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Monday, March 5, 2012

Does Social Media Lead to Social Action or Inaction?

Does Social Media Lead To Social Action for Social Good?

Thought for the day: There is something wonderful & terrible about all the social media sites. On the one hand, you can interact with people you would never meet without these platforms. It is easy to learn about things without leaving your home. On the other hand, these sites can become addictive, time consuming & may lead to less real life interactions with people. When confronted with four options: 1) like, 2) share, 3) unlike, or 4) move on, or ignore what we see, are we choosing option 4) more often than any of the others. Why are people opting not to interact? Are we becoming voyeurs rather than action takers? Is our attention span becoming shorter & shorter? Do we need more & more negative, shocking photos & videos to get our attention? Is social media missing it's mark & making us more asocial or anti-social? We know that twitter has played an influential role in the Arab Spring movement, so social media can lead to action, but does it sometimes lead to inaction. What does it take to get you to like or share something on social media sites? What stops you from sharing or liking something?

As a psychologist, I tend to test my theories before I write about them. I find the psychology of social media fascinating. For the last few months I have been thinking about & developing ways to understand the psychology of using social media for social good. My most recent experiment came before I even had a theory or a plan to write about it. I was simply curious. I responded to a facebook post & decided to try it on both my personal & book facebook page, my google+ page (which, I really don't understand yet), & my 3 twitter handles. That means the message went out to over 8,000 people or pages. I was reluctant to place the post since it felt a bit like chain letters which I do not pass on, but my curiosity won.

Here's the post I put out on all the above sites: "...Pay attention! I'm running a test to see who's reading my posts. So, if you read this, leave me a one-word comment about your day—only one word, please. Then, copy this to your wall so I can leave a word for you. Don't just post a word & not copy—that's no fun."

My meager results in over 48 hours are: 18 replies, shares, & likes. In fairness, I get a lot more responses when I post more interesting content. I also sent out my test on a Saturday afternoon when people are busy, so it may not reflect how well it may have done on a weekday. It still appears on my facebook pages, but it is ancient history on twitter & google+. 

Are we simply overwhelmed with so many posts, tweets, blogs & newsletters flashing by in real time? Do we need disasters or "glitzy" gossip from stars to get our attention?  Are we becoming "couch potatoes" on the internet? How can we get people to really connect in meaningful ways? I hope that we will not become numb to calls for action similar to the passerby phenomenon that has occurred when people hear the sounds of a crime happening & ignore it.

I find that some sites are making a conscious effort to engage people about real issues. On Voices Against Brain Cancer's facebook page,, people post pictures & stories about their loved ones who are either fighting a battle against brain cancer or who have sadly lost the battle. They are raising awareness, supporting families dealing with the disease & supporting research programs to put an end to brain cancer. It is so powerful that I can only respond to posts a bit at a time, but I make an effort to do so. Stop Violence Against Women engages visitors to click to have their sponsors support various causes. You can click every day & support multiple causes there for free.

What sites you share, like & comment on & why? As I see it it is up to us, the users to put social responsibility & activism into social media.

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