Earlier this morning, NPR broadcasted a story about recent scientific findings that a dose of ecstasy (MDMA) actually makes octopuses, otherwise notoriously asocial animals, display a greater degree of sociality and maybe even affection(?)1. Social media seems to be the most prevalent drug in today’s culture. It connects us in ways we couldn’t have imagined even ten years ago and provides us with instant access to news, personalized content, opinions, rantings, reviews, and photos of our friends, family, politicians, and cultural influencers. We carry the internet in our pockets, but does all this instant information gratification through social media actually make us more social or more affectionate? I’m not saying a drug of any kind, if it can be defined as such, is justified because it makes us somehow nicer to each other. This post is intended simply to explore social media in terms of its potentially addictive nature, consider some social media pitfalls related to how members of your community interact, and advocate for the need of a more formalized web presence for any community association.
Is it really addicting?
A recent article in Psychology Today, titled “Addicted to Social Media?” addresses mental health concerns about excessive social media use. The article states: “Because social media is most frequently accessed via smartphones, their usage is intimately intertwined and their mobile nature contributes to excessive checking habits, which often derives from what is commonly labelled as the ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO).” However, the article also points out, “The good news is that very few people are genuinely addicted to social media.”2 I find it reassuring that my bleary-eyed scrolling through Instagram before bed each night is highly unlikely to be a true addiction!
Jeffrey A. Singer, MD’s Medpage Today article, “Stop Saying Social Media ‘Addiction’”, cautions that the jury is still out on whether or not social media use can be classified as an addiction. Singer states:
The American Psychiatric Society does not consider "social media addiction" also called "internet addiction disorder" to be a behavioral disorder. In the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) it's listed as a "condition for further study." Researchers have yet to approach a consensus as to whether perceived excessive time spent on the internet and engaged with internet-based social media is an addictive behavioral disorder. One of the leading researchers on the subject stresses that most reports on the phenomenon are anecdotal and peer-reviewed scientific research is scarce. As a result, most "internet addiction" rehab programs in the U.S. are not covered by health insurance.3
OK, so we’re probably not social media addicts, but how can our use impact our communities?
Pitfalls for communities
It might be called “Facebook”, but along with other social media platforms, it has the tendency to feel faceless. What I mean by that is these platforms make it easier for people to post opinions and personal content with much less discretion than would be used in a face-to-face conversation. The internet is infinite and the presumed audience is hard to pinpoint, so those who might be friends and neighbors in real life, could be offending and alienating one another on social media.
Social media provides every individual a soap box to stand on and shout their views. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’ve read many online reviews, you’ve probably noticed negativity bias at play. Personally, I don’t even bother reading online reviews anymore; everything is either one star pinned to an angry tirade or five stars emblazoned across a flowery review, probably written by an employee.
Not only are we are far more likely to share our negative customer service experiences, but we tend to seek out negative content, which could be the reason the news has come to resemble the “Sick Sad World” headlines from the animated MTV series Daria. The Bridge Alliance, a coalition of organizations working toward revitalizing democratic practice in America, identifies partisan polarization as a symptom of the impact negativity bias has had on social media. Their site points to research that has shown “negative information is three times more likely to be clicked on than positive information, which means that social media algorithms designed to maximize such signals are bound to spread negative partisan information that is destructive to our government’s ability to create policies that reflect good ideas from both parties.”4 The Bridge Alliance further identifies “filter bubbles”, created by these social media algorithms only feeding us content that reinforces negative views of the other side, as having harmful impact on meaningful discourse.
Social media is largely unmoderated. Nothing is more valuable to society as we know it than free speech, but I think it’s fair to say not ALL speech is equally valuable to society. This is true of unmoderated social media speech in your communities. Social media can be effective in relaying association information and may even be necessary to reach all of your community members, but social media accounts should be used as adjuncts of a centralized, official association platform.
Formal web presence:
Perhaps I’ve indulged in a bit of negativity bias of my own in addressing the issue of social media in this post, but don’t get me wrong, I love my social media. However, in the context of community associations, I strongly believe in the need for a more formal web presence, for may reasons. For starters, a community association is a legal entity, which means it is governed by laws, required to meet organizational guidelines regarding budgets, reporting, communications, meetings, and code enforcement, etc. The fact that an association is a legal entity also means that it is liable for the execution of its obligations under the law. Some states already require web presence of community associations and Facebook, Instagram, or other social media platforms don’t fulfill that requirement.
Your association needs a secure web portal. Some community-related content is public record, such as the CC&R’s and Bylaws, other content, such as financial reports, meeting minutes, member directories, and homeowner account information need to be secured in a safe yet accessible place. This is one of the key differences between what is deemed a “website” and what is termed a “web portal”; a website is essentially any page on the internet and a portal is a type of website secured by login credentials. Portals are also able to relay content dynamic and relevant to the user accessing the site.
A community web portal is an essential tool in creating a central document repository for community members to access. It serves as a communications platform that Board Members and managers can use to share important news and announcements and possibly allow for online discussion that can be moderated. Web portals offer more pointed information and are therefore more efficient at keeping community membership in-the-know than social media platforms; more of the “noise” is filtered out.
A formal web porta for you community association is really about service. It helps you create a self-service environment where homeowners can find answers to their questions, make online payments, and review account information, while reserving phone calls and emails for more pressing issues. Maintaining a manicured web presence that offers quick and convenient access to official community content just might prevent the posting of negative reviews for your association or management company on social media!