A person’s instinct is to wonder why this person is smiling. Shriram Venkatraman,a PhD student and anthropological researcher, says human beings are naturally intrigued by what is happening in friend’s or follower’s lives. If we weren’t, they wouldn’t be on our timelines.
“This is momentary recognition. It makes them feel good because people care. Even if the recognition is bad, it is still recognition,” Venkatraman says. “There is no universal recognition, but instead it is multi-layered. A lot of studies say that human beings are weak, vulnerable to it and that we are addicted, but we created social media, not just the platforms.”
Nine anthropological researchers from all around the world spent 5 years creating the Global Social Media Impact Study, a study that digs deeper into the uses, benefits, effects and dangers of social media in different parts of the world.
One of 15 discoveries the team published after each of their designated study periods is that studies have proven over time that social media is changing generation, changing how people do things and most importantly, changing them. Is it true that social media is controlling how people live their lives?
“People feel social media is now somewhere they live as well as a means for communication; human beings are not dumb individuals,” says Venkatraman, who is one of nine researchers who took part in an impact study published late February. The project studies the impacts of social media regarding families, gender, relationships and friendships.
“People don’t hide behind social media, but they use it strategically,” says Venkatraman. Based in India for his study, Venkatraman says India does not have the privilege of much privacy, but now with Facebook as the biggest social media app, it allows them to create multiple profiles.
“People are not hiding behind these profiles but instead creating a place to do something they cannot do in their offline life,” says Venkatraman.
In some cases in India, teenagers have very protective parents who restrict the teens on who they can befriend on social media. Facebook allows users to view “friends” of other users once they have been accepted. Venkatraman says creating another profile isn’t hiding but is used as an advantage in this case. Teens will make a separate profile (where their parents are not friends on this account), and use this to open up more flexibility with their friends.
“It’s a number game – the more followers you have the more you get,” says 41-year-old Kirsten Jassias, social media specialist and blogger. Jassias is a freelancer who advises companies on the uses of Instagram from a marketing perspective. To test how important followers are to one’s profile, Jassias bought 500 fake followers for 10 dollars to see if she would gain more traffic on her page.
“The followers were superficial and only appear as your followers. They don’t like or comment on any photos,” Jassias says. “People like when you have a large number of followers, so they follow too.” In the end, she had amassed a little over a thousand more followers.
Verified pages, popular accounts and most liked pictures surround the social media world. Naturally, users want recognition over social media, but the reasons why may vary.
Jassias, a persistent user of Instagram for her personal and professional life, says it’s all about storytelling. “I want to be knowledgeable and have people understand my knowledge. I want to tell my story,” says Jassias.
She says Instagram allows users without the big expensive cameras an opportunity to share their pictures with the world in one quick click. “I’m obsessed with how beautiful the world is. Instagram kept an audience for people to see my vision of it,” Jassias says.
Along with that vision comes the good ol’ selfie. On social media, the selfie has become one of the most popular and easiest things to do. “Young people are really obsessed with their own image. It can be a great danger to some people, because it’s a completely different world,” Jassias says.
While some may be opposed to the selfie, psychologist Pamela Rutledge, PhD of the American Psychology Association, sees the values in them. “Selfies are an extraordinary documentation of the process of life,” Rutledge told a 2015 symposium on media and technology for good.
“You have just created a moment that you will be able to look back on and re-experience, and you’ll remember the emotional feeling you had, whether it was funny, or maybe a little bit of discomfort.” Rutledge says it’s like looking back at your own personal journey.