COLUMN: Has social media passed its peak?

Saul Klein at the University of Victoria writes about erosion of trust at Facebook and Twitter

Social media share prices took a beating at the end of last week, with Facebook investors losing US$120 billion of share value and Twitter ones losing US$5 billion. Both of these companies lost 20 per cent of their value in a day, along with Snapchat, which lost five per cent.

Are investors waking up to what consumers already know, that social media has passed its peak?

Facebook and Twitter have grown rapidly on the promise of greater connectivity. Along with the benefits, however, the dark side of these new technologies has come to the surface and consumer trust is eroding fast.

The annual Gustavson Brand Trust Index shows how social media brands are perceived by consumers. Of 299 brands surveyed in Canada in 2018, Twitter ranked #296, Facebook ranked # 295, and Snapchat was #294. These are also among the brands that Canadians are least likely to recommend.

If we recognize that people don’t want to do business with brands they don’t trust, the over-inflated growth projections of social media brands was clearly an illusion.

Now that it is becoming clear that the emperor has no clothes, we should expect continuing turbulence in the social media space. Continuing large increases in subscriber growth are unlikely to materialize unless the companies do something about the way they are perceived.

READ MORE: Facebook faces day of reckoning on Wall Street

What was once seen as the advent of a new era of free and open communications has turned into a nightmare of manipulation, loss of privacy and hate-speech.

Rather than new media creating strong alternatives to traditional channels, allowing a greater diversity of views with governments and other powerful stakeholders having less control over access to information, the opposite has happened. Authoritarian regimes are now more able to control content and manipulate readers and viewers.

Without legitimate gatekeepers, truth has evaporated and it is becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to distinguish fake news from any other kind.

What was once seen as a benign tool for people to stay in contact with one another, to build communities around common interests and share experiences, has become a vehicle for unscrupulous agents to use personal information to target and shape opinion. The loss of privacy has led to intervention in our democratic processes and sharp increases in identity theft and online scams.

What was once seen as a boon to free speech has created a platform for vitriol and online bullying.

Where we previously saw self-restraint on the expression of abhorrent opinions, reinforced by social norms, we now see impulsive and imprudent commentary and reaction.

Where we wanted greater diversity of opinion, we now have greater containment of views and are increasingly exposed only to those who share the same opinions as we do, reinforcing the fractionalization of our societies.

Is it any wonder that we have lost trust in social media?

In many cases, the social media brands themselves have aided and abetted the dark side. They have been slow to protect our private information, happy to sell our data to the highest bidder, and tried to avoid taking responsibility for online abuse and the spread of hate-speech.

READ MORE: Bad week in social media gets worse; Twitter hammered on Wall Street

As many other companies have come to appreciate, the route to long-term success is based on serving the needs of one’s consumers, not on manipulating and exploiting them for short-term results.

That requires building trusted relationships and behaving responsibly. Until and unless the social media brands appreciate this reality, their value is likely to continue to slide.

Saul Klein is the dean of the Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria

Just Posted

Ten of 11 people taken into custody after shooting in Surrey have been released

Police say four guns, two Tasers, drugs and other weapons were seized after home shot at in Whalley

Madchild headlines ‘Hip Hop For Hunger’ at Surrey’s Strumms ‘n Drums club

Venue at Turf Hotel has hosted a variety of music events in recent months

UPDATE: Surrey getting a new hospital, in Cloverdale

Premier John Horgan said the ‘brand new hospital’ will be built near Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Delta Police Department joins integrated forensics team

Forensics-trained DPD officers will investigate scenes in other cities as well as in Delta

15-year-old charged following threat to South Surrey high school

Police announce pair of teens arrested for Nov. 14 incident at Elgin Park Secondary

MAP: Christmas light displays in Surrey and beyond

Send us pictures of your National Lampoon-style lit-up homes, nativity scenes or North Pole playlands

Province sues over sailing incident that killed teen with disabilities

Gabriel Pollard, 16, died from injuries after marine lift failed

Hope’s illicit drug death rate rivals Vancouver

Small Fraser Valley district listed among top five per capita in B.C.

First Nations want Big Bar landslide cleared ASAP to allow fish passage

Leadership calling for urgent action and resources to remove obstruction on the Fraser

Assessed value of Lower Mainland homes expected to decrease in 2020

Other areas of province may see modest increases over last year’s values

TransLink CEO ‘hopeful’ SkyTrain shutdown can be averted with last-minute deal

No extra buses will be on the roads if strike goes ahead

Chilliwack family’s therapy dog injured in hit and run

Miniature pit bull Fifty’s owner is a single mother facing close to $10,000 in vet bills

Cougar destroyed in Penticton area after mauling dog, killing cat

This is the first reported incident with a cougar this year in the Penticton area

Don’t expect extra bus service during impending SkyTrain strike, CMBC says

Full SkyTrain shutdown is scheduled to start Tuesday morning

Most Read