WOULD FUNCTIONAL CHANGES MAKE SOCIAL MEDIA A HAPPIER PLACE?

We read a lot about the downsides (or should that be ‘the dark side’?) of social media. Trolling, offensive and prejudiced comments, the stresses of ‘Insta perfection’, negative impacts on young people’s mental health and self-esteem, and much, much more.

You don’t have to look far to find evidence to back up these claims either. One study conducted by the University of Copenhagen showed that many people suffer from “Facebook envy”. It found that people who abstained from using Facebook for just one week felt more satisfied with their lives. Researchers warned that spending too long looking at other people’s social media accounts can cause envy and a “deterioration of mood”, induced by “unrealistic social comparisons”.

But is the answer to remove yourself from social media entirely, or is there a better way? Would functional changes make social media a happier place?

As social platforms increasingly become more embedded in our working lives, it’s not always realistic to simply turn social off. It seems that this is a subject that the big social networks can’t ignore any longer, and a flurry of recent tweaks and changes to the world’s most popular platforms shows that they may finally be taking this subject seriously.

Will tweaks to Twitter lead to healthier debate?

First up, Twitter. This has long been regarded as the social channel that cultivates the worst kind of vitriol. It often only takes a handful of hateful or derogatory comments to send a thread spinning off course.

Until now, there has been the option to mute or block users that are causing problems, but this doesn’t remove comments from others’ view. Twitter is investigating ways to change that, though. In Canada it is experimenting with a new ‘hide replies’ feature which allows the original poster to hide certain replies from the thread. These replies will be hidden behind an icon, so other users can choose to click on it and see the hidden comment if they wish.

So why the half-way house? As with many aspects of social media, tools and functionality will be used in different ways by different people. Used well, this new function gives users the opportunity to curate a healthy conversation and encourage positive contributions. Used badly, however, it could lead to over-censorship and stifle freedom of speech.

For companies and brands, it helps to ease out trolling and false information – but will customers and consumers get the full picture if negative feedback is hidden from view?

Is it time to hide the love on Instagram?

Over on Instagram it’s all about the love that you can generate. Post a pretty picture and watch those likes soar. But, while this is a channel that became popular for its visual appeal, it has also come under intense scrutiny recently by those who are fed up with overly staged or set-up shots that bear no resemblance to real life.

As Alex Hern put it in The Guardian, “for a growing number of users – and mental health experts – the very positivity of Instagram is precisely the problem. The site encourages its users to present an upbeat, attractive image that others may find at best misleading and at worse harmful. If Facebook demonstrates that everyone is boring and Twitter proves that everyone is awful, Instagram makes you worry that everyone is perfect – except you.”

The social giant has obviously been listening and doing some soul searching, as its latest pilot in Australia offers a small but significant step towards tackling this issue.

Australian users will no longer be able to see how many likes a post has received. Instead, they will see a list of the likes on their post, with no overall number. This will apply to photos and viewings of videos on user feeds and profiles, and permalink pages.

“We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love,” said The Facebook Australia and New Zealand director of policy, Mia Garlick.

“We are now rolling the test out to Australia so we can learn more about how this can benefit people’s experiences on Instagram, and whether this change can help people focus less on likes and more on telling their story.”

For businesses monitoring engagement, the changes won’t affect the measurement and they will still be able to view the same metrics around likes and engagement.

Time will tell if these changes will have a positive effect, be rolled out to a global audience and whether they will make social networks a happier place to hang out. As with any community – online or offline – it takes time, understanding and willingness to nurture a positive environment. Now that there appears to be some willingness from social networks, let’s hope the understanding will come next.

Do you think these changes will help encourage healthier debate and a happier environment? Do they go far enough, or should social networks be doing more? We’d love to hear your views in the comments below, or connect with us on Twitter @Ambitiouspr.

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