Social Media And The Butterfly Effect

I remember seeing a presentation by Professor Jennifer Aaker at Stanford University in 2010, based on her book “The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways To Use Social Media to Drive Social Change.” The talk, and her book, outlined how the “butterfly effect” (small movements can have big impacts) applied in the then-just-emerging world of social media, and could be a force for good.

Facebook had opened to the general public in 2006 and was beginning to flex a little muscle. It was the social network, with no competitors really (apart from MySpace, which was already showing signs of decline).

It was sweet, perhaps naïve, that a school of thought assumed this new social media thing would be used for the greater good of humanity -- to help find organ donors and long-lost friends and birth parents.

And make no mistake, some of that has happened. Professor Aaker had some great examples in her book. And your evening news will have a story like that once a year.



But who could have predicted the social media world we have ended up living in? Who would have thought a social-media-connected world would result in people actually growing apart instead of closer together? Who knew we would be looking for the worst in each other, and not the opposite? Who would have envisioned the emergence of a constant refrain of “if you’re not with me, then you are against me”? Who predicted the incessant trolling, blocking, name calling, and even physical violence?

It is exhausting.

This week Digital News Dailyreported on a federal appellate panel that ruled Texas can enforce its social media law prohibiting Twitter, Facebook and YouTube from suppressing users' posts based on viewpoint. It looks like Twitter, under the new ownership of recently minted Texas citizen Elon Musk, won’t have any problem following this law. Musk has of course announced he would reinstate the previous president’s Twitter profile, should he want to tweet again instead of sending out “truths.”

Digital News Daily also reported that Connecticut became the fifth state to enact a privacy law allowing consumers to reject online ad targeting. “California, Colorado, Virginia and Utah have similar laws. Maine has a narrower law that requires internet access providers to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before drawing on their web use for ad targeting,” wrote Wendy Davis.

And we also saw the news in the Wall Street Journal that “The chief executives of Facebook and Google personally signed off on a deal that allegedly gave the social network an advantage in the search giant's online advertising auctions, according to a newly unredacted court filing. The newly unsealed court document alleges that Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg were personally involved in approving the ad agreement, according to Politico.”

I have never been a huge believer of the butterfly effect. But right now, I wish I had those kinds of powers, and that this article had that kind of impact. That by writing about this here, now, social media companies would feel compelled to revert back to the idealistic promises they once made.

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