I’m someone who has always reaped productive benefits from the social media, so this article might read as ironical to some. And if this reason alone makes you intrigued to hear my idea of social media, then most certainly read on.
In 2017, I actively started using Facebook when I started a blogging community for Pakistani bloggers. To my amusement, an idea as simple as that was never implemented before. And with that simple idea, this community became one of its kind.
Pakistani Lady Bloggers started off with a very confused admin, not sure if there were many bloggers out there. Today it boosts 8000 plus organic members from all over Pakistan. For now, it is solely a female community so that they get a judgment-free environment to improve their skills.
I mention this all as a prelude to the main topic. My interaction with social media has been anything but dark. Instead, it had provided me positivity when I’ve needed it the most. But that was probably because I played safe. I wanted to explore the dark side as well. That experience was fun and enlightening at the same time.
Problem Statement 1:
Engage your audience better by talking about topics of public interest. Conversely, your audience engages more on your posts when you talk about topics that matter to them.
Problem Statement 2:
More reactions on your posts means better visibility and ranking for you as per Facebook algorithm.
Problem Statement 3:
Social media has become a “machine of rage”.
By playing safe all these years, I can assure you I had a pretty hard time finding a “naughty” enough post to spark a small amount of controversy. One of my friends had once told me how to I needed to let go of my “we should” tone and talk about the real stuff. Ouch! That hurt. But she was right.
Here I was trying very hard to think of something nasty to say. Failing miserably.
God had other plans and He decided to help me. (Pun intended.)
A couple of weeks back, there was a social media debacle on Shehroz Subzwari’s second marriage. Apparently it had enraged many because he had denied an affair with this now new-bride. Everyone sided with the first wife, now an ex. I decided to give it a shot.
I wrote a post on the matter. Tried to add a few strong words. Added a “Kapoor” masala to make it something with variety. Very poorly managed to churn out a nasty post. I set the post privacy to Public so any engagement would possibly result in more engagement. Posted it and then put aside my phone, hoping to see if Problem Statement 1 really worked.
Sure enough, two hours later, my post had received more comments than any of the last many posts. To my excitement, several were argumentative with a couple of women arguing if I really had any business commenting about Shehroz marrying at all. I decided to prolong the discussion by a few more comments that would get more reactions. This proved Problem Statement 3. We react more when angry.
On the side, my mom Whatsapp’ed me telling me that there was an argument going on in my post thread and I should have a look if I haven’t already. I told her I knew, and I’m certain she’d wondered why I was so cool about it. Another influencer friend commented on why being a community leader, I should set a trend of maintaining neutrality on such occasions. I waited to write this post with my findings before I could get back to her. All of this, I believe, was included in the feeble stir my post created.
Problem Statement 2 was achieved as a by product of being successful as Problem Statement 1. When more people engaged, my post started showing up on more people’s Newsfeeds. My post visibility increased.
But my experiment wasn’t complete yet. This brings me to…
After my smug and somewhat successful Experiment 1, I went on to post the next two days also. Both posts were timed pretty much the same time as the one in Experiment 1. Close to 7.30pm. But this time, the content was different. Post setting was set to Public, just like the last time.
Both these posts were about social causes: 1) controlling child labor in Pakistan and 2) animal rights.
Both these posts had the same “we should” tone that my friend had pointed out earlier.
The results were as I expected, this time around as well.
These posts got little to no engagement, with a meager number of likes by a handful of loyals who would always leave a “like” on all of my posts. That was all.
Here are my inferences:
Two experiments are very a small number to base our deductions on, but it does get you at a very basic level for understanding how this whole social media game works. This was particularly more apparent when just after a couple of days of my experiments, I saw several very popular influencers sharing a very indecent video, shot in a well known street of Lahore.
The influencers who shared this were not short of fame in any way. Yet they were sharing it. I think I vaguely understood why.
So here’s the thing.
Social media thrives on audience engagement.
To curate a community of like minded people, you need to send out your kind of posts and messages for an indefinite amount of time, hoping someone somewhere who believes in the same things as you, will find them useful and connect.
If you aim at a bigger, much wider and varied audience, you will probably find yourself sharing everything and anything that generates engagement. You might need to evaluate if this resonates with your image or not. (Note: No judgment here. Just stating inferences.)
Engagement results in possibly more engagement.
Here’s the twist to my idea of “the dark side of social media”.
Social media is a reflection of who we are as a people. Let’s think. What incites a reaction from us? What forces us to interact? What matters to us? What are the things we choose to engage in? The battles we think are worth fighting. Social media is a machine of rage because it is rage that incites us and that in turns feeds in more rage.
That’s my plot twist of the whole idea of social media being dark. May it is us who has made it what it is, when in fact, it is just a tool to connect and share.
We are too busy building our virtual empire of a following who reads us and is love with our ideals (our ideals, really?).
Who will come forward and break this vicious cycle?