Writer: Bradley Knight
Graphic: Courtney Howes
Generation Y truly are the pioneers of the 21st century social media revolution.
We conquered the slopes of alternating-uppercase-and-lowercase personal names on MSN messenger. We successfully colonised, cultivated and subsequently, evacuated en masse, MySpace.
The rise of Facebook ushered in a new chapter of our social media revolution, and as the battle-worn social media veterans that we have grown to become, are we becoming weary of social media’s effects on our virtual interactions online? Why is the influence of Facebook on our generation beginning to wane?
In approaching this question, we must acknowledge that Facebook has undergone a significant makeover to its user demographic within the past 5 years. An increasing amount of parents and baby boomers have signed up to the social networking platform, triggering an undeniable cultural shift to the services’ user-base and user values. No longer is it a social faux-pas for Gen Y’s to have their parents added as Facebook friends, as was the case only a few years ago.
Experts propose that this acceptance towards inviting our parents into our virtual lives is a result of young adults having grown adept at their individual online privacy management. We’re no longer afraid of what our parents might find out about us through social media, because we’re now much more aware of how our identity and interactions online can impact our real lives. The implications of poor online privacy management are now a part of our public discourse. We’ve all heard horror stories about how a social media miss-step has resulted in somebody being fired from work, or cost a professional opportunity.
However there is societal risk in the over-moderation of the personal content that we publish, which often results in creating a very airbrushed representation of our lives online. All of us know someone online who appears to lead an unreasonably exhilarating lifestyle. It’s important to take their virtual image with a handful of salt, due to our tendency to portray ourselves online in highly flattering ways i.e. getting the perfect ‘selfie’. When online, we focus on communicating only the positive aspects of our lives, yet fail to share our very natural unflattering sides.
For passive users browsing their Facebook news feeds and consuming these ‘airbrushed’ publications from friends in their network, the well-being of the individual is impacted, as they compare their real lives to the censored virtual identities of their friends and celebrities online.
In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, research demonstrated a clear decline in individual well-being among test subjects following passive Facebook use. This paper poses the question: ‘Why [do] people continue to passively use Facebook if engaging in this process undermines their affective well-being?’
The declining popularity of Facebook means that more users are opting-out from the social pressures of tending to their virtual-gardens, freeing themselves from the rose-tinted windows of the Facebook news feed. Does this spell the demise of Facebook? Likely in the social media format of which it currently exists, but it’s anyone’s guess to which emerging market the corporate empire will pounce onto next.
Let’s hope that by then, the negative impacts of social media are part of our public discourse. Unfortunately, with the amount of profit generated from social media, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that happening any time soon.
Bradley is currently studying a Master of Information Systems at the University of Melbourne, and sitting on the board of elected student representatives at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate Student Association.