Social media is one of the key tools for influencing people and disseminating information. Despite the great benefits and communication opportunities they provide, they remain a serious way of controlling. People do not always notice the smallest details that affect their consciousness, but social media can shape society. This essay describes the social networks Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit and how they affect modern people.
With access to a large set of data, Facebook has a unique ability to manipulate its users and their reality, increasing its power in real life. The Facebook feed is not chronological: Facebook decides what posts people see. Facebook has a great ability to understand human psychology. For academic and practical work in human psychology, samples of hundreds of respondents are usually used. Facebook has data from various people around the world, including the rich and powerful. The audience size of 2 billion is much larger than any other psychological study ever conducted.
Facebook is doing everything to ensure that users interact with the news feed, selling ads worth billions of dollars. It manipulates its users’ psyche to keep them engaged while making a profit (Taylor, Falconer & Snowdon, 2014). Facebook manipulation is not just about increasing system time and profits. Facebook can also manipulate people, namely, manipulating the news feed of users to influence their emotional states. Emotions expressed by other people on Facebook affect our own feelings, providing experimental evidence of mass contagion through social media.
For example, if Facebook wants users to drink more alcohol, it can show pictures of them from bars to a larger audience to generate more positive reactions. User’s brain will subconsciously nudge users to go to bars more often in the long run. By controlling how people feel, what they consider socially acceptable, and how they act, Facebook can manipulate reality.
Twitter is another social network that has a significant impact on society. The most important role in Twitter is played by hashtags, which begin with the “#” character. Hashtags serve as an organizing element, a kind of anchor that ties a message to a specific topic and often reflects current trends. The hashtag can create a chain reaction of tweets, which can grow like an avalanche up to the hashtag’s output to global trends. Twitter is a complex system of connections in which each user, forming the relationships, creates a community, some members of which may be members of other communities. Thus, each member of the system is the center of a particular community, being also a part of the community of another member, and they are all part of the Twitter community. User communities form communities of interest.
One of the main features of the social network Twitter is the ability to “jump” into the conversation. In this sense, response messages (replies) allow you to “jump” into the messages of specific people, while hashtags allow you to “jump” into the information flow and add one’s own piece of information to it. In this sense, a hashtag can be thought of as a backlink. This means that the link in its classical sense – like a jump to the next piece of information – changes its meaning. Now you need to address yourself to the information flow using a hashtag. This fully reflects the information society’s tendencies, in which information flows are guiding, and ideas, trends, and projects come from them. The real life of many people and companies depends on this.
The 140-character limit per message has spawned a distinct style of Twitter posts. Unlike the texts of blogs or messages on other social networks, on Twitter, it is necessary to formulate the statement as briefly as possible, thanks to which the messages acquire some aphoristic meaning.
There is no doubt that, just like in society, Twitter has its centers of influence. In this sense, Twitter in its structure naturally reflects the mechanisms of the functioning of society. Therefore, it seems completely natural that any socially significant event is reflected there. The relationship between event significance and Twitter activity is clear. The more important the event, the more Twitter “rages”: new connections are created, there is a stream of messages from eyewitnesses and experts, new details and facts are revealed.
On Twitter, users often post links to different web pages – most often, these are links to news articles, blog posts, funny videos, or pictures. In general, there are two fundamental ways in which users find out the addresses of these resources. One of them is the influence of external, off-grid sources. For example, let’s say that a person reads and watches news on CNN.com, finds an interesting article, and then posts a link to that article’s address or resource. In this case, CNN is an “external influence” that leads to the resource address’s appearance in the tweet of a specific Twitter user. Another way: users discover the address of some resource posted by other users of the network. Both external and internal influence play a significant role in the emergence of resource addresses on Twitter.
There is no doubt that most of the message traffic is made up of purely everyday notes about how someone slept or how they feel today. However, Twitter’s key players only generate socially relevant information (Bonilla & Rosa, 2015). Twitter is a network of leaders (experts/expert communities) and opinions. The brevity of messages, cross-subscription, and various client programs for mobile devices have defined the main features of the social network Twitter – responsiveness and social relevance.
Reddit is another social network that allows users and influencers to change societies. It looks like another forum, which, in theory, should be unpopular; however, people still spend many hours in it. Great freedom, various topics, and a large number of like-minded people keep Reddit in the leading position (Buyukozturk, Gaulden & Dowd-Arrow, 2018). In addition, the service is considered the most open platform. It provides the necessary level of anonymity that allows users to share their most honest thoughts and emotions. One can create any number of accounts on the site, and no one cares about who they really are. An incomparable advantage of the service is that many interesting celebrities communicate with ordinary people in their subreddits. For example, Barack Obama and Bill Gates have their own sections.
Thus, social networks indeed shape the surrounding reality. People spend a lot of time there and perform dozens of actions. They chat with each other, relax, read the news, shop, and look for new acquaintances. Social media owners understand this and try to win over their audience and make them behave in the right way. People should investigate this important phenomenon to not fall into the “traps” of social networks and shape their reality.
Bonilla, Y., & Rosa, J. (2015). #Ferguson: Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United States. American Ethnologist, 42(1), 4–17.
Buyukozturk, B., Gaulden, S., & Dowd-Arrow, B. (2018). Contestation on Reddit, Gamergate, and movement barriers. Social Movement Studies, 17(5), 592–609.
Taylor, Y., Falconer, E., and Snowdon, R. (2014). Queer youth, Facebook and faith: Facebook methodologies and online identities. New Media & Society, 16(7), 1138–1153.