Social media and the erosion of social capital

I’ve been thinking a lot recently on the success of social media.

In large part, it’s due to the inherent social capital compromising American society.

Social capital is the glue that makes capitalism possible. Trust. Good will. The assumption that we all possess the same values, that we all will behave in predictable ways.

This trust is essential for capitalism and consumerism. Erosion of this trust prevents partnerships, prevents accumulating brand capital, prevents consumers from believing in a company or product.

Essentially, social capital is necessary for consumerism— be it product or service or media consumption.

Social media arose because this trust was so endemic to American society. People trust these institutions. People trust each other.

These social media platforms could not arise without a level of social capital amongst its users. It’s essential.

Now that we have an entire economy built on social media platforms, it’s becoming obvious that this trust can be manipulated in grave ways.

Companies or people engineer advertisements, content, news, all media, to appeal to a consumer, to reaffirm their bias or beliefs. There is a science to manipulation. This has been happening for a long while in commercial advertising. It’s par for the course, and it hasn’t been too obvious or lethal to make a big deal of it. We chalk it up to capitalism. Big Tobacco. The milk industry. The sugar industry. NRA. Etc.

But now we’re seeing the darker side as companies are leveraging private data to manipulate belief systems.

Social media platforms can be leveraged to manipulate political outcomes. To create divisions. Spread misinformation.

People are now becoming aware that they cannot trust content, cannot trust companies.

I see this fundamental erosion of social capital as the single biggest threat to progress.

Without trust, without goodwill amongst citizens and companies, where does that leave us?

Can we simply detach from Facebook? From YouTube? From Twitter? From LinkedIn? From reddit? From amazon?

Everything can manipulated.

Likes. Product Reviews. News. Followers.

How can we verify the truth of claims?

How can information avoid manipulation? How can we verify truth? Reality? Accuracy?

I think this is a major problem…

You think the web is this bastion of free information, but social media had allowed companies to create behavior profiles that they can target for “propaganda campaigns”. That’s a dark way to put it, but I don’t think framing it any other way exposes the manipulation.

If companies can leverage a demographics or person’s behavior profile to target to sell ideas, media, products, and services, which all seems kinda “legit”, then imagine the power it has to create false narratives that serve political agendas.

How can you trust what you read?

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