Can Our Social Media Platforms Actually Help People?
As the new summer marketing intern here at Interactive Strategies, I have been introduced to a completely new realm of social media; a realm replete with online startups attempting to establish themselves as viable competitors in a market focused around a few digital giants (similar to the dot com bubble of the nineties? No way—not with the existing web platform that companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook have solidified). I’ve found tech companies chomping at the bit to prove themselves in a quagmire of software innovation, and, most of all, I’ve realized how concerned companies are with the interconnectivity between branding, marketing, and PR. In other words, Interactive Strategies has opened my eyes to the world of online business, and I couldn’t be more starry-eyed if it were my first day of college.
As I was perusing our twitter account, soaking in articles concerning SEO, CSS, Google, Apple, coding, China’s censorships state, corporate finance, etc., I came upon an article that caught my eye. Titled “Can a specialized social network really combat suicide?” by Carmel Deamicis, the article drew me in immediately. The title alone sparked a cascading mental tangent that took me about fifteen minutes to break free from—I’d had the notion for years (and recently, news articles have confirmed those suspicions) that social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (with a focus on Facebook, because of its more encompassing and pervasive platform for sharing personal information) are actually, while entertaining and engaging, making users less happy.
I can, off the top of my head, list a few reasons why Facebook and other social media sites might cause users to become depressed; but, the main reason social media has this quixotic effect—that between entertainment and disappointment— is due to the rift between an individual’s real life, and the digital life they present and take part in online. With the propensity to “like”, comment on, and share different posts, value is suddenly assigned to people’s lives unlike anytime before. And, just like most value scales, bigger usually connotes “betterness”.
When I saw the article title, I thought to myself, “hmm, so is this going to be about how Facebook and Instagram are going to cure the infamous FOMO (fear of missing out) that pervades their products?”
Not quite, it turns out.
Instead, I found an illuminating piece about a new social media app called “Moodswing”—an app, created by Jake Mckeon, with intentions to be the “Twitter for moods”.
I was intrigued and skeptical—usually, my least favorite part of social media is when people post their complaining, mushy-gooey personal memoirs for everyone to scoff at. But, as I read on, I realized the remarkable utility that this app offers. Users are able to post whatever feeling they want—typically a short blurb about how “free” they felt when skydiving, or how jubilant they are when they wake up to sunshine, etc. But, as Mckeon and others found, Moodswing began to accumulate more negative posts than positive—people feeling lonely, depressed, despondent, and even suicidal.
It all came to a head when Mckeon, after monitoring the sight for hours one night, reached out to one user who had posted several suicidal entries. After referring her to professional help, Mckeon had a sort of revelation. He realized the capacity for good that his app could offer, and he set to work brainstorming ideas to attempt and solve the “depression/suicide” phenomenon Moodswing was experiencing.
Mckeon decided to create a forum on his app that would allow a “network of pseudo-professional support”, consisting of college and graduate students, to speak with individuals who post anything concerning. So, let’s say someone were to post something about how depressed or suicidal they were; they would then be asked if they would like to speak to someone (through the app). If they accepted that invitation, then a trained psychology student would be on the other end to chat with them, and ultimately to refer them to a professional who would be able to help them further.
While there are glaring shortcomings to allowing students the opportunity to try and help people who are unhappy with their lives (the margin for error alone is almost enough of a reason to disregard such an idea), I stick by my initial reaction; that these modifications to Moodswing could do immediate and permanent good for real people.
Unequivocally, having someone there for you when you need them is much better than not. It would be well worth the risk to try and create a safe space for people to speak their thoughts, rather than continue to ignore a prominent issue and leave people to falter by themselves. So, three cheers to you, Jake Mckeon, and may your $50,000 fundraising campaign succeed with flying colors. You have my full support.
In terms of larger narratives, this article was also intriguing because it illuminated an underlying theme that social media companies have been toeing since their genesis. I am referring to social media’s inherent value (so, finding out what friends are doing, seeing and posting photos and articles, etc.) versus its greater social utility. As we observed during the Arab Spring, along with other movements of sociopolitical unrest— like Venezuela, Ukraine, and Russia—Facebook and Twitter’s ability to communicate messages, not only locally, but also globally, has resulted in the organization of mass upheaval of power. During the revolutions in Libya and Egypt, most notably, traditional lines of communication were cut off by the state. But, because of the relative openness of the Internet, people were able to send pictures, videos, and posts about the atrocities that were occurring, garnering global support and sanctions as the rebels in those countries overturned their oppressive dictators. Social media has proven time and again that it is much more valuable than just entertainment; it is now a sector of our economy, allowing for businesses to thrive, people to communicate, and ideas to be shared. So where does Moodswing fit in? It is my sincere hope that as social media continues to grow and develop, more efforts to confront and dissect basic human issues will be seen. Moodswing is one of the first in establishing a social media site for good—a trend that should and (probably? Hopefully?) will continue.