The concept of society has always existed in some form and has been social at its heart, but what is different now is that we are simultaneously living in two different social worlds.
The internet was at first very separate from the physical world and a means to finding and disseminating information. We then very quickly became active participants in evolving it to a collaborative interaction between individuals and their digital device.
Every personal interaction is now uploaded onto a connected worldwide network which transforms how the network is used and interacts with others, an ever-evolving framework of communication. A platform that grows and adapts with every emoji we send, every article we skim read or cat video we share on Facebook.
Our innate social nature is what has inspired us to create a digital world in the image of how we see society and ourselves. And so as soon as we invented the internet, social media was inevitable.
We have slowly but surely let the lines between the physical and the digital become very blurry, our digital selves are becoming more representive of who we actually are and what we stand for, we are using the internet to achieve our career ambitions and realise personal goals, we are even using it to find love. Our sense of self is now directly affected by both worlds.
The negative side of such a rapid change in how we interact and communicate is that we become too engrossed in what is happening on our smartphones and stop engaging in the physical present. Zombie smartphone walkers, your friend who is on the phone while listening to you, rising anxiety levels and technology compulsive behaviour are just some examples of how we have not yet found the right balance.
On the flip side, if we are investing so much of our time and ourselves into our devices and on our social accounts, then the power social media holds is unilaterally phenomenal.
We now live in a world where you can tweet a company about your negative experience and they either respond to you and remedy your problem or they lose customers and negatively affect their image. Anyone can now start a campaign at a click of a button which can catch the attention of the public, start a huge online movement and force the government to debate it and in some cases actually change the law.
We can shine a spotlight on an issue when we form digital collectives, the power of the people finally being heard through the internet.
Huge political and historic shifts can be tracked and directly linked to social patterns happening online before an event occurs. The landslide victory of French President Macron who has no previous experience in government, the shock rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K, and the defeat of the powerful far-right in Holland can all be linked to how social media use and article sharing through social media portals affected public opinion. Trump and Brexit are of course the colossal elephants in the room.
If social media has such sway on geo-political events, then propaganda has an even scarier hold on public opinion. The rise of fake news, or propaganda, is now considered a world-wide digital pandemic. From hackers planting fake information on news sites which create political unrest or change election outcomes to baseless viral articles inciting racial hatred, violence and community division.
Information is now quick, readily shared, and easily accessible and we are running the risk of believing manipulations of the truth on a massive and detrimental scale. The problem is now so acute that governments are setting up fake news taskforces before elections and referendums and social media giants such as Facebook are investing in fake news teams and algorithms to try and fight the propaganda tide.
The technological revolution is moving so fast and dragging us along for the ride that we can’t really understand the true ramifications of how it is affecting the world and where it will lead us. Perhaps like the eye of a storm, we need to be prepared to hit rougher terrain before we find a calmer and more responsible way of living with and using social media in the future. And, like most things in life, finding the balance will be key.
Sara is a freelance writer based in Manchester. She owns the commercial and creative content company Fraiche Ink, focusing on think pieces and marketing content.