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Are we all building our own social media jail cells?

As social media has become mainstream, psychologists are analyzing the impact of these networks on our lives and coming to fascinating, yet somewhat troubling conclusions.



social media jail cells

social media jail cells

Building our own jail cells

People use social media for many different things. Some use it to simply stay in touch with friends and family; others use it as a form of marketing to alert consumers of upcoming events, promotions and as a way to engage with their brand loyalists. And some people use it to broadcast what they’re doing, where they’re going, how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking. While many social media users utilize these tools for one of these reasons, many use it for a combination of all three.

While it’s understandable to want to keep in touch and have conversations, what makes us want to blast our whereabouts and activities to the world where they can often be seen by any and every one? Colin Ellard, a director at the University of Waterloo in Canada, provides reasons why being addicted to social media is like building our own jail cells.

The Panopticon theory

Ellard references Jeremy Bentham as he describes the Panopticon prison design, which is defined as a space in which the prisoner is perpetually visible to his keepers, yet they are invisible to him, thereby causing anxiety as the guards remain unknown.

But how does this translate to social media? “Many of us are building a ‘state of conscious and permanent visibility’ for ourselves, and it doesn’t seem to be unwitting,” says Ellard. “Of our own free will, we build personal Panopticons. The physical walls that surround us and give us refuge and privacy have been rendered completely transparent by our own use of our computers and our smartphones.”

The explanation

With the ongoing uproar regarding our rights to online privacy, it’s almost contradictory that we willingly post intimate details of our lives on social media sites. These posts are almost like online trackers. Checking in at various locations gives a visual roadmap of where you’ve gone to dinner for the past few weeknights. Posts about a personal relationship or how you feel about your job are like diary excerpts on display.

And for those whose social media profiles aren’t limited to just friends and family, you are leaving virtual footprints and providing inroads into your thoughts and feelings to whoever happens to click on your page.

To Ellard’s question, by allowing ourselves to always be seen on social media pages, are we building our own social media jail cells? Prisons are designed to restrict and confine, and although social media does allow us the freedom to express our thoughts and feelings, by doing so, we are thereby giving up our ability to not be watched and monitored by advertisers, marketers and whoever else.

The takeaway

We are building ourselves into a cell where our every action can be seen and a set of virtual eyes takes residence over our shoulder and interestingly enough, the people constructing the walls aren’t undercover villains – they’re the everyday social media user tweeting every life detail on Twitter, checking in on Foursquare, or to take it a step further, checking in via face detection software using Facedeals. This argument could certainly be defended or negated, but definitely is one worth thinking about.

What do you think? Is social media causing us to build our own jail cells?

Destiny Bennett is a journalist who has earned double communications' degrees in Journalism and Public Relations, as well as a certification in Business from The University of Texas at Austin. She has written stories for AustinWoman Magazine as well as various University of Texas publications and enjoys the art of telling a story. Her interests include finance, technology, social media...and watching HGTV religiously.

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  1. Tinu

    September 12, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    To an extent, I agree. This is True especially for those growing up with this technology and seeing it as the norm. and the biggest prisons are the ones for the mind. On the other and, a conscious effort at awareness can combat this. Until a former stalker found me online again, I shared freely — and it was great for business, so no regrets. At the time I wasnt so concerned with privacy because I thought it was too self-centered an idea that someone would care That much what I’m doing as a single daa piece. But after that experience I began to consciously filter my digital footprint. I check in to establishments when I’m leaving if I’m not with friends. I also make sure that each thing I expose as a purpose.

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Social Media

Why Trump’s lawsuit against social media still matters

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Former President Trump snagged headlines for suing every large social media platform, and it has gone quiet, but it still deeply matters.



trump sues social media

It was splashed across headlines everywhere in July: Former President Trump filed a lawsuit against social media platforms that he claims unrightfully banned him during and after the fallout of the January 6th capitol riots. The headlines ran for about a week or so and then fell off the radar as other, fresher, just-as-juicy news headlines captured the media’s eye.

Many of us were left wondering what that was all about and if anything ever became of it. For even more of us, it probably passed out of our minds completely. Lack of public awareness for these things is common after the initial media blitz fades.

Lawsuits like these in the US can take months, if not years between newsworthy milestones. The most recent news I could find as of this publishing is from August 24, 2021, on Yahoo! News from the Washington Examiner discussing the Trump camp’s request for a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit.

This particular suit shouldn’t be left to fade from memory in the shadows though, and here’s why:

In the past few years, world powers have been reigning in regulations on social media and internet commerce. The US is actually a little behind the curve. Trump may have unwittingly given us a source of momentum to get with the times.

In the European Union, they have the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), widely acknowledged to be one of the toughest and most thorough privacy laws in the world, a bold title. China just passed its own pair of laws in the past four months: The Data Security Law, which took effect on Sept. 1, and The Personal Information Law, set to take effect November 1st. The pair is poised to give the GDPR a run for its money for that title.

Meanwhile, in the US, Congress has been occupied with other things and, while there are five bills that took aim at tech monopoly currently on the table and a few CEOs had to answer some questions, little actual movement or progress has been made on making similar privacy protections a thing in the United States.

