Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Is using social media still a personal choice?

Social media has rapidly become an integral part of society. As its addictive nature helped foster a global dependency on the internet, our relationship with social media has only grown more complicated over time.

The apps themselves have also changed over the years, with each update bringing a new feature or unwanted glitch. Instagram and Twitter recently installed controversial updates to their software: Twitter added fleets — the latest “stories” appearing at the top of a social media feed — and Instagram switched out the notifications button for a shopping tab.

These changes weren’t the result of any high demand. No one asked for them.

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

Once upon a time, social media apps served their own unique purposes: Twitter for funny text, Instagram for curated photos, Snapchat for the moments we didn’t want to have permanent records of and Facebook for family updates — but they are slowly merging into very similar platforms.

We cannot deny capitalism’s role in this evolution, especially considering Instagram’s latest addition of a whole tab for shopping. The location is jarring, and people who habitually reach for the notifications button will be stumbling into the shopping section until they become used to the app’s new arrangement. Whether Instagrammers like it or not, the button was designed to make the company money.

All the benefits of these free social media platforms come from the company’s revenue. When we see an advertisement on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg gets richer and we can keep our free access to content. We are funding our own enjoyment.

So, companies will continue to make profitable adjustments, and they can do so with faith in the consistency of their consumers’ willingness to stay.

Since the companies running these accounts are profiting off of our usage, things we don’t necessarily want will get forced onto us, resulting in consequences beyond the simple annoyance people may feel at the addition of Instagram Reels and LinkedIn stories.

Somehow, social media has also become a determining factor in our professional success, and we have no choice but to go along with it. As journalists, we are practically obligated to join Twitter to report on events, crowdsource or just update our feed with breaking news. Our careers revolve around social media.

But is it reasonable to argue there is still the option to not participate? We did, after all, make the choice to create these social media accounts. We could have just selected not to, because nobody is technically forcing us.

In reality, it’s not so simple. Societal pressure is constantly coercing us, even if we don’t realize it. Our professional success seems to depend on it.

And this isn’t only the case for journalists — it’s true for everyone who’s familiar with the internet. Without a LinkedIn, for example, you’re suddenly not as credible of a person or organization.

LinkedIn has become integral to one’s experience in the professional world, and not having a profile can be detrimental to finding a job. The Daily Free Press even uses LinkedIn as a way to fact check our sources’ identities — the professional world is reliant on this platform.

If your job doesn’t require you to personally have a social media account, some department in your workplace will undoubtedly run one, because audience engagement is becoming increasingly more important in fostering and retaining success.

Even local businesses such as restaurants and hair salons are on social media. They can choose not to be, but to the detriment of losing communication with their customers and community. Social media has become the way to reach people in many parts of the world, and we can’t be naive enough to assume using it boils down to simple preference.

It’s because people consume so much of what’s on these social media platforms that everyone and everything now feels the need to build a presence there — how else do you keep up with what’s going on, or what consumers want? So, any person or organization who hopes to profit or simply to circulate information must learn how to skillfully navigate these platforms and create more of the kind of content users want.

This is the cycle that makes us dependent on social media, whether it be as a user or a creator.

The current role social media plays was inevitable. Internet influencers were inevitable. Instagram boutiques were inevitable. Once people realized they could make money off of the internet, our lives were bound to be changed.

This reality isn’t entirely negative, however. Our lives are more connected than ever, which is advantageous. But a drawback is that online posts aren’t organic anymore, whether that’s because people see an opportunity to curate online the version of themselves they want others to see, or because carefully crafted content increases their chances of getting noticed by the masses.

Not to mention, major corporations are now able to collect all sorts of data on who we are and what we like. Is it creepy? Probably, and we likely don’t know how much of a personal stake we have in losing so much privacy. But is it also fun to get ads tailored to exactly what we need? Maybe.

So, there’s this constant back-and-forth between the pros and cons of social media’s gigantic presence in our lives.

We make money off of the platform and they make money off of us. At face value, we have a symbiotic relationship with Zuckerberg and other social media moguls. Yet rejecting the information and communication channels offered by these platforms means being largely left out of societal happenings.

This wasn’t an accident. Social media was designed for us to need it — we just didn’t expect it would factor so heavily into a future career when we were posting artsy photos on MySpace or filming silly videos of our friends on Snapchat.

We have evolved as a society, and social media has adapted adequately. Our uses for the internet have changed, and our purpose for interacting with each other have as well. But painting our dependence on social media as a personal decision discounts the cunning strategy behind it all.

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