I have to say, I don’t think social media companies care much about the health and wellbeing of the people who use their platforms. In fact, I have this sneaky suspicion they might just be in it for the mountains of profit.
“No!”, I hear you say, “I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg has a huge heart and massive sense of social responsibility”. But then… I spend a lot of my time creating advertising campaigns designed to help people avoid dying from smoking, eating too much unhealthy food, drinking too many sugary drinks and not wearing any sun protection.
It often means reminding the public about the serious consequences of their behaviour such as lung cancer, skin cancer, bowel cancer, heart disease and other such things.
The campaigns we create for broadcast channels are often confronting, showing images of toxic fat, melanomas, decayed teeth, stomas etc. Research proves that this approach is by far the most effective.
These campaigns run on TV, in outdoor and other print environments. BUT, this very same material is barred by social platforms because it’s deemed ‘offensive’ or ‘indecent’.
You can’t show a skin cancer, because a close-up of skin is not allowed. Similarly, you can’t show a stoma, a surgical scar, toxic fat or even tooth decay.
Personally, I believe the real reason these barriers are in place is because the social media companies do not want to give any reason for people to ‘leave’ the platform. Essentially, they are protecting their own interests. Consider the number of ads you see for commercial products that do show parts of the body. It is simply a matter of double standards.
In social platforms we are bombarded constantly with ads for alcohol, junk food, soft drink and the like, but try and run hard-hitting ad that makes people think twice about how unhealthy these things are, and “Sorry, some of our users might find that unpleasant”.
One of my clients had a huge battle with Facebook because they rejected an ad that featured a doctor in it saying, “look for blood in your pee and poo”. This was deemed offensive. Eventually the client won after the news media picked up the story and called it out as absurd.
Now, I know that there are ways we can use social media that engage audiences in these topics without being scary. In fact, that’s the only strategy we have available to us at the moment. But, the fact is, it’s just not as effective.
My concern is that as we move more towards media consumption models that don’t lend themselves to consequence-based messaging, how are we going to make people pay attention to serious health issues, rather than just being fed a constant stream of ads for junk food, alcohol and cola.
That’s what I’m worried about.