The number of social media users worldwide in 2018 is 3.2 billion, up 13 percent year-on-year. By 2020 almost 5 billion people will be connected.
Given its scale, social media has become the world’s most influential storytelling platform. Whatever form they take, the stories we tell through social media have the power to reach and influence more than 60% of people on the planet.
Whether you are an individual creator posting artfully composed Instagram photos and videos, a filmmaker connecting with fans via Facebook Live, a journalist covering breaking news for a media organization, a brand marketer looking to find ways to influence consumer behavior, or a platform company that uses algorithms to determine which stories reach which audiences, we have to wake up to a new reality.
The stories we tell have the ability to touch and inspire, and shake people to their cores. They can elevate people, educate them, and change them—or, they can divide us and tear us down. Ultimately, stories have the power to influence the world and the people who consume them, and with this influence comes responsibility.
In recent years, the true nature of this influence has not only widened, but its scope has forced us to reckon with the responsibility that comes with it. Our stories can change how people think and act, and our obligation is to use this influence for the greater good.
A shift toward the positive (which is good for business)
There’s a reason Facebook has reworked its algorithm, that Google and Apple are focused on digital wellness, that every platform is grappling with how to elevate the real above the fake—and this is not simply altruism at work. This is good for business.
In 2017, Facebook users in the 12-to-17-year-old demographic fell nearly 10 percent. While there are a few likely reasons for this, one prominent issue is that many teens feel that social media has “mainly negative” effects on them. In order for social networks to avoid hitting a growth wall, or experience a decline, they’ll need to demonstrate better value in the future.
Mark Zuckerberg himself said that Facebook has “a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being.” As a result, business, marketers, and individuals that create and post content that sparks “meaningful interactions” and activity beyond simply scrolling will see greater reach—and, Facebook believes, will foster greater user welfare overall.
A shift away from the negative (which is bad for business)
For everything that’s wonderful about the way social media connects us, there are a number of pressing downsides.
Right now, the word is that spending more time on social media makes us feel worse. Users are inundated with fake news and misinformation that spread “significantly farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than truth in all categories of information,” according to an MIT study. And hate speech is rampant on social networks by users across the world, from the United States to Myanmar.
If former Facebook executives feel “tremendous guilt” about creating the platform and advocate removing social media entirely, it’s clear that serious questions about the longevity and sustainability of such networks not only remain, but are growing louder. The value of being on social media may soon be outweighed by the drawbacks.
Some of the ethical responsibility of guarding against fake news and negativity falls on the platforms that host it. But it will be up to storytellers to reverse the trend of increasingly negative and fake information, and to instead create content that keep people happy, engaged, and coming back for more.
A future where stories create positive change
And as we look to the future, we must recognize that the way we tell stories will continue to change. It will be affected by new technologies: MIT recently studied how machines can be used in storytelling to sharpen engagement and emotional pull—to become, in a sense, co-creators. Our practices and values, such as how and when it’s appropriate to use social media, will change as well.
As media and publishing in general evolve, we must evolve with it. Growing, learning and understanding how to best wield our influence in these emerging areas will result in better content, clearer messages, and a stronger, more resilient society.
Now is the time to take meaningful action
Social media is at a critical moment. Many fear that we have already failed as an industry, allowing it to distort our realities and divide us. That can change: We can work together to be more truthful and real in our content, our communication, and with our connections.
The first step is to embrace our responsibility, accept that we have a critical role to play in ensuring that we can our influence for good.
If you are a creator, a journalist, a marketer or a technologist everything you do has an impact on the future wellbeing of our society. Help us tell stories—whether for profit or to simply engage and enthrall—that leave a lasting impression of the people who consume them, and make them worthy of our time and attention.
Learning how starts now and will continue through all of Social Media Week’s conferences and conversation through 2019. Join us, be part of the solution and help us shape a more positive future for our industry.
Founder & Executive Director
Social Media Week
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