Social Media Right Now: “They’re All Pretty Bad.”

Any conversation about the state of social media these days calls to mind an absurd, but amusing, conversation in a classic movie.

40 years ago, in “The Blues Brothers,” characters played by comedy legends John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd chatted up characters played by music legends Aretha Franklin and Matt “Guitar” Murphy. It centered around food at various Midwest correctional institutions with Murphy concluding, “They’re all pretty bad.”

Such is the state of social media, in a global pandemic, on the eve of the 2020 Election.

In a time in history where more of us are spending more time on screens than ever before, doesn’t it seem like Facebook is quieter than it has been since its earliest days? Is that because so many have grown so weary of people we hardly know arguing viciously on our pages with people they don’t know at all? Or is there just less to share, now that life has become so mundane with all of the staying at home? Or maybe it’s just because of all of the “friends” we have hidden or snoozed because of their annoying or even revolting expressions of opinion? Regardless, it sure seems like a level of fatigue has set in, at least for proactive posting and interaction.

Over on Twitter, the platform remains probably the best spot online for a steady real-time stream of news. But has it become harder to consistently consume that when the news can be so disturbing? And is it worth it to express yourself, when you get such immediate, scalding reactions, albeit it from strangers or bots? Is the attempt at humor, snarky or otherwise, appropriate these days, when so many are suffering?

Even LinkedIn, home of the online resume and professional “humble brag” is not immune. There are business executives going on there, using their reputational capital, to argue that COVID is a “hoax” or “hysteria” or any number of dubious theories.

Instagram is essentially just photos so it would seem that should be pretty much OK. But it feels like more ads are penetrating the platform with fewer photos, at least by GenXers, many of whom don’t have much to share with a life of Zoom calls and online school for their kids.

Those of us who know and love “The Blues Brothers” can’t say the same for Mr. Murphy as a thespian. But the really bad actors are still on social media. Facebook and Twitter have remained a home this election season for spin, propaganda and content much more dangerous. The companies themselves draw in enormous piles of cash and, at the same time, ire, from all points on the political spectrum.

Post-election and post-pandemic, if there are to be such points in time, where will today’s social media platforms fit into society? How will that compare to March 1, 2020? Those are questions communicators must keep top of mind, as longer-term strategies begin to take shape.