To say that social media behavior further changed in 2020 because of the pandemic is an understatement. We’ve always known that trends and features are constantly changing but we experienced even more whiplash with how many things changed this year. If it’s for the better or for the worse, that is still up for debate. Here are some of the major news that you might have missed this year, at least when it came to social media, which was our biggest distraction or source of information/entertainment in 2020.
TikTok went universally viral then faced constant threats in the U.S.
Aside from Zoom, probably the biggest winner in 2020 is TikTok. With people stuck at home and also trying to distract themselves from being there, we turned to short-form video content to entertain and even eventually entertain us. Creators flocked to the Chinese-owned app and consumers simply couldn’t get enough of the platform. Other social media companies tried to replicate its success, to varying degrees of success and failure (mostly failure for now). Even Snapchat itself, a viral social media platform from a few years ago, launched new things that are basically TikTok-like features.
But with this global success came the constant threat of closure in the U.S. As part of Trump’s ongoing economic war against China, he turned his focus on TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance. Without any firm evidence, his government started threatening the closure of the platform in the U.S., saying the app is a security risk and is probably being used by the Chinese government to spy on Americans. Trump eventually filed an executive order that would ban the app from being downloaded in the U.S, unless they sell it to American companies. Eventually, Oracle and Walmart were poised to buy their US operations but the deal hasn’t been finalized.
The latest news is that a second court has blocked the Commerce Department’s attempt to implement the executive order in response to a protest filed by TikTok creators. The U.S. government is appealing the second injunction that it is facing. The latest ruling was handed down last December 7 by a U.S District Court Judge in Washington. Meanwhile, TikTok continues to be a hit both for creators and consumers and we haven’t seen any signs of it slowing down.
Companies hit Facebook where it hurts the most: advertising
Things have not been looking good for Facebook the past few years. Even as they continue adding new features and innovations, they keep getting hit by security, privacy, and antitrust issues by government agencies, privacy organizations, and even its users. This year continues the bad luck for the social media giant, which some may say is of their own making. At the height of the U.S protests over systematic and institutional racism, people criticized Facebook for not doing enough to stop hate speech on the platform.
It wasn’t just users who were calling on the platform to clean up its act, although it was various civil rights groups that started the #StopHateforProfit boycott. Major brands joined in on the criticism and hit them where it hurts the most. More than 1,000 advertisers, including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Walmart, and Samsung stopped or sharply curtailed advertising on the platform at a time when the advertising community was already reeling from the effects of the pandemic. We don’t know if that has a major effect on Facebook’s policies, but we’ve seen them imposing stricter policies on users and groups that espouse what is considered hate speech.
But what may be the biggest challenge now for them is facing the antitrust lawsuits filed against them by the New York Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission. They have been accused of using their power and influence to crush their competition, even buying those that they believe will be their strongest competitors. They are of course referring to the acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, which was of course approved by regulators. But now the FTC lawsuit in particular is asking the court to reverse or unwind the acquisitions. Facebook has vowed to fight both and claim that removing Instagram and WhatsApp will be detrimental to their users.
Social media platforms fight for truth
2020 has of course been marked by highly divisive things like responses to the pandemic, protests against racism, the U.S. presidential elections, etc. But it has also been marked by nefarious elements using the power of social media to spread fake news and misleading information. Sometimes, the wrong information can be a matter of life and death especially as it relates to coronavirus. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter started cracking down on those who would purposely or unwittingly spread this misleading news and information.
Twitter has brought new features that can help users identify and police themselves from spreading misinformation. It gives you reminders to read the link first before retweeting it if it detects you have not clicked on the link yet. It also became more diligent in labeling and identifying tweets containing misinformation. And when you “like” or try to retweet the disputed tweet, you will get a notification from Twitter as well as a link to more reliable information.
Facebook meanwhile will notify you when you’ve engaged with content on their platform that has been flagged as misleading information. Previously, you were also warned about it but you would see it on your News Feed and most likely would ignore it. So they decided to send it as a notification if you happened to like, commented on, or reacted to any of these misleading posts. They also notified you if you were sharing an old article, as some of the misinformation comes from sharing articles that may not be up-to-date already. Of course, these things have done nothing to stem the problems they’re facing, as previously discussed.
Stories feature prominently on more platforms
Snapchat users have always known what all of us now know: it’s more fun to post ephemeral content rather than post updates on social media. After the initial success of Snaps, Facebook immediately tried to emulate its success with Stories on Instagram and the main app, making the feature more mainstream. Years later, we now see almost every possible iteration of Stories with Twitter Fleets, Linkedin Stories, Pinterest Story Pins, etc. Even Spotify got in on the action with their still-experimental feature. More than a trend or bandwagon, it also marks a shift in social media behaviour, particularly for Gen Z and younger millenials. They now feel more comfortable sharing parts of their lives in stories that will disappear after 24 hours rather than actual posts which can remain “forever” on the platforms. Time will tell if this will last as long as regular social media posts or if we’ll see another major trend soon.