The Good and the Bad, It’s not all Ugly. A more positive look at social media.
By William McFadyen
I’m on a bus home through Glasgow, intermittently checking my mobile for notifications (me and my best friends have been roasting each other all day). Despite the dangerous looking drunkard who’s aggressively lamenting to himself and others about how he used to be a plasterer, I’m also enjoying a read of a newspaper between insults and jibes. I tell my friends about the inebriated tradesman and in my head I can see their faces contort into laughter as the replies roll in.
“No way bro a plastered plasterer?”
“It’s 2pm on a Wednesday!”
“Leave him alone that’ll be you one day, ya steamer”
A full belly laugh feels truly priceless. I’m not uncomfortable in the man’s presence, regardless of his increasingly irritable mood- my friends, it feels are with me. With a smile on my face I take back to my newspaper, The Guardian, a favourite of mine being a bit of a lefty. I turn the page and scoff heartily at the top line “Aggression, abuse and addiction: we need a social media detox”.
I take the article with a pinch of salt knowing my own social media use is relatively harmless and enjoyable. I know what aggression, abuse and addiction look like; I’m sat two feet from a bad character out of Rab C Nesbitt. Nonetheless that top line stays with me, burned into my subconscious, the words in bold. Aggression. Abuse. Addiction. My phone bings a couple more times in quick succession.
What I read on that bus journey was common fare. There is article after article in the same vein, highlighting the dangers of social media. From the Glasgow Herald’s uplifting piece of journalism “Social media may be as ‘bad as drugs’” to the Daily Mail’s online ditty “How using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer” there is no way to escape this negative press. A piece from the Guardian heads: “One third of Scots ‘addicted to social media’”
What is this negative press doing though? An in depth report published by Ofcom last year shows that social media use is anything but in decline. It found that 98% of adults aged 16-58 use the internet and more than three-quarters of internet users have a profile or account on a social media or messaging site or app. This equates to two-thirds of adults overall.
So social media is here to stay it seems, but why do these platforms continue to draw in new users and engage those it already has?
Most people would never consider social media as a tool to help promote culture or creativity, but there are sub-cultures, artists and valuable causes utilising social media to great affect all over the World.
Some people don’t know that Scotland has a vibrant hip-hop scene for example, a scene largely dependent on social media for organisation and to share content. Proudly Scottish, the lyricists who frequent and perform on “the scene” as it’s dubbed, are in some ways held back by their accents. Amazingly talented writers and practiced music production experts though they are, the Scottish accent may never entirely penetrate mainstream rap culture. Most of these guys don’t care though they want to speak to their own people in their own tongue. I met GASP, one of Glasgow’s leading rappers, at Yardworks in Glasgow. Yardworks is a family friendly event held in SWG3 in celebration of graffiti art (a sub-culture paired with hip-hop) to talk about his journey and social media’s importance to The Scene.
Externally GASP radiated the type of confidence that’s infectious rather than over-powering. Everyone in the packed crowd seemed to know and love him, and it was obvious he was in his element.
“I came up doing graffiti from about 13 and started freestyling about the same time.’ He told me. “ I was just into hip hop, the older boys influenced me a lot, the yardboys. The more I got into graffiti the more I started to enjoy the culture behind it, we started freestyling more and more when we’d be chillin’ with a couple of forties. I started to take it a bit more seriously and began to write rather than just freestyle with my pals and got a good response… Here I am at 33 years old still at it.”
I asked whether he still enjoys creating rap and it was clear from his answer that there’s much more in it for him than enjoyment and fun: “It’s cathartic, if you’ve the energy to put into a creative pursuit that you feel can make a difference to your life, it can be positive and negative sometimes, you can burn out from working so hard. Putting passion into something can help other people though, sometimes you can say something with your art that connects with people- say something that people might think but don’t get to express. That’s the power that music has on people. That’s what I get out of it.”
As if by some divine intervention, at that point we were interrupted by a friendly fan, whose soul want in life at that moment was to “buy you (GASP) a whiskey and a Tequila”
We moved on to how social media has helped him and his peers: “I grew up in a time when mobiles weren’t about, but I was lucky in that as I was starting to take things more seriously myspace came about. I was talked into making a page and already had a lot of material recorded I was able to make available, so I gained a lot of followers quickly, and from there it just snowballed in Scotland. It was surreal as I stated to get appreciation from further afield. Like, I’m just a wee guy from Glasgow and theres a dude from Norway hitting me up to tell me he likes my music. And at the end of the day that’s because of the social media in one form or other. It propels you coz then you’re inspired by knowing that you’re being listened to outside your own circle, the next thing you’re working as hard as you can to represent Scotland, represent Glasgow. I was late to Spotify too which has helped me loads once I got on the bandwagon.
If you’re considering giving some of GASP’s musica listen it’s all available for free online, between Bandcamp and Spotify. I recommend “Little White Lies” and “A Girl Called Glasgow”as a starter for ten, they’re up on youtube with slick videos for your enjoyment. The man himself recommends his first piece of work with full production value: “My first proper album with KONCHIS from way back, ‘A Series of Fortunate Misunderstandings, that’s up on bandcamp, it’s got a lot of sampling from movies and wee stories, I watch a lot of movies”.
GASP is an artist who’s perhaps lucky in his medium in that he isn’t necessarily out to get rich with what he does, but some artists simply need to charge for their work or they would be pulled under by bills. One such discipline is tattooing.
In our Western culture tattoos have grown in popularity over the last 40-50 years, reaching a peak around 5 years ago when countless “reality” style shows about tattoos cropped up. It’s become a massive part of our culture now, but as a career it can be highly demanding work, and a job which has come to rely heavily on social media. I met talented tattoo artist Kaye Nicol at her studio, Minerva Tattoo in Barrhead. Kaye has tattooed professionally for around 20 years and her studio has been open for ten. She was eager to point out that while social media is an invaluable tool for business it can also have its downsides for someone in the tattoo industry.
“In this industry your business has always relied on word of mouth, likes and shares make that easier, but a lot of tattooers get too caught up in the competitive side of social media. Some people will be disheartened by seeing work which is more advanced than their level whereas others will be pushed to achieve. They say comparison is the thief of joy, so you need to be careful.”
I asked Kaye whether she thought that social media is a good or bad thing for society: “Social media is the definition of a double edged sword. It amplifies everything both the good and bad in equal measures. People need it now to be relevant, to keep in touch and socialise. People do need to exercise their own self-control to keep it safe though.
Perhaps the most tangible application of social media is promotion. PR companies are now able to target a specific audience more directly for their clients which has revolutionised the entire advertising industry. A Scottish firm “WIRE” was ahead of the game with alternative PR strategy at its conception, and their head of digital Melissa Rynn, gave me an insight into their operation.
“WIRE started out around 9 years ago by two employees of a large agency who wanted to try and do things their way and it’s grown into one of Scotland’s largest PR firms. From the start they wanted to do things differently, they could see that the importance of social media in PR was rising and at the time it was revolutionary to think of PR as anything other than news coverage. It wasn’t just about the picture and the story anymore- but important to provide clients a complete package- online elements, video production etc. That ethos earned them some big clients straight away like Tennant’s and Jura (Scotch whiskey) and it grew from there”
Melissa was recruited as an expert in digital communication around three years ago (though her degree is in history, clever doesn’t begin to describe the woman) and her approach to her work is nothing if not comprehensive. “
“Our mantra is ‘Make it Famous” And to that end the strategy that I keep in my head is awareness, association, conversion then advocacy.
Each discipline is effective at different stages in the strategy- traditional PR is probably the most useful when it comes to creating awareness of a brand. You can shout all you want but without a second voice backing you up nobody is going to listen. Targeted ads are fine but the Glasgow Live piece encouraging social media users to “tag a friend who loves beer” is just as important, we need that piece to drive users to our own channel that might have just been established. That’s where the lines between media and social media really start to blur.”
WIRE now boasts such high profile clients as The National Lottery, Scotrail and Magners cider to name just a few, the list is longer than my arm and WIRE has become a true Scottish success story.
Clearly social media has its downsides, particularly where people develop mental health problems such as OCD or eating disorders- much of the time as a result of the “comparison” phenomenon which Kaye mentioned. It’s undeniable though that for all the bad there is an element of something magic in social media. Perhaps we are becoming more of a “hive mind”, which may be an unsettling thought, but is it such a bad thing that we’re being brought closer together?
By William McFadyen