Social Media and Culture’s March to Sameness

Image by Camilo Jimenez on Unsplash

Social media has grown exponentially within the past few decades. In 2022, data showed that there were 4.59 billion social media users worldwide. Its popularity is not without reason. Social media has helped people connect more easily and access information from across the globe. 

While many argue that it promotes individualism and selfishness, evidence suggests that it rewards conformity and leads toward sameness. This article will explore this observation and how mindful social media use can be healthier.

The Rise of Social Media

In the not-so-distant past, around two to three decades ago, people primarily communicated through traditional media like letters and phone calls outside of face-to-face interactions.

As the internet and various digital technologies became more accessible, the public saw the emergence of social media. In its earliest days, nobody predicted that it would be as ubiquitous as it is today.

Social media promised to connect people across vast distances, bridging limitations brought about by geography and time zones. 

Friends and family members who may not see each other in person could get instantaneous glimpses of each other’s lives. People could even find and make friends with strangers who share common interests.

Social media has also provided people with an avenue for expression. Anyone can publish whatever they want and possibly gain an audience for it. Regular people can publish their art, writing, or other types of content for free, with little to no barrier to entry.

As social media continues to evolve, it has also played significant roles in business and major world events. Social media algorithms have evolved to value engagement and push certain types of content to specific groups of people.

It is a potent tool to influence people’s opinions. This principle applies whether it’s about the brands they support or the political ideologies to which they subscribe.

Social Media and Conformity

Social media has become ubiquitous. People engage with it daily, giving it the power to influence culture.

In its earlier forms, social media has democratized and encouraged personal expression and individuality. However, as it grew in influence and power, it became a breeding ground for conformity and sameness. 

Algorithms creating echo chambers

One of the most prominent factors leading to social media conformity is the existence of algorithms. 

These algorithms aim to maximize user engagement and retention. While this goal can help audiences find content that resonates with their beliefs and interests, it inadvertently creates echo chambers. 

Echo chambers refer to virtual spaces where people are only exposed to content that reinforces their beliefs and preferences. When newsfeeds only reflect what you already know and agree with, it can be increasingly challenging to encounter diverse perspectives.

Studies have shown that social media echo chambers are particularly influential when it comes to politically charged topics. Instead of fostering open dialogue and critical thinking, echo chambers reinforce narrow worldviews and exacerbate social polarization.

One way to remedy this issue is through custom RSS feeds. These tools allow people to recreate social media feeds without the influence of corporate algorithms.

Trends and influencer culture 

Another contributing factor to social media conformity is the pervasive influence of trends and influencer culture.

Influencers aren’t inherently malicious. Many of them are passionate content creators who realized they could make a living by working with brands and growing their online presence. However, the prevalence and cultural power that influencers have are significant factors contributing to sameness and conformity in social media.

Platforms like Instagram and TikTok are filled with curated content promoting a homogeneous aesthetic. Think flawless faces, well-decorated homes, a ten-step skincare regimen, and meticulously styled outfits.

Influencers set the standard for what is desirable with their carefully curated personas and aspirational lifestyles. 

As regular people strive to emulate these people’s lifestyles, they contribute to the perpetuation of sameness in social media and the digital landscape. They are also increasingly encouraged to spend more money to achieve such a lifestyle, even when they cannot afford it.

Commodification of identity

In connection with influencer culture, social media’s emphasis on image curation and self-promotion has led to the commodification of identity. 

People are encouraged to present polished, curated versions of themselves, similar to how an influencer would present their lifestyle. They highlight their achievements, hide perceived shortcomings, and conform as much as possible to standards of beauty and success.

This pursuit of validation and social acceptance through likes and comments forces some people to sacrifice authenticity and genuine self-expression.

Image by Melanie Deziel on Unsplash

Standardization of content for engagement

Engagement is the currency of modern social media. Aside from keeping brands relevant and becoming a direct source of revenue, engagement also gives users a dopamine rush and acts as a source of validation.

This pursuit of engagement from brands and individual users has led to the standardization of content across social media platforms. 

Content creators must follow a formulaic approach to maximize likes, shares, and comments. As a result, creativity and originality can often take a back seat to favor conformity and virality. 

Social media platforms incentivize pages and people who follow these formulas, perpetuating a cycle where the most sensationalized content gains the most attention.

Corporate and brand influence

One of the most pervasive influences in social media is the strong presence of brands and corporations. As brands compete for people’s attention and loyalty, they use sophisticated marketing strategies to align their messaging with current trends and cultural expectations.

Marketing and ad strategies like partnerships and targeted ads feed people with carefully curated narratives aiming to promote an active consumer culture. Social media users are constantly bombarded with product recommendations and messages reinforcing sameness and conformity.

Being More Mindful With Social Media Usage

Social media has become a potent force for communication and advertising, for better or worse. Its march towards further commodification has contributed significantly to a growing culture of conformity and sameness.

While conformity isn’t inherently wrong, this phenomenon has led to dissatisfaction and pressure to buy and achieve unrealistic lifestyles. It’s essential to develop a critical awareness of the forces at play and use social media mindfully. This way, you can stay true to your values and minimize social media’s adverse effects on your self-esteem.