introduction chapter

Introducing ‘The Psychology of Social Media’

This book is about the psychology of social media. It’s about trying to explain how so much of our everyday lives and modern culture came to be saturated with these incredibly popular and absorbing services. Chapter 1 opens with these questions…

  • How do we express our identities in social media’s rigid profiles? Why does being ‘real’ on social media feel like hard work? Why do some people find fraping funny, but others don’t? Can we still be ourselves in anonymous environments?
  • Why do we say things in our status updates that we might not say in the ‘real world’? Why do we seem to understand privacy issues, yet continue to put lots of personal information in our status updates? Would it be better if our updates faded from view over time? What does it feel like to have all your past social media updates still present, years later?
  • What is the point of sharing images that disappear? Why do people share their location data with their photographs on social media? Why do people like to broadcast livestream videos of their personal lives? Can you make friends by putting lots of photographs of yourself online?
  • What does it mean when someone takes a long time to reply to a private message? When is subtweeting a good idea? Why do people sometimes write on your profile, but other times send a message? Why do some people prefer social messaging instead of social media?

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What are the values of social media? The last chapter of The Psychology of Social Media begins by repeating the book’s psychological definition of social media. In other words, the idea that these online services encourage us to digitise previously private personal information.

Fundamentally, Chapter 7 is concerned with two meanings of the word ‘values’ and how this relates to understanding social media. Values can mean numbers and digits, but it can also mean morals and ethics. I argue that to understand the psychology of social media, it is essential to realise that social media’s principles are essentially quantitative.

To illustrate this point, discussion moves to a historic tragedy on the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, and how the idea of commodifying our selves helps understand social media. This brings us to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and the psychometric personality research behind it.

However, this kind of research assumes that social media accurately reflects human behaviour. I question this by exploring censorship, fake accounts and black markets for upvotes and comments. This also highlights how little users understand about how social media services operate.

While it might seem a long way off at present, I hope that in the future we will develop not only better methods of managing social media, but better understanding of our selves as a result. We need to clarify our own values, and for social media to better help us to do so.

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