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

Truck stolen out of Red Deer, burned near Ponoka

Ponoka RCMP investigate a stolen truck, plus 19-year-old assaults police

Officer-involved shooting in Maskwacis under investigation

The incident occurred just after midnight while officers were looking for a suspect in a shooting

Ponoka’s on the CP Holiday Train stop coming in December

The train starts up Nov. 27 featuring performers Terri Clark, Sierra Noble and Kelly Prescott

Ponoka County fire crews handle second baler fire in 12 hours

Fire crews handled a baler fire just west of Gull Lake

Red Deer RCMP ask for assistance to ID suspect in indecent acts

The suspect exposed himself to a woman and made sexual comments to her

Canada Post strikes leaves small shops in the lurch as holidays approach: CFIB

Rotating strikes began in Victoria, Edmonton, Halifax and Windsor

Outdoor retailer MEC vows to boost diversity after online complaint

Mountain Equipment Co-op was criticized for perpetuating a white-only picture of the outdoors

Trump vilifies caravan, says he’ll cut Central American aid

Despite Mexican efforts to stop them at the Guatemala-Mexico border, about 5,000 Central American migrants resumed their advance toward the U.S. border Sunday in southern Mexico.

Federal carbon tax rebates will exceed the cost for most people affected

Officials say 70 per cent of people in those provinces will get back more than they end up paying out as fuel costs rise to incorporate the carbon tax.

Rotating strike in Toronto will have ‘significant impact,’ says Canada Post

Canada Post union announces rotating strikes in four Canadian cities.

Cancelling Saudi Arabia arms deal would cost $1 billion: Trudeau

Canada has added its voice to global calls for answers, with Trudeau telling the CBC in an interview today that the Saudi government’s explanation of what happened lacks credibility.

China opens mega-bridge linking Hong Kong to mainland

The $20 billion bridge took almost a decade to build while incurring major delays and cost overruns

Dangerous Cat 4 Hurricane Willa closing in on Mexico coast

Officials said 7,000 to 8,000 people were being evacuated from low-lying areas, mostly in Sinaloa state

Excessive speed named as cause of Taiwan train derailment

18 people were killed and at least 170 more were injured

Most Read