There is an ongoing debate in our society about whether we are naturally selfish or altruistic creatures. Many theorists argue in favor of natural selection and claim that our motives are innately egocentric. The other side of the argument is that our societies have molded us into charitable and socially reciprocal groups. So when it comes to social media sharing, what is the true motive?
What is Sharing Anymore?
Most people can’t even remember what sharing was prior to the rise of social media. What used to be an endearing term for letting neighbors borrow milk quickly grew into internet sharing through forwarding emails. Now we have social media and the term has become an enigma.
People share everything from personal photos and information to articles and videos. There are no definitive parameters to what can now be shared. Not only has what we share changed, but also how we share. Technology now allows us to share more content, more rapidly and more often.
Who Are Our Real Friends?
Not only are we sharing anything and everything, we are offering this to almost anybody that will send or receive a friend request. The average Facebook user has nearly 250 friends and I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that can name 250 friends let alone find 250 to send a personal photo to.
So if there is really no clear definition for what we are sharing and who we are sharing with, is there a real reason for why we feel the urge to share content on the Internet?
The Cup is Half Empty: Selfish
There is an underlying selfish nature about sharing, whether we like to admit it. There is social validation in seeing your post receive a high number of likes, comments, or retweets.
There was a study conducted that showed 49% of people share information that they hope will potentially change opinions or encourage actions from others. The key phrase is change opinions. It can be assumed that the individual is making a conscious effort to promote personal motives.
Some people share in order to better define themselves to others. As one survey participant said:
“I try to share only information that will reinforce the image I’d like to present: thoughtful, reasoned, kind, interested and passionate about certain things.”
This quote reiterates the selfish attempt to leverage social media to better portray how one wants others to perceive them.
Who are our friends? People blur online friends and real friends with no definitive distinction between the two. With the mass amounts of profile spammers and now the catfish epidemic, honest profiles are rendered a mere anomaly. The term ‘friend’ is changing its definition as much as the word ‘share’ as we are open our lives up to complete strangers.
69% of people surveyed share information to feel a sense of value. It is a way for them to be connected to the world and whenever someone likes or comments on the information shared, that individual feels a sense of worth. This plays into Pavlov’s hierarchy of needs and the area of Love/Belonging. It is an egocentric motive to need this feeling of acceptance in society. People are sharing information in an effort to “fit in.”
The Cup is Half Full: Altruistic
The same study by the NY Times concluded that 94% of people that share carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to the recipients. I’d venture to say they are considering how the recipient will judge them upon seeing the content, but that is entirely my opinion with no credible sources to back that up.
Even amidst the selfishness, social sharing does present valuable benefits to others. It can provide information or entertainment that may have gone unnoticed otherwise. It is also a way to feel a sense of community. Sharing allows people to connect information and interests with others that they may never have realized share those same interests.
So is Social Sharing a Selfless Act?
In my opinion: no. If anything it is founded in an egocentric principle. Whether you need to feel a sense of validation, reinforce an image, or develop a value to society; there seems to always be a self oriented motive. It may not be intentional but it is present.
I do believe there are selfless benefits to sharing. It is an excellent way to spread knowledge and information. It does provide entertainment and amazing wonder. But as with most actions, there are sometimes ulterior motives. Do you think social sharing is a selfish or selfless act?