Do We “Need” Social Media?

While researching the Essena O’Neill saga, I came across this video on YouTube.

It makes some really salient points about the benefits of social media, which can be carried across to (and arguably, amplified within) private social networks.

Social networks open us up to new ideas and new points of view. Facebook, Twitter and other large social networks are like taking an undergraduate class; lots of perspectives and ideas, from lots of people, all in the same space, figuring out what they think about things and finding what they love. Private social networks are like a PhD, or a masterclass: a smaller group, really refining their ideas and beliefs.

Starting up a private social network where people can gather around a shared experience or something they all really care about creates a space for learning and growth; it removes the superficiality that pervades mass social media and networking sites from the proliferation of perspectives and ideas which can make social networking so valuable. For example: if you create a Facebook page or group for discussions of transfeminist issues, you are likely to get some homophobic, misogynist and transphobic people slipping through the cracks and dominating discussion. If you create a private social network, it’s a focused, safe space which could ultimately build similar numbers and achieve the same things.

In essence: while we could certainly live without social media, our intellectual and emotional lives can absolutely be enriched by it, in a variety of ways. Private social networks create yet another, more dedicated space where that enrichment can take place.

Essena O’Neill, Social Media and Authenticity

It seems like everybody who works in communications is talking about Essena O’Neill at the moment; how she exposed the truth behind the photos she posted on Instagram, sharing what it took to get the perfect photo and how much she was paid for promoting certain products. She claims that social media is fake, and we’re all just seeking validation. essena

While many studies exist showing the negative effects of social media on self-esteem, most of the backlash against Essena has focused on three things: the fact that she’s still online and asking for money, that she’s manipulating information, and that there are many positives to social media.

I have a group of friends who I’ve known for ten years (we all met in 2005). One of them has made me and my partner godmothers to her son; another is planning to sign as a witness on my marriage certificate. Three of them live in my old hometown, and the first thing I do when I book a flight is send them a group text so we can arrange a girls’ night out. They’re my cheerleaders, my confidantes, people who I love dearly and who will drop everything just to call me on a bad day.

I met all of them online, because we joined the same private, niche interest social network.

Imagine if you were the only kid in your town who loved comic books. Imagine if you were the only person you knew with severe anxiety or depression. Imagine being transgender in the middle of the most conservative, religious city in your state. Imagine if everyone in your family just switched off when you started talking about your favorite book (again).

Maybe mass social networks are all about validation and popularity, but niche social networks are all about community. Technology isn’t inherently bad in itself; it’s how we use it.

There are several products which have been developed to try and create a more authentic social experience online. Casey Neistat created Beme, a video sharing app where you press to your chest to record, and the second you’re done, your video is uploaded (no opportunities for editing or withholding the information). Once the video has been watched, it’s gone. You can watch Neistat’s introduction to Beme below.

And of course, there’s PeepSo. Essentially, when you remove the mass market from the social networking experience, you remove the need to perform. When people join private, niche communities with a specific focus, there are no “celebrities”, there is nobody you have to impress. You’re simply there to connect with others, to have a shared experience.

The best thing Essena has done here is crack the door wide open, so we can start to have a real, informed conversation about what social media is, how it works, why we use it. We’re excited to be part of that conversation, and would love to hear your thoughts.