) to promote one’s blog or just to look at the pretty pictures?

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Without examining outcomes of the interaction with specific social media platforms, it is clear that there are two key types of social media interaction; active and passive (Burke, Marlow & Lento, 2010). Active, directed social media use, or the production of content, has been described as the interaction on a site between a user and another friend. In this interaction, one friend identifies the other and communicates with them directly or posts a comments.  Active social media use could also include positing comments or “likes” to pages with which the user has no direct, intimate relationship. Active social media use can be imagined as purely communication for communication’s sake, or as it has been, as a means of identity expression, both self- and social- (Thorbjørnsen, Pedersen, & Nysveen, 2007). However, as young adult social media users maintain large networks of friends and acquaintances across multiple social media, direct, targeted communication is not always possible. Interactions are restricted to viewing aggregated status updates, tagged photos, snaps and posts. These interactions involve the consumption of content, exclusive of exchange and direct interaction.

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Active social media use, in the form of one-to-one communication, has been implicated in reduced loneliness and depression (Shaw & Grant, 2002), it has predicted relationship strength (Gilbert & Karahalios, 2009) and using social network sites is a positive and significant predictor of people’s social capital and civic and political participatory behaviours, both online and offline (Gil de Zúñiga, Jung & Valenzuela, 2012). Active microblogging has been correlated with elevated student engagement and higher grades (Junco, Heiberger, & Loken, 2011). However, passive social media use, online behaviour that allows the user to consume and observe content or “lurk”, is the predominant social media activity, yet there is little research which differentiates this type of interaction from active social media use.

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Concern is often expressed over the fact that young people are using social media increasingly and in increasing numbers. And while research tells us that usage has an effect and that, at times, these effects can be detrimental to our well being, research does not tell us whether this use or whether these effects emerge from dynamic exchanges and direct communication or from passive observation and the reaction to what we observe. Actively interacting and communicating on social media has to have a completely different outcome than passively allowing content to wash over us. It is therefore important that, when looking at social media research or when reading about the effects of social media use on young people, that we scrutinise the nature of the interaction. Further, results which emerge from research  which does not reveal the type of interaction, is weakened.

 

References

Burke, M., Marlow, C., & Lento, T. (2010). Social network activity and social well-being. Paper presented at the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems, Atlanta, GA, USA.

Gilbert, E. & Karahalios, K. (2009). Predicting tie strength with social media. Proceedings of the 27th international conference on Human factors in computing systems, 211–220.

Gil de Zúñiga, H., Jung, N. & Valenzuela, S. (2012). Social Media Use for News and Individuals’ Social Capital, Civic Engagement and Political Participation. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 17, 319–336.

Junco, R., Heiberger, G. and Loken, E. (2011). The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27, 119–132.

Shaw, L. & Gant, L. (2002). In defence of the Internet: The relationship between Internet communication and depression, loneliness, self-esteem, and perceived social support. CyberPsychology & Behavior 5(2), 157-172.

Thorbjørnsen, H.,Pedersen, P., & Nysveen, H. (2007). “This is who I am”: Identity expressiveness and the theory of planned behavior. Psychology & Marketing, 24, 763–785.

The neuroscience of social media

Globally, there are over two billion users of social media. With increasing access to the internet in emerging countries and the push by internet service provider to capture these new markets, it is likely that this figure will increase exponentially in the coming years. Already, internet use and smartphone ownership rates in these countries is rapidly increasing. With increased access to web services, in the industrialised west, social media is reaching saturation point, with over 76% of internet users across forty countries using social media (Pew Research, 2016). In Ireland, smartphone ownership among young adults has reached 98%, with 98% of these using social media through internet enabled devices.

Given how pervasive social media has become, it is unsurprising that this area has piqued the interest to researchers and academics. Within the last decade over 10,000 journal articles have been published on the subject (Meshi, Tamir, Heekeren, 2015). Interestingly, in this nascent, complex area of study, research has a narrow focus. Investigators concentrate on a phenomenon of interest, gauge the level of social media use or membership of a social networking site and draw correlations between the two. Studies of this nature, say linking social media use or membership of Facebook, to types of personality or to various emotional or behavioural responses proliferate, along with the widespread use of self-report questionnaire as the means of measurement.

