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

Smoking pot? Your dentist wants to know

Vancouver dentist and cannabis researcher shares oral health concerns of marijuana

Wait times for ICBC road tests increase in Victoria

Increase has no connection with tests becoming more challenging: ICBC

Fall-ing for unseasonably warm weather in Victoria

Environment Canada forecast calls for sunshine through weekend

Hundreds of thousands of British Columbians to take part in earthquake drill

The B.C.-wide, one-and-a-half-minute drill will be held Thursday

Campers near Saanich municipal hall await response from transportation ministry

MOTI expected to decide Monday when campers need to leave

Campers near Saanich municipal hall await response from transportation ministry

MOTI expected to decide Monday when campers need to leave

Advance voting begins Oct. 10 in Greater Victoria

The polls open at 8 a.m. for the 2018 municipal election with the general election taking place Oct. 20

Find your future at Black Press career fair in Victoria

More than 70 booths expected at Bay Street Armoury on Oct. 25

EU’s Barnier hopes Brexit deal possible in ‘coming weeks’

Britain is set to leave the European Union in March, but a Brexit agreement must be sealed in coming weeks to leave enough time for relevant parliaments to ratify it.

Earth samples show dust from B.C. pipeline blast not a health threat: Enbridge

Enbridge says earth sampling shows mineral and metal composition is well below provincial and federal standards for urban and residential areas.

Postal services ready for looming wave of legal cannabis deliveries

Legal cannabis is set to usher in a wave of high-value, age-restricted parcels in the mail system, and delivery companies say they’re ready.

Caution urged after cougar sighting in Nanaimo

Weekend encounter at Long Lake the most recent in in area

Mega Millions prize of $654M is nation’s 4th-largest

No one has won the U.S. jackpot in almost three months

Trump: Saudi king ‘firmly denies’ any role in Khashoggi mystery

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is travelling to the Middle East to learn more about the fate of the Saudi national

Most Read