Trump’s lawsuit, while labeled by many as a toothless public relations move, may actually create momentum needed to push regulation of tech and social media forward in the US. The merits of the case are weak and ultimately the legislation that would give it teeth doesn’t exist yet.

You can’t hold tech companies accountable to a standard that doesn’t properly exist in law.

However, high profile attention and someone willing to continue to make noise and bring attention back to the subject, one of Trump’s strongest talents, could be “just what the doctor ordered” to inspire Congress to make internet user rights and data privacy a priority in the US, finally.

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Social Media

Even solopreneurs are doing live commerce online – it’s not just QVC’s game anymore

(SOCIAL MEDIA) When you think of watching a show and buying things in real time, it invokes thoughts of QVC, but social media video has changed all that.



live commerce

After the year everyone has had, one wouldn’t be remiss in thinking that humanity wants a break from live streaming. They would, however, be wrong: Live online commerce – a method of conversion first normalized in China – is the next evolution of the ubiquitous e-commerce experience, which means it’s something you’ll want on your radar.

Chinese company, Alibaba first live streamed on an e-commerce site in 2016, allowing buyers to watch, interact with, and buy from sellers from the comfort of their homes. In 2020, that same strategy netted Alibaba $7.5 billion in presale revenue – and it only took 30 minutes, according to McKinsey Digital.

But, though western audiences have proven a desire to be just as involved with sellers during the buying process, live commerce hasn’t taken off here the way it has elsewhere. If e-commerce merchants want to maximize their returns in the next few years, that needs to change.

McKinsey Digital points out a couple of different benefits for organizations using live commerce, the main one being an influx in traffic. Live streaming events break the buying experience mold, and consumers love being surprised. You can expect that prospective buyers who wouldn’t necessarily visit your store under normal circumstances would find value in attending a live event.

Live events also keep people on your site for longer, resulting in richer conversion opportunities.

The sense of urgency inherent in in-person shopping doesn’t always translate to online markets, but having a stream showing decreasing inventory or limited-availability items being sold inspires people to act expeditiously rather than sitting on a loaded cart–something that can kill an e-commerce conversion as quickly as it starts one.

There are a ton of different ways to incorporate live events into your e-commerce campaigns. Virtual auctions are popular, as are markets in which individual sellers take buyers through inventory. However, the live event could be tangentially related–or even just something impressive running in parallel with the sale–and still bring in a swell of revenue.

Screen fatigue is real, and there isn’t a true substitute for a brick-and-mortar experience when done correctly. But if you have an e-commerce shop that isn’t utilizing some form of live entertainment–even just to bring in new buyers–you’re going to want to try this strategy soon.

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Social Media

LinkedIn is nixing Stories this month (LinkedIn had Stories!?)

(SOCIAL MEDIA) LinkedIn tried to be like the cool kids and launched “Stories,” but the video feature is being shelved and “reimagined.” Ok.



linkedin stories

Creating the next big thing is essential for social networks to stay relevant, continue growing, and avoid shutting down. Sometimes, this leads to businesses trying to ride along with the success of another app’s latest feature and creating their cloned version. While the logic of recreating something already working makes sense, the results aren’t universal.

This time around, LinkedIn is saying goodbye to its short-lived Snapchat-like video product, Stories. In a company post, LinkedIn says it’s removing its Stories experience by the end of September.

Why is LinkedIn retiring Stories?

According to a post by Senior Director of Product at LinkedIn Liz Li, “[LinkedIn] introduced Stories last year as a fun and casual way to share quick video updates.”

After some testing and feedback, they learned this is not what users wanted. Seems like they could have beta tested with users and heard the same thing, but I digress.

“In developing Stories, we assumed people wouldn’t want informal videos attached to their profile, and that ephemerality would reduce barriers that people feel about posting. Turns out, you want to create lasting videos that tell your professional story in a more personal way and that showcase both your personality and expertise,” said Li.

What does this mean for users?

Starting on September 30, 2021, users will no longer be able to create Stories for Pages. If you’ve already planned to have an image or video ads run in-between Stories, they will now appear on the LinkedIn feed instead. For those who used Campaign Manager to promote or sponsor a Story directly from your Page, the company says “these paid Stories will not appear in the LinkedIn feed”, and the user will need to recreate the ad in Campaign Manager.

What’s next for LinkedIn?

According to Li, LinkedIn is taking what it learned from its finding to “evolve the Stories format into a reimagined video experience across LinkedIn that’s even richer and more conversational.” It plans on doing so by using mixed media and the creative tools of Stories.

“As we reimagine what is next, we’re focusing on how we can provide you with a short-form, rich interactive video format that is unique to our platform and that better helps you reach and engage your audiences on LinkedIn. We’re always excited to try out new things and learn as we go, and will continue to share updates along the way,” the company said.

Although Stories didn’t work well for LinkedIn as they hoped, one thing is for sure. LinkedIn isn’t giving up on some form of interactive video, and we can only hope they “reimagine” something unique that keeps users coming back for more.

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