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Despite the fact that the “big picture” has not been examined in any great depth, fractured research of this nature makes it difficult to discern the wood from the trees. Studies reveal numerous contradictions and without a framework to guide research, results of social media studies will continue to confound.

Notwithstanding the amount of research which is being and has been conducted into social media, one area of research has received little attention; an area which could help to explain some of the cognitive processes involved in the social media experiences and indeed, the neural systems underpinning these processes. When fully embraced, this are of research will undoubtedly provide nuance to our burgeoning understanding of our social media experiences. Already, biological-social media studies have produced some intriguing findings.

It is, as yet, unclear as to why levels of participation among social media users vary. However, a possible biological basis for this variability has been uncovered using fMRI. Kanai, Bahrami, Roylance & Rees (2012) have discovered that quantitative differences in the number of friends one has on Facebook predict grey matter density in the right superior temporal sulcus, the left middle temporal gyrus and the entorhinal cortex. Further, voxel-based morphometry has shown that lonely individuals have less gray matter in the left posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS: Kanai, Bahrami, Duchaine, Janik, Banissy, & Rees, 2012). These regions of the brain have previously been implicated in perception and associative memory. Kanai et al also discovered a correlation between grey matter density of the amygdala and online and offline social network size. Notably, Von der Heide, Vyas & Olsen (2014) have shown, across fMRI analyses, that individual differences in social network size were consistently related to structural and functional differences in the left and right amygdala, and the right entorhinal/ventral anterior temporal cortex. These findings have led the authors to surmise that the size of participant’s online social network is closely linked to regions of the brain implicated in social cognition.

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As social media is often characterised as a means by which we manage our reputations and the impressions we make on others, researchers have examined whether positive social, self-relevant feedback, concerning one’s character, is linked with the neural processing of gains in ventral striatum (Meshi, Morawetz, & Heekeren, 2013). These researchers hypothesized a relationship between the way the brain processes self-relevant gains in reputation and one’s degree of Facebook use. fMRI data was recorded while participants received gains in reputation and it was found that when participants responded to gains in reputation, reward-related activity in the left nucleus accumbens predicted Facebook use. Further analysis showed that Facebook use primarily explained nucleus accumbens activity.

Finally, and as “Facebook Addiction” seems to be an issue concerning parents and certainly the media, a study by Turel, He, Xue, Xiao & Bechara (2014) sheds new light on this very modern phenomenon. Previous studies into addictive behaviours have shown that these behaviours violate the homeostasis of impulsive (amygdala-striatal) and inhibitory (prefrontal cortex) brain systems. Turel et al examined whether these systems sub-serve Facebook “addiction”. Interestingly, the addiction-like symptoms of technology-related “addictions” share some neural features with substance and gambling addictions. Significantly, however, they also differ from such addictions in both their brain etiology and possibly pathogenesis, as related to abnormal functioning of the inhibitory-control brain system.

The studies represent the very few which examine neural correlates of social media use; this important area of research is very much in its infancy. As we learn more about the antecedents and consequence of  social media use, and as we gain a more holistic picture of our social media experience, it is also important that we understand the effects that regular social media use could be having on our behavioural and neural development, and functioning. While we should be cautious interpreting the results of studies like these, the significance of this research is particularly relevant to the development of adolescents and young adults who use this technology regularly and have transitioned through developmental milestones in the company of social media. It is the explicit intention of social media developers to encourage us to spend more and more time engaged with this technology, so it is essential that we understand the differences and changes, if there are any, in the social media user’s functioning.

A word of caution

There is confusion as to what neuroscience tells us about awareness and behaviour. Neuroscience doesn’t provide a satisfactory account of the conditions that are sufficient for awareness and behaviour and a neuroscientific explanation of these phenomena and how they arise, is incomplete. The idea that neuroscience accounts for these phenomena is neuroscientism.

