The year is 2026. Kanye West is President of the United States, Apple’s Siri has overthrown The Queen and Michael Jackson has been brought back to life to save the world from Justin Bieber’s music… Okay, so as you might expect, predicting the future isn’t an easy task. Especially when it comes to predicting the next president, but we might be able to make some calls on the future of social media in the next 5-10 years. So here goes, (just don’t email me in 10 years to tell me how wrong I was okay?).
1: Increased restrictions on freedom of speech
Free speech. It’s one of the best things about being born in the western hemisphere. As a nation we pride ourselves on being able to express ourselves freely. Whether it’s in the pub, around the dinner table with your family or on social media, we like to think that we would be able say what we want, when we want. But as we’ve seen in recent news, free speech is already being restricted on social media platforms, with former Facebook workers exposing the fact that the platform has routinely suppressed Conservative presidential candidate material in the most recent election. While last year, Reddit banned what it referred to as “hate speech” in the form of a subreddit named “FatPeopleHate” despite countless people citing it as the reason they decided to make lifestyle changes.
Since both Reddit and Facebook are two of the largest networks around and are actively taking steps to keep people on their site for longer it would seem that things will only get worse on not only these platforms but others looking to follow in their footsteps. When it comes to freedom of speech, the future of social media looks bleak!
2: Increased surveillance, an end to anonymity and more advertising
It’s no secret that Facebook is selling our interests, activities and behavior to advertisers – it has almost become completely expected and standard. We’ve come a long way from Bebo folks! But unfortunately, the idea of being anonymous and virtually free from adverts is a thing of the past. Reddit, a platform built on almost insane levels of anonymity has recently been looking to further monetise their website, and it could spell the end of glory days on the platform. Not only this but rather in the style of a futuristic post-apocalyptic overlord from the the Matrix or Skynet from Terminator, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman has just uttered the words “we know your darkest secrets, we know everything”. Cheers Steve, I think I’ll delete my presence from the internet and burn my laptop now then. Don’t even get me started on anonymity, advertising and 4chan. We haven’t got time to go down that rabbit hole.
But James, wait… couldn’t there be less adverts?
Well technically… yes. Android has delivered a huge blow to advertisers, showing that 1 in 5 of its users are now using adblock type applications. So this whole ad blocking malarky seems to be on the rise. But it depends what you consider an “advert”. For example, many ad blockers do not block promoted articles on the Facebook platform, so instead of seeing less adverts, we may just see sneakier/less obvious ones. Keep your peepers peeled because native advertising is the way forward. I predict it will be so well targeted and relevant that you won’t even realise you’re being advertised to. Pretty cool right?
3: Smaller insular networks
“When I was a lad you were judged by how many friends you had on Myspace and the ultimate in cool was to make it to someone’s ‘top 8’ friends”.
Okay, enough with the old man garb, enough of the past, back to the future of social media. With privacy becoming a more and more talked about issue (while ironically being ripped away from right under our noses) millennials have begun upping their privacy settings and keeping their contact networks smaller as they age. What began as a text orgy free-for-all of Myspace-esque interaction (with as many people as possible) has become a visual exchange of short, real life videos and images shared with those that are mostly known and met through real life situations on platforms such as Periscope and Snapchat. I predict that in the next ten years, personal social networks will become much more insular; places to keep in touch with people you know rather than meet people you don’t (excluding dating and meet-up apps such as Tinder and Grindr of course).
Why will this happen? Partly out of fear of the unknown. Making our information available to those we don’t know in real life, while location data is ever increasing could be a dangerous cocktail, especially for the young and vulnerable. Also partly because social media is becoming more and more personal when it comes to its exchanges. Pictures and video are dominating a once text based framework, and there’s something about exposing the ‘real you’ to strangers that just doesn’t sit quite with us as a species – well, certain members of it at least. I can’t speak for Kim K.
4: The death of Facebook (as we know it)
Here’s one I’m certainly not willing to bet my house on to say the least, but nothing lasts forever, right? Facebook will one day end, or become so big that we no longer recognise it as we do now. Not only are they buying up competitor networks left right and centre, and venturing into VR (in 2014) but they are also pretty much trying to connect the entire world to the internet. The fact of the matter is that Facebook may just become too big to sustain itself as a ubiquitous social network. And let’s not forget how the mighty have fallen in the past, like when Blockbuster refused to buy Netflix for a cool 50 million. Woops! That didn’t quite work out as planned did it lads? So barring a financial mistake or becoming TOO big, what else could go wrong?
Well, all their users could die. How about that one? If you take a look at the data below you’ll notice by far the biggest demographic on Facebook is above 25 (over 70%) and younger demographics seem to flock to other more insular networks, so what happens when Facebook runs out of users? Well I’ll probably still be here posting articles for you guys, so you’ve at least got that to look forward to.
5: The unknown entities
It’s no secret that we’ve made more technological advances in the past 200 years than during the rest of man’s time on the planet put together, so some monumental, life and social media changing piece of tech coming out in the next ten years isn’t that farcical at all. We just don’t know what it’s likely to be. There’s already been a few contenders, from the Oculus Rift (now owned by Facebook) to Google Glass. Remember those? Well they don’t all work out as planned, but there are certainly things in the pipeline that could be the next “big thing”
- AI bots take over platforms. While they aren’t overly successful right now (mainly just racist) in the next ten years it may not be possible to tell if you’re tweeting a robot or a human when it comes to customer service. And that girl or guy that randomly adds you to chat? Well they might not be who you think they are. Bot’s are already catfishing people on Tindr; it’s bound to get more tricky when the lines truly become blurred between real and AI.
- Wearable tech makes social media even more accessible. We’re already pretty close to having a PC with us wherever we go thanks to smartphones, but what happens when you can wear it on your skin? Or it becomes part of your body? Imagine Mark Zuckerberg getting direct access to your brain. Reddit selling your secrets will be the least of your worries at that point.
- Real time technology removes the barriers between ‘real life’ and ‘online’. This is already happening. Just last week I had a virtual meeting with the Copywriter who is editing this article before it gets to you. We are moving away from lives and jobs that are defined by face to face interaction. Many people who work right here at MoreNiche work from Spain, Latvia, Italy, Devon, France or Slovenia. So we may lose the idea of social media all together. It may just become… social life, with little separation between the two. Wouldn’t that be weird?
Well, I think I’ve probably freaked you out enough for one article. Here’s to the future and all it holds.