The use of social media has grown (again) in 2020, as the latest edition of the National Social Media Research (NSMO). Since 2010, this research has been conducted annually by Newcom Research & Consultancy among a representative group of Dutch people. 2020 is now a strange one, given the corona crisis and far-reaching social consequences. What are the six biggest trends in social media?
1. The Corona crisis is increasing the importance and use of social media
People will stay at home more in 2020, see their family, friends and acquaintances less, but no less need for contact. That has catalyzed the use of social media, and with it the importance. More than ever, the Dutch use social media such as WhatsApp and Facebook to communicate with each other. It's not just services like Skype and Zoom that are growing during the corona crisis; social media have also emphatically taken their role and have deeper roots in our society.
An important realization is that this increase in importance and use is not temporary. Even if countries go completely 'back to normal', if that is the case, it does not mean that social media will go back to their loft. People have become accustomed to using various platforms more and more and will not just adjust that again as soon as they can go back to the office, the sports club and the pub without any worries. Like so many consequences of the corona crisis, this impact is final.
2. Influencer marketing in development
There was a time when influencer marketing, mainly via Instagram and YouTube, was still relatively new. As this form of marketing becomes more established, we see influencer marketing develop. The demands that users place on authenticity are increasing. Children are increasingly able to distinguish the advertising message from the sincere story - often much better than their parents. That is bad news for bad influencers, because the bar is raised, but the chaff is separated from the wheat and that ultimately benefits the user.
3. Social media are moderately trusted, but widely used
Deepfake in which Elon Musk sings a Soviet song, in honor of the successful launch of the Crew Dragon on May 31, 2020
Ever since the scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica, the confidence of citizens worldwide in social media has suffered a huge dent. It was expected that many users of Facebook and Twitter would definitively turn their back on the platforms. That happened briefly, but now these platforms are also on the rise again with regard to the number of active users.
Users are massively realizing that fake news is circulating on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and they are also concerned about it, but it doesn't make people stop using it. This is an important fact with the American elections approaching. Having a strong social campaign is likely to become decisive again. Especially now that large events and meetings are not possible, voters will increasingly receive their information via social media.
4. Social media feel more responsible for user content
Twitter censored a tweet from President Trump, and Mark Zuckerberg felt called upon to make a public statement about whether or not to censor the same message on Facebook. When it became clear shortly after the 2016 presidential election what profound role (fake) news had played on those two platforms in influencing U.S. citizens, the discussion began to what extent social media is responsible for the content users post on their platforms. In many cases, freedom of expression was pointed out.
In recent years, this solution has increasingly been found as a wax nose. Social media companies are increasingly convinced that freedom of expression has long ended when malicious information is deliberately disseminated with the aim of misleading or influencing users. It prompted Facebook to work on a large scale in identifying, tagging and ultimately banning fake news. The same is happening on Twitter and other platforms these days. Now that new elections are in the pipeline, the discussion is flaring up again.
Those who want to use social media again for their own purposes demand that freedom of expression prevail and that the platforms should not interfere with the content of messages. President Trump threatened to shut down Twitter if it did. In the meantime, citizens seem to benefit more from a platform that can be relied on a little more. Drastic political choices based on misleading information are bad news for the average citizen. That will probably mean that we will no longer be able to just throw everything on social media within the foreseeable future. The platforms will become more actively involved in what we are calling. And the more followers we have, or the more important our social position, the greater that involvement will be. The public debate will ultimately determine where exactly the line between censorship and freedom of expression will fall.
Polarization in public debates
That public debate is increasingly conducted via social media. Where Facebook once started as a website to post photos and make friends, and where Instagram once started as a place to show and watch videos and photos, we see more and more political and social discussion. These platforms play a fundamental role in public debates, such as those surrounding the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It has led to the fact that the most important social media can hardly be used neutrally for purely innocent cows and calves. The public debate is everywhere, highly polarized - we are much less reticent about our opinions online than in real life - and are being held continuously. Getting nothing of it is actually no longer an option, and you must agree to that as soon as you log in.
6. The rise of TikTok
Is there then no social medium at all where we are not drawn into the political debate? Yes: TikTok. In 2019, TikTok shot up like a comet and now has nearly a million Dutch users, mainly under the age of eighteen. There is also some criticism of TikTok - the platform wouldn't care about the privacy of its users and personal data would be used for other purposes - but that doesn't stop the youth from making massive and continuous music videos of themselves. Whether TikTok will also catch on among older target groups remains to be seen. For the time being, however, we have another strong player in the social media landscape.