The studies mentioned in this essay give us a snapshot of the brains of the participants. It would be an error to extrapolate behaviour, awareness, consciousness, intelligence, emotion etc. from an fMRI image or indeed, from a researcher’s interpretation of that image. Further, it would be incorrect to assume cause and effect.

 

References

Kanai, R., Bahrami, B., Roylance, R., & Rees, G. (2012)   Online social network size is reflected in human brain structure. Proceeding. Biological Science. The Royal Society, 7(279), 1327-34.

Kanai, R., Bahrami, B., Duchaine, B., Janik, A., Banissy, M. J., & Rees, G. (2012). Brain Structure Links Loneliness to Social Perception. Current Biology,22(20), 1975–1979.

Meshi, D., Morawetz, C., & Heekeren, H. (2013). Nucleus accumbens response to gains in reputation for the self relative to gains for others predicts social media use. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 29(7), 439.

Meshi, D., Tamir, D., & Heekeren, H. (2015). The Emerging Neuroscience of Social Media. Trends in Cognitive Science,19(12), 771-82.

Pew Research. (2016, May 18). Retrieved from http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/02/22/smartphone-ownership-and-internet-usage-continues-to-climb-in-emerging-economies/

Turel, O., He, Q., Xue, G., Xiao, L., & Bechara, A. (2014). Examination of neural systems sub-serving Facebook “addiction”. Psychological Reports, 115(3), 675-695.

Von der Heide, R., Vyas, G., & Olson, I. (2014). The social network-network: size is predicted by brain structure and function in the amygdala and paralimbic regions. Social Cognitive and Affective Neiroscience, 9(12), 1962-1972.

Could “Loneliness” be the solution to the Facebook migration problem?

In a previous post I spoke about the fact that some young users are migrating from Facebook to different types of social media. This news comes as no surprise to analysts or indeed young  social media users. The fact users are migrating in such numbers (see below) has even prompted one analyst to opine that “Facebook appears to already be moving past the maturity stage into the decline stage” (Gunelius, 2015)…steady on!!!

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I have been wondering about the possible causes for this migration and have thought that maybe, privacy, permanence or parents could be the problem. But maybe it’s something else. Could it also be that the thoughts, feelings and behaviours which result from our use of Facebook are encouraging us to seek reward elsewhere?

In our research on the negative consequences of FoMO we have found that, among other negative consequences, loneliness emerges as a significant negative outcome. At its most basic, loneliness is sadness associated with being isolated, removed from intimates, being abandoned or rejected. Given these types of descriptors, it is hard to imagine that a negative consequence of one’s social media experiences is “loneliness”, considering that one is just a click away from friends and family and that, in the main, very few of them reject or abandon the user.

Perhaps another definition for “loneliness” or an investigation into the causes and correlates of loneliness would shed light on why some social media users describe their experience this way.

Loneliness or perceived isolation can be viewed either as a single entity or a multifaceted conceptualisation of the emotional reactions to the absence of others. It is a temporary state for some, but a chronic condition for others. While temporary loneliness can be buffered by social support, the chronically lonely are more likely to be high in negative affect and low in positive affect, withdrawing socially and displaying a lack of trust in others (Ernst & Cacioppo, 1999). Furthermore, chronic loneliness has been associated with depression and hostility.

Kraus et al (1993) see loneliness as a direct consequence of our cognitive appraisals (determined by one’s social network, situation and person factors) of whether interpersonal needs are being met. Studies have shown that numerous “person” factors, including pessimism and low optimism, correlate with loneliness, which in turn has been strongly correlated with low happiness (Booth, Bartlett, & Bohnsack, 1992) and low life satisfaction (Riggio, Warring, & Trockmorton, 1993). Damsteegt (1992) suggested that lonely individuals display feelings of alienation, isolation and bitterness, and that these feelings combine to form poor social networks. Additionally, Krauss et al. (1993) propose that, for interpersonal needs to be met successfully, social provisions of attachment, reassurance of worth, social integration, guidance and reliable alliances have to be satisfied.  It may be that Granovetter’ s (1982) “weak ties”, provided by Facebook, are not quite meeting these requirement or satisfying users interpersonal needs.

When our participants described “loneliness” as an outcome of their social media experiences, I would guess that they were describing a more transient and impermanent state. If this is the case, ironically, the social support provided by social media can buffer against these feelings. Indeed, Kim et al (2015) have shown that loneliness can be a cause and a consequence of social media use.

Over the last few years active Facebook use has declined (falling by 9% in 2014), with social media users migrating to platforms (Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Youtube etc) where they can actively share content with closed groups. Could young users be avoiding loneliness or looking to alleviate it elsewhere? On these newer platforms, social provisions are being met and communication occurs between attached, integrated and reliable groups. These strong, closed, intimate groups assure and reward and our interpersonal needs are being met.

If Facebook are to stem the migration, addressing loneliness could be the place to start.

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.

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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Farewell Facebook?

Everything I know about social media is grounded in what I see my kids doing on line. My initial enquiries into SNS, my fascination with FOMO and my obsession with social media experiences started with me observing how my kids and their friends interacted with Bebo and Facebook and how they interacted with each other. These were the crossover generation; the generation between “digital immigrants” like myself and the “digital natives” who had grown up completely immersed in technology. For them, Facebook (R.I.P. Bebo) had become an indispensable part of life and communication using this new tech, had become seamless. A gentle revolution in communication had occurred, and now, with the proliferation of mobile devices, this revolution would now seem complete. Smart device ownership among young adults has almost reached saturation point and engagement with on-line platforms is an integral part of the lives of young adults.

While this revolution was going on, Facebook, being the only show in town, dominated. It was the platform where everything happened, where we had our social media experiences. It was not unusual for us to see groups of young people sitting around, all glued to handheld devices, laughing, whispering, pointing, blushing and sharing the intimacies of their lives with their community. Nor was it unusual for young people to spend a large amount of time on Facebook. Parents, teachers, the media and academia all became interested in this new phenomenon and studies highlighting the dangers and negative consequences of Facebook proliferated.

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All the while though, away from our gaze, young people have been quietly rebelling, as is their wont, and another revolution was taking place. While grown-ups were becoming more vigilant as to the dangers of Facebook, younger adults were migrating away from “traditional”, overt social media and were interacting with each other on new, more private media. Today, data suggests that, where young users shared information on highly visible, permanent platforms (Facebook, Pintrest, Instagram etc.) in the past, they are quietly transferring their allegiances to more invisible, temporary applications (Snapchat, Yik-Yak, KiK) and group chat (Messenger, iMessage and WhatsApp). Now, instead of posting updates to the multitude, they are sharing minute-by-minute and through filtered selfies, to a closer circle of friends.

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Last August, Pew Research Centre, in the U.S., found that 49% of smartphone users (18-29) used   messaging apps and 41% used apps that automatically delete sent messages. In a study by Edison Research and Triton Digital in March 2016, it was found that 72% of respondents aged 12-24 said they currently use Snapchat, up from 57% last year. Among this demographic, Snapchat has now surpassed Instagram usage, which itself has grown from 59% to 66%. According to another Pew study, 37% of people in that age range use Pinterest, 22% use LinkedIn, and 32% use Twitter. These figures would suggest that messaging is a more important form of publicly accessible social media for this age group. That said, 82% of people aged 18-29 said that they have a Facebook account, but I am suggesting that having an account is not the same as using an account, in the traditional sense. I’m suggesting, based on anecdotal evidence, that young users are now checking their Facebook accounts to see what others are posting, rather than creating content; photosharing, commenting, disliking and liking happen increasingly in closed, private, impermanent spaces, like Snapchat.

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There is little or no research, as yet, as to why young people are making this move. If I was to hazard a guess, I imagine the permanence of Facebook posts, that parents and indeed grandparents have Facebook profiles, and the fact that future employers, law enforcement and banks are examining Facebook profiles, would explain the attraction towards more ephemeral, personal modes of on-line communication.