The Public Relations BlogDigital PRDigital-FirstSocial Media—The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Social Media — The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Social media isn't all bad; it's rather too good, which sometimes gets ugly.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

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Social media is good, bad, and ugly — all at once.

It seems to be a sport to com­plain about social media.

Excessive screen time is des­troy­ing our youth. Social media algorithms are divis­ive and make us hate ourselves and each other. 

So what’s the Original Sin of the Internet? Nearly all busi­ness mod­els it sup­ports require spy­ing on con­sumers and mon­et­ising them.”
— Bob Sullivan, author and journalist 

Oh, and Mark Zuckerberg is a robot.

Sure, I get it. I’m not dis­put­ing that some cri­ti­cisms con­tain streaks of truth. (Except per­haps for that part about The Zuck. Even if he is a com­pu­ta­tion, it’s not evid­ent that a mighty AI over­lord would be wrong about things.)

When I star­ted my PR career in 2005, I res­isted my intro­ver­ted nature. I pro­claimed my mes­sage from the bar­ri­cades to any­one will­ing to listen: our soci­ety’s digit­al­isa­tion isn’t some­thing the PR industry can ignore.

Those days of the Hippie Web are long gone, but there was a time when digit­al-first was­n’t obvi­ous to everyone.

My pro­fes­sion­al con­tacts still remem­ber my pas­sion from those days, though. I guess I doubled down on my mes­sage back then.

As a res­ult, many of my busi­ness acquaint­ances are sur­prised when they hear me dis­cuss social media from a crit­ic­al per­spect­ive. “Wait, Jerry, I thought you loved everything digital?!”

To be clear, I’m not blam­ing any­one but myself for mani­fest­ing this gen­er­al per­cep­tion. I did tell hun­dreds of organ­isa­tions to adapt to digit­al-first. My mes­sage was­n’t gentle; I gave them an ulti­mat­um — adapt or die.

Does this mean that I love everything about social media? Does this mean that I love algorithms and fil­ter bubbles? Does this mean that I love … the Zuck-bot?

I’m still a PR pro­fes­sion­al, god­dam­mit.

My job is to help organ­isa­tions nego­ti­ate vari­ous media chan­nels and to pro­tect them when the media gets things wrong (which still hap­pens all the time, by the way).

Case in point: I think journ­al­ism is essen­tial for demo­cracy, but that does­n’t mean journ­al­ists always get things right. They don’t.

It’s not ration­al to con­vince your­self that journ­al­ists are either saints or sin­ners. Clinging to such simplist­ic dicho­tom­ies is a poor busi­ness mindset.

So, why con­vince your­self that social media must be altru­ist­ic or mali­cious? That, too, is a poor busi­ness mind­set. It’s just your per­son­al bias on the mat­ter get­ting in the way.

Do social media algorithms make you feel bad about your­self? Does most of the con­tent you’re exposed to seem point­less or dumb? Is no one inter­ested in the con­tent you share?

Don’t get mad.
Get smarter.
And skip the drama, please.

I don’t love it when journ­al­ists get things wrong.
I don’t love it when social media gets things wrong.

PR schol­ars should also take a bal­anced view:

Scholarship in pub­lic rela­tions seems to be overly pos­it­ive about social media. The dom­in­ant dis­course in pub­lic rela­tions is that using social media is ‘good’, because social media can help organ­iz­a­tions in devel­op­ing dia­logs and rela­tion­ships with pub­lics and in enga­ging with them. Yet empir­ic­al evid­ence in pub­lic rela­tions is mostly case-depend­ent and lim­ited to the realm of under­stand­ing cur­rent organ­iz­a­tion­al prac­tices, with lim­ited under­stand­ing of the con­crete value for organ­iz­a­tions or for pub­lics. […] I argue that the pos­it­ive view of social media held by the major­ity of pub­lic rela­tions schol­ars is groun­ded on the pro­fes­sion’s need to recon­cile the two sides of pub­lic rela­tions iden­tity — the rhet­or­ic­al and the rela­tion­al.”
Source: Public Relations Review

I’m only advising organ­isa­tions to stop com­plain­ing and deal with whatever is in front of them. I was back then, and I am now.

Because guess what? The play­ing field is the same for every­one. There are going to be win­ners and losers. Some will fig­ure things out, and some won’t. Information tech­no­logy is a rising tide, and while it’s not a law of nature, it’s a law of mod­ern civilisation.

I think of Jan Stenbeck (1942 – 2002), the legendary Swedish entre­pren­eur. His busi­ness philo­sophy, as described by bio­graphy author Per Andersson, can be summed up: 1Jan Stenbeck. (2023, December 26). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​J​a​n​_​S​t​e​n​b​eck 2Per Andersson (journ­al­ist). (2024, January 10). In Wikipedia. https://​sv​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​P​e​r​_​A​n​d​e​r​s​s​o​n​_​(​j​o​u​r​n​a​l​ist)

  • Someone has an idea.
  • However, money defeats ideas.
  • But then, polit­ics defeats money.
  • Ultimately, tech­no­logy defeats politics.

Contrary to pop­u­lar belief, it’s not evid­ent that Facebook, TikTok, or any social net­work is try­ing to enslave our minds or mould us into pass­ive, mind­less con­sumers. After all, they thrive on their users’ activity.

  • I can still hear the echo of Mark Zuckerberg’s words, “Senator, we run ads.”

So, stop com­plain­ing and get busy win­ning instead. This is also what I tell friends and fam­ily who feel like “algorithm vic­tims.” And what I tell par­ents who hate their chil­dren’s smart­phones, pads, and gam­ing stations.

A con­trari­an ana­lys­is would sug­gest that social net­works are highly effi­cient ser­vice pro­viders. It’s too effi­cient at times.

So, the prob­lem isn’t that these social net­works are bad. The prob­lem is that they’re too good at what they do. And this is what some­times gets ugly.

Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

PR Resource: Free Social Media PR Course

Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations obviously; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that it's good to have hobbies outside work.

The cover photo has

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