Social Media is Killing Our Tribes
William Radcliffe, Ironworkers, Local 433
Jeff Allen, University of North Texas
Social media is all around us and a part of our everyday lives. Over the last two decades, social media marketing has become one of the largest global marketing movements imaginable. Social media platforms are provided for free to users because of the marketing appeal and potential for generating massive followership. Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, TikTok etc