What do negative experiences look like on different social media platforms?
Three weeks ago we unveiled the Neely Social Media Index and reported the top-level results for US adults’ experiences with social media and communication services. In the next few posts, we go a click deeper into each of those initial findings. Today, we explore user experiences with content that negatively affected them.
Today’s post pivots from experiences that users felt were bad for the world to experiences that negatively affected them personally. In our nationally representative UAS panel survey of US adults, we found that NextDoor led the pack, with Twitter and Facebook following them, as the platforms with the highest percentage of users reporting content that affected them negatively. The rate at which Nextdoor users reported personal negative experiences was 16.3x higher than the rate at which LinkedIn users reported negative personal experiences (26.1% vs. 1.6%). Twitter and Facebook users had lower rates of these negative personal experiences than NextDoor, but still reported 13.25x and 12x, respectively, more than LinkedIn users did (21.2% and 19.2%, respectively, vs. 1.6%). On the other end of the spectrum, LinkedIn, Facetime, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Discord have the lowest rates of users reporting these negative experiences.
This analysis is informative in giving a general rank ordering of the social media and communication services where users report having the most experiences that affected them negatively. Yet, it is a broad question and doesn’t tell us much about the actual content and how that experience affects them (in each platforms’ users’ eyes). Therefore, we asked them three follow-up questions and report on those data next:
Did your experience on [insert platform name here] relate to any of these topics? Check the box next to all that apply.
None of the above
What was the impact of your negative experience(s) with [insert platform name here]? Check the box next to all that apply.
I felt unsafe.
I felt attacked.
It worried me.
It annoyed me.
It made me angry.
It reduced my trust in social institutions.
It reduced my trust in other people.
It negatively impacted my well-being.
It made me less likely to express myself online.
It did not affect me a great deal.
In a sentence or two, please describe one experience on [insert platform name here] that personally affected you negatively.
What topics best describe experiences that negatively affected users across platforms?
As previously described, we asked users about topics identified in previous research as common in describing negative experiences on social media. In contrast to the topics selected as relevant to experiences that users perceived to be bad for the world, no topic was selected by the majority of respondents. Politics (43.6%) was the most commonly chosen topic for negative personal experiences, followed by crime (33.6%), and none of the above (31.8%). Again, personal finance (13.6%) was the least commonly identified topic for experiences that users said affected them negatively.
In reviewing the open text responses for our respondents selecting the “None of the above” option above, there are several main thematic buckets that emerge. Most commonly, users are mentioning excessive advertisements, and often advertisements that seem irrelevant to them. Next most commonly, users mentioned scams and spam, seeing too much content that looks suspicious and may have contributed to their accounts being hacked in the past. Another emerging theme is that many users complained that it seems to them that they are seeing more content from accounts that they do not follow or like than they are from accounts that they do follow and actually like. This emerging theme makes sense in light of recent changes that a number of social media companies have made to their recommendation algorithms, like Facebook’s discovery engine and Twitter’s “For You” tab.
Given that these platforms were designed to serve different purposes and audiences, it is reasonable to assume that content that users view on these platforms also addresses different topics. For example, NextDoor is a neighborhood-focused platform whereby local communities might be more inclined to share crime-related information and have discussion over local news. In contrast, Twitter’s owner, Elon Musk, describes that platform as “a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated…”
In the heatmap below, we see the percentage of users for each platform who reported an experience that personally negatively affected them and stated that it related to five different topics. Again, content that negatively affected users was more likely to be political than any of the other topics we asked about in our survey. Yet, there is considerable variability in the proportion of users reporting personal negative experiences across the platforms.
Twitter users were about twice as likely to say that their negative personal experiences were related to politics (15.3%) than users of most other traditional social media platforms (e.g., vs. 8.1% for Reddit, 7.8% for TikTok). Facebook users were more likely to identify their negative personal experiences as related to politics (11.1%) than any other topic, and more than any other platform except for Twitter. NextDoor users were more likely to say that their negative experiences pertained to crime (14.9%) than any other topic, and more than any other platform.
This analysis is informative in that it shows us that users report more negative personal experiences with some topics than others, and that these topics differ somewhat based on the platform. Given that Twitter and Facebook users reported that their negative experiences related to politics more often than other topics, it may explain some recent efforts to reduce political content on Facebook feed. The fact that crime was the most commonly selected topic for NextDoor users may explain why they partner with local police and take steps to help users feel safer on their platform. While informative, we can still go deeper as we try to understand what users say the impact of these experiences is on them.
How do users say these negative experiences impact them across these platforms?
The majority of US adult social media users who reported witnessing or experiencing something that affected them negatively stated that the impact was annoyance (62.5%). The other commonly selected impacts were being angered (40.8%) and/or worried (34.5%), and having less trust in other people (32.2%). Additionally, 1 in 5 US adult social media users said that social media negatively impacted their well-being, and more than 1 in 10 US adult social media users said social media made them feel unsafe.
These impacts are generally consistent with independent reports looking at perceived negative impacts of social media. For example, internal documents leaked to the Wall Street Journal by whistleblower Frances Haugen show that Facebook altered their feed algorithm such that it incentivized content that elicited more “anger” reactions. Other research shows that moral and emotional language in posts on social media (especially on Twitter) increases the probability of that content “going viral.”
In the heatmap below, we can see these potential impacts across each of the platforms. Again, NextDoor, Twitter, and Facebook users displayed the highest rates of feeling annoyed and angered by their negative experiences, relative to all other platforms. On the other end of the spectrum, LinkedIn, Facetime, Pinterest, and Snapchat users had the lowest rates of annoyance and anger when having negative experiences on those platforms. Additionally, NextDoor users reported feeling unsafe at a higher rate than users on any other platform, which may be due to users seeing more content related to crime that is in close proximity to where they live.
These data highlight considerable variability in users’ negative experiences across social media platforms. LinkedIn, Facetime, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Discord adult users in the US were less likely to report having negative experiences than were users of most other social media platforms. NextDoor users were most likely to report having negative experiences, and these experiences were more likely to be about crime than any other topic. Twitter and Facebook users were next most likely to report negative experiences, but these experiences were more likely to be about politics than any other topic. Across these platforms, users reported the negative experiences made them feel annoyed, angry, worried, and less trusting of other people. NextDoor users also reported that their negative experiences made them feel unsafe at a higher rate than users of any other platform.
Stay tuned for further analyses and, as always, let us know if you have any questions and/or suggestions for the index. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future updates, please feel free to subscribe to the newsletter.