How Social Media Influences Attitudes & Behaviors

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  • 0:04 Social Media Background
  • 0:48 Personal Influences
  • 2:58 Political Ramifications
  • 4:23 Consumer Effects
  • 5:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Social media is often at the center of our days. We check it on our computers at work and on our phones at home. Does this have any effect on us? This lesson reviews how social media influences our attitudes and behaviors.

Social Media Background

Social media is so prevalent today that almost everyone has some sort of social media account. But what is social media? Put simply, social media are online applications that allow people to communicate and share their lives from all over the world. In fact, social media is all about networking socially. Some common forms of social media are Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat.

While it is definitely true that social media allows people to pursue interpersonal relationships with distant friends and family, it can also have a negative impact on people's lives. This lesson reviews some ways in which social media can influence attitudes and behaviors. The influence impacts all areas of peoples' lives, including personal, political, and consumer aspects.

Personal Influences

Research has shown that people who use social media frequently have increased levels of negative emotions such as envy and isolation. How does this happen?

Well, the tendency of others to distort reality (through selective posting) in their social media can cause some to feel that everyone else has a better life than the viewer. This can lead to feelings of envy. However, it is actually quite common for people to embellish (or fake) aspects of their lives on social media in an effort to appear to be more than (or better than) what they are. Some common areas of untruths are:

  • Appearance
  • Relationships
  • Travelling
  • Food issues
  • Fitness activities
  • Babies and pets
  • Clothing
  • Wit/intelligence

So, why do people feel compelled to lie on social media? Peer pressure is a driving force.

When asked why he did a certain reckless thing, a teenager might say, ''Everyone else was doing it and I didn't want to be left out.'' Research has shown that the average Facebook account has over 300 friends attached to the account. If a few people in a social circle can influence the behavior of a person, imagine what it feels like to have over 300 people pressuring you to keep up with the crowd. This is an example of the bandwagon effect, in which people do or believe something simply based on the number of other people who appear to do or believe the same thing.

Social media makes it appear that large numbers of people believe in certain ideas because we assume that if a person shares a thought (or article) on social media they're implicitly giving their support to that idea. With so much 'embellishing' going on in the vast social media crowd, it is not surprising that feelings of isolation come out of prolonged usage of this form of interaction.

But something even darker can come from the bandwagon effect: online public shaming, an only-recently studied phenomenon in which things like dog piling, online bullying, and even threats being made en masse begin to occur for a very intense but usually brief period of time, usually after a social transgression (real or perceived) has been made by someone. This has shown to be highly correlated not only with increased feelings of isolation but even higher rates of psychological mood disorders like anxiety and depression.

Political Ramifications of Social Media

While it appears that social media is filled with current events and information pertaining to your life, studies have shown that the algorithms used to present articles to social media accounts actually distort facts and biases. These algorithms, which are lines of code that devise rules for when/how/where to do things, control which articles are presented to which media accounts based on the reactive behaviors of the account users (each time you click on an article, information is stored about what you react to).

Attentional bias means that what we give our thoughts to (attention) will become more important to us. Thus, if we see only similar political articles in our social media and do not actively pursue other means of learning about the political climate of the world, we are inevitably going to be drawn to believe and hold the opinions put forth in the articles presented to us. This is one way in which users of social media are influenced politically. And, this can be an even bigger problem when the articles are peddling false or misleading information.

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