Social media platforms under scrutiny
The social media audience continues to grow and now exceeds 4.6 billion users worldwide. Even after the pandemic, the annual growth of these platforms exceeds 10% and competition from alternatives such as streaming platforms does not seem to be denting their popularity. However, to paraphrase Peter Parker, with great influence comes great responsibility. And that makes social media more than ever under the scrutiny of the public and the authorities this year.
Facebook metaverse, hype or new frontier?
Facebook has undoubtedly been the social network platform that has received the most criticism in recent times: for its use of user data, for its content moderation policy that censors a mother breastfeeding her child as well as giving free rein to hate speech, for its attempts to emulate the functionalities of its competitors…
It is still unclear whether Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement to evolve his platform towards the metaverse is a simple flight forward or a clue as to what the social networks of the future will be like. For the time being, the first virtual universes that we have seen at events such as MWC 2022 are not convincing and Facebook/Meta continues to lose relevance.
Instagram or life as seen through a filter
Of all the manoeuvres carried out by the founder of Facebook to retain the throne of social networks, the purchase of Instagram ten years ago was undoubtedly the most successful. For 1 billion dollars, Zuckerberg acquired the most popular social network. Today it has almost 1.5 billion users and is the social platform of choice for young people, who spend almost an hour a day on it (almost as much time as they spend watching television).
However, there has been no shortage of criticism of this network, especially for the cult of the image it promotes (conveniently filtered and idealised) and its impact on young people. According to a British study, Instagram is the social network that most affects the mental health of teenagers, due to its capacity to create anxiety and self-esteem problems.
Twitter, free speech or manipulation?
Elon Musk’s interest in taking over Twitter demonstrates the appeal of social media platforms to the powerful, even if they are not profitable. The Tesla founder promised changes to Twitter to “protect free speech”; even if that included reopening the account of the controversial Donald Trump and his famous fake news.
Would Twitter be better off with a new Elon Musk-type owner, rather than remaining a listed company subject to investor pressures? For now, the deal has run up against the problem of fake profiles, which is not unique to Twitter – how many of the millions of users these platforms claim to have are bots?
TikTok, the social competition coming from China
Since its launch in 2016, TikTok has shown that you can do things differently on social media and win the favour of users. With its micro-videos, viral challenges, strong focus on teenagers and growing commitment to social commerce, it has seen record growth to reach 750 million users.
But TikTok is the only major social network that is not owned by the American tech giants, but by a Chinese company. And for this reason it seems that a different standard is applied to it, to the point that in 2020 an attempt was made to ban its use in the United States. However, the main market for this platform is, in addition to China, other emerging countries such as India, so its global influence continues to grow despite the vetoes.
What should be the role of brands in networks?
User privacy, protection of young people, fake news, unsavoury content, political pressure… Social networks are under scrutiny from the public and legislators. It seems inevitable (and advisable) that they should be subject to stricter regulation, as a result of the enormous power they have in the digital world.
This does not mean that brands should stop being present on social media. Despite their shortcomings, today they are the best platform for reaching digital consumers. Either directly or through influencers, a figure that is increasingly professionalised and better adapted to the communication needs of brands.
However, the presence of companies on these social platforms must be governed by a clear strategy, scrupulous compliance with current data protection regulations and the utmost respect for the plurality and diversity of their audiences.
In the end, social networks are communication tools, and they can have beneficial or harmful effects depending on how we all use them.
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