Author

Kerry Watkins - Managing Director, Social Brighton

Date

16-11-2020

Kerry Watkins is Managing Director of Social Brighton and one of our members here at Plus X Brighton. We are thrilled that Kerry will be bringing her expertise and insights to the Plus X blog with monthly contributions on all things social media. Kicking off this month with an incredibly topical thought piece on the recent documentary, The Social Dilemma.

I think I was asked “Have you watched The Social Dilemma?” about a dozen times before I reluctantly watched it.

Honestly, I’d been putting it off.

I was scared it would make me fall out of love with my business (a social media consultancy) that I’ve been growing for the last 10 years. I was worried that my concerns about whether social media is actually good for us would be confirmed and I’d want to pack it all in.

I watched it. I didn’t pack it all in. And I believe everyone else should watch it too.

The Social Dilemma is a powerful and extremely well-made documentary exposing how social networks actually work to keep us engaged (addicted). It explores the impact that social media has on our lives, looking at misinformation, conspiracy theories, mental health issues, political polarisation and democracy.

Ultimately it argues that social media poses an existential threat to humanity (It’s not pretty) and that our lack of collective understanding about how social networks work means we’re letting it happen.

“The system that connects us also invisibly controls us.”

Here’s my social dilemma.

I‘m passionate about social media being used for good; to create a positive social impact. I believe it can add real value to society. But I also understand that we’re being distracted and manipulated by the very channels that allow us to do this. And the vast majority of us aren’t even remotely aware of it.

Social media provides huge opportunities for brilliant organisations to achieve their visions and make our world a better place. Social media can influence our knowledge, attitudes and behaviours for the better.

I’ve worked on some incredible projects and I’ll always remember a particular favourite. A few years ago I developed a Facebook strategy for a 4 year gender equality project in Africa that reached millions of young men and women and challenged social norms that included violence against women. I remember reading a string of Facebook comments one day from young men who said they’d changed their viewpoints, attitudes and practices and would never hit a woman again. I cried.

I’ve worked on many projects like this and there are thousands of organisations out there doing incredible things and using social media to amplify their message and make an impact. This is why I do what I do.

So I know social media can be good; we can connect with others, discover, learn, be entertained, share positive messaging of our own and take action.

But…

On the flip side, social media can have a negative impact on our wellbeing; we can feel overwhelmed, isolated, pressured, worthless.

We can lose hours every day seeking the dopamine hit of the next post, the next recommended video, clearing that annoying red notification. We can be exposed to misinformation, harmful content, vicarious trauma. We can end up feeling worse as a result of being on social media, and yet we go back for more. Seems crazy, right?

“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”

‘Social for good’ excites me, puts fire in my belly and is why my business exists.

‘Social for bad’ terrifies me as a marketing professional who uses it every day, as a voter, as a parent, as part of a society that’s spending more time online and relinquishing more data to silicon valley every day.

Social media isn’t going anywhere, it’s here to stay.

So what can we do?

  1. Reboot your social media use – turn off all social media notifications – visit social media on your terms, not theirs. (I did this a year ago and it makes a huge difference). Don’t watch the next recommended video… don’t get lost and be aware of how much time you spend online.
  2. If you have kids, watch the documentary with them and talk to them about how social  media makes them feel
  3. Be mindful of responsible marketing practices within your business; ensure your content adds value to the reader/viewer, only share accurate and verified information, consider the impact of information you share, protect vulnerable people, avoid manipulative tactics.
  4. Share the dilemma, further the conversation and take action. (see link below)

This is a really important topic but thankfully the people who started it are trying to fix it.

Useful additional reading:

The Social Dilemma – take action

Tips to reclaim your screen time

Humane Tech

Common Sense Media

 

Social Brighton’s new podcast ‘Social for Good’ is sponsored by PlusX and launching this Winter.

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