Social Media in 2020: TikTok goes viral, Fb took extra hits, everyone has Tales
To say that social media behavior continued to change in 2020 due to the pandemic is an understatement. We’ve always known trends and features are always changing, but we’ve seen even more whiplash of how many things have changed this year. Whether it’s for better or for worse is still up for debate. Here are some of the top news you may have missed this year, at least in terms of social media, which was our biggest distraction or source of information / entertainment in 2020.
TikTok went universally viral and then faced constant threats in the US
Next to Zoom, TikTok is likely the biggest winner in 2020. With people stuck at home and also trying to distract themselves from their presence, we turned to short video content for entertainment and, eventually, even entertainment. Developers flocked to the Chinese app and consumers just couldn’t get enough of the platform. Other social media companies tried to translate their success to success and failure to varying degrees (mostly failure). Even Snapchat itself, a viral social media platform from a few years ago, has launched new things that are basically TikTok-like features.
However, with this global success came the constant threat of US closure. As part of Trump’s ongoing economic war against China, he focused on TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance. Without solid evidence, his government threatened to shut down the platform in the US. The app is a security risk and is likely used by the Chinese government to spy on Americans. Trump eventually filed an executive order banning the app from being downloaded in the US unless they sell it to American companies. Eventually, Oracle and Walmart were ready to buy their US operations, but the deal wasn’t finalized.
The latest news is that a second court blocked an attempt by the Department of Commerce to implement the executive order in response to a protest by the TikTok creators. The US government is appealing the second injunction it faces. The most recent judgment was passed on December 7th by a judge in the US District Court in Washington. In the meantime, TikTok continues to be a hit with both developers and consumers, and we haven’t seen any signs of it slowing down.
Companies hit Facebook where it hurts the most: advertising
Things haven’t been looking good for Facebook in the past few years. Even as they keep adding new features and innovations, security, privacy, and antitrust issues from government agencies, data protection organizations, and even their users continue to hit them. This year, the bad luck continues for the social media giant that some say came from themselves. At the height of the US protests against systematic and institutional racism, people criticized Facebook for not doing enough to stop hate speech on the platform.
It wasn’t just users asking the platform to clean up their act, although it was various civil rights groups that sparked the boycott #StopHateforProfit. Big brands have joined the criticism and hit them where it hurts the most. More than 1,000 advertisers, including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Walmart and Samsung, stopped or severely restricted advertising on the platform as the advertising community was already hit by the effects of the pandemic. We don’t know if this has a material impact on Facebook’s policies, but we’ve seen them impose stricter policies on users and groups who advocate hate speech.
What may be the biggest challenge for them now are the antitrust lawsuits that the New York Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission have filed against them. They have been accused of using their power and influence to crush their competition, and even buying what they believe will be their strongest competitors. They are of course related to the takeover of Instagram and WhatsApp, which of course has been approved by regulators. But now the FTC lawsuit in particular is telling the court to reverse or wind down the acquisitions. Facebook has vowed to fight both of them, claiming that removing Instagram and WhatsApp will be harmful to users.
Social media platforms fight for the truth
The year 2020 was of course marked by extremely divisive things like reactions to the pandemic, protests against racism, the US presidential election, etc. But it was also marked by nefarious elements using the power of social media to distribute false news and misleading information spread. Sometimes incorrect information can be a matter of life or death, especially with coronavirus related issues. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter took action against those who would intentionally or unintentionally distribute these misleading messages and information.
Twitter has introduced new features that allow users to identify and monitor themselves to spread misinformation. You will be reminded to read the link first before tweeting it again if it is determined that you have not yet clicked the link. There has also been more careful labeling and identification of tweets that contained misinformation. And if you “like” the controversial tweet or try to tweet it again, you will receive a notification from Twitter and a link to more reliable information.
In the meantime, Facebook will notify you if you have looked at content on its platform that has been flagged as misleading information. You were previously warned about this too, but you would see it on your news feed and most likely ignore it. That’s why they decided to send it as a notification whenever you like, comment on, or respond to any of these misleading posts. They also notified you if you shared an old article as some of the misinformation came from sharing articles that may not be up to date yet. Of course, these things have done nothing to contain the problems they face, as mentioned earlier.
Stories play a prominent role on more platforms
Snapchat users always knew what we all know now: It’s more fun posting ephemeral content than posting 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 repetition of stories with Twitter fleets, Linkedin stories, Pinterest story pins, etc. Even Spotify was there with its still experimental feature. More than a trend or a move, it also marks a change in social media behavior, especially for Gen Z and younger millennials. They now feel more comfortable sharing parts of their lives in stories that disappear after 24 hours rather than actual posts that can stay on the platforms “forever”. Time will tell if this will take as long as regular social media posts or if we’ll see another major trend soon.