It’s the love-hate relationship that defines the digital age in the early 21st century: U.S. consumers and social media. Data breaches, marketing so targeted and specific that it can feel creepy, lack of privacy and regrets over wasted time – people complain constantly about how social media causes or enables all of that. Yet those same people find it hard to quit the Facebook, Twitter and social media platforms.
Fresh evidence of that came on Friday (April 5) from a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. It found that, in general, people think social media does more harm than good. Yet at the same time, 70 percent of those consumers use social media at least once per day.
This is beyond broken New Year’s resolutions – it is one of the massive contradictions at the heart of digital commerce and payments.
Not only that, but the poll findings come at a time when talk is increasing about government regulation of social media, some of which comes from a genuine interest in doing so, while some is no doubt an attempt to stay a step ahead of regulations and set favorable conditions for rules that are starting to seem inevitable. No less a figure than Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently said there should be heavier regulations on his industry (the internet in general) and that, with a nod to the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), a common framework is to be desired.
Social Media Views
No matter his deeper motivations, Zuckerberg seems to reading the wind. According to the poll, 61 percent of U.S. consumers said social media “spreads unfair attacks and rumors,” and 55 percent said it does more to spread “lies and falsehoods,” compared with 31 percent who said it does more to disseminate legitimate news. As well, 82 percent describe social media as a “waste of time” and 57 percent claimed it “divides us.”
Positive views of social media seem to be in shorter supply, at least going by much of that new poll.
Social media holds “public figures and corporations accountable” – that’s a view expressed by 32 percent of poll respondents, and should come as no surprise to any consumer who has used a Twitter message or Facebook post to gain a refund or otherwise achieve justice when it comes to dealing with merchants, banks or payment services providers. Fifteen percent prefer not to call social media a time waster, but time spent well. And more than a third – 35 percent – view social media as better at bringing people together than tearing them apart.
Big Tech Perceptions
The dim views of social media expressed via this new poll also come with relatively optimistic views about Amazon, Apple and Google – indicating that the public has not soured on the entirety of Big Tech, and also suggesting that regulatory backlashes against the globe’s biggest tech firms doesn’t have unlimited political fuel. The WSJ poll also found that generally negative views about social media are seen across all income levels.
So what’s next?
More attempts at regulation – including pushes for companies to better self-regulate – seem all but certain, given the solid negative attitudes about social media demonstrated by this poll. Not only that, but while many consumers have likely gone numb when it comes to data breaches – they seem almost like weather these days, something that is certain to happen – each new one does not serve to brighten public perception of social media operators.
Earlier this week, in fact, news emerged that hundreds of millions of Facebook user records were exposed on cloud servers and made publicly visible. It’s not known how long the exposed data was available or who, if anyone, may have gotten to it. The data sets were both discovered on Amazon cloud servers, and all of the data was removed by Facebook after the company was notified about the problem.
One thing does seem totally clear: U.S. consumers, at least in general, have given no solid signs that they intend to quit social media, no matter how much they might dislike it. History often shows that contradictions embedded within a society can go a for a very long time – generation after generation – but sometimes, the tension of the contradiction does break.