Book Review: SOCIAL WARMING and the Effects of Social Media

Book Review: SOCIAL WARMING and the Effects of Social Media

[DISCLOSURE: A complimentary copy was provided for review purposes. All links are non-affiliate links, and all opinions are my own]

Over the past five years, social media usage has shifted away from communications and marketing and into darker areas. Two years ago, P.W. Singer’s Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media outlined how social media has been used to drive dissension and division. However, Charles Arthur outlines how social media networks have facilitated this process in Social Warming: The Dangerous and Polarizing Effects of Social Media from Oneworld Publications.

In his book, Charles Arthur describes “social warming” as a gradual process that occurs over time and usually happens (in his words)

“…when interactions between people who used to be geographically separated and infrequently exposed to each other’s views are more frequently brought together, and kept in orbit around topics that will engage them and create addictive experiences”

Social Warming, p 4.

With social networks becoming increasingly accessible (and mobile devices/smartphones becoming more available), there are greater opportunities for network algorithms to amplify “engaging” posts. This amplification of posts encourages users to log in more frequently and for longer periods of time. Since this process is unregulated and unrestricted, users become gradually more accepting – and less critical – of social media content.

Throughout Social Warming, Charles Arthur highlights key examples of how unchecked social media activity has adversely influenced social media user behavior. For example, he sites social media’s over-reliance on algorithms to promote “engaging” content without context as a factor in swaying political and social thought. Arthur also notes how “scissor statements” (things said to deliberately spike controversy and division) have often driven further dissension. Social Warming also highlights how a lack of foresight and critical thinking on the part of social media networks drove a wide variety of political and social upheavals, with one chapter dedicated to issues around COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracy theory.

Although making similar arguments to the previously mentioned Likewar, Charles Arthur focuses on how the leadership and procedures within social media networks have frequently abdicated responsibility through relying heavily on algorithms, developing a laissez-faire attitude towards monitoring, and focusing exclusively on user growth. Arthur makes various concrete, practical recommendations for social media network leadership towards the end of Social Warming.

Like many other people, I saw social media as a unique way of connecting people across communities. As a professional, I worked to help smaller organizations and nonprofits (as well as larger brands) use social media in a healthy, ethical way. Although it is easy to make social media the ultimate cause of dissension and division, Charles Arthur’s Social Warming: The Dangerous and Polarizing Effects of Social Media makes a very strong case for that belief.

And thankfully, provides some solutions. Highly Recommended.

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And as always, thanks for reading!

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