Social Networks and Psychology

On the Internet, whatever happens is unpredictable.  Do names like PewDiePie, Grumpy Cat or Justin Bieber ring your bell? Yes, those characters were made known on the Internet and it is that every 60 seconds, Youtube upload 72 hours of video, 278.000 tweets are written and 1,8 million posts are liked on Facebook. (See also: Internet in 60 seconds).

The concept of virality has been spread on the media culture as those contents which are extended on the Internet by one-to-one sharing. However, this concept is not correctly used as viral has an inherent loss of control about the propagation of the content; then, we should talk about spreadability as many of the content is made to be watched and spontaneously shared by the audience, without the intervention of the publisher on its distribution.

But what is it that makes content stand out to the crowd? The truth is that nobody knows the formula to success on the Internet. Nevertheless, according to the marketing theory, the emotions are an important factor to determinate our behaviour on social media. Derek Halpern, an expert marketer on Social Triggers, points six emotions: Awe, anger, anxiety, fear, joy, lust and surprise.

We post to communicate, and the communication is influenced by our feelings. From the social psychology, it is emphasised that emotions have a contagious effect as a mechanism for survival. Imagine a flock of birds being attacked by a cat; for the very first moment that one of those birds detects the danger and flies away, the rest will follow without even know what’s going on. Translating this into human actions, we tend to make groups by nature for protection. Conscious and unconsciously, we imitate the group’s behaviour in order to perpetuate our membership. We copy trends, gestures, ideas… everything. Furthermore, we only find comfort when our ideas relate to the group.

The New York Times’ social media guru Jeff Bullas claims there are five reasons that we share content with others, which meet coincidences with this psychologic approach as these reasons are, in the end, ways to consolidate our position on the group or self-affirmation towards the group.

  1. To bring valuable and entertaining content to others
  2. To define ourselves to others
  3. To grow and nourish our relationships
  4. Self-fulfilment
  5. To get the word out about causes and brands.

The exposure to social media has amplified this contagion by the ease of interaction with the group. But what is the most influential emotion on the internet? Beihang University, in China, has the answer: By analysing  the emoticons on 70 billion posts in Weibo (the Asian Twitter) and their influence on the network, Rui Fan determined that the most shared emotion is angerbetween a happiness, sadness, disgust and anger classification. (At least, Happiness is still on the second stage!). We can find some recent examples like Petra Lázló, the journalist who kicked Syrian Refugees or the terrorist attack in Paris.

Each day, more and more emotional disturbances are being linked to the use of media such depression or anxiety. As the American Academy of Pediatry (APP) agrees,  we are exposed to a constant value judgement through likes, favs and comments, so social media are a trap for low self-steemed people whom emotional and social development are being produced on the Internet. In their words, “Social Networks provide a distorted vision of reality in a false  atmosphere of social competitivity”. However, they find beneficial their use for those which are balanced to get a perspective of social connections.  We have more relationships but entrust less on them.

This makes me wonder, are we going straight to a major problem for the future of digital natives? In my opinion, the way we cultivate relationships will be reproduced into a virtual environment in the same form other technological developments that we use daily hit on the society once upon a time. The danger is, in one hand, in the transition between these ages as we have discovered another way to perpetuate relationships; and the inertia of these developments, which delays the total adaptation.

Maybe we should change our mind today to bring some positivity into social networks by caring how do we communicate and making it less superficial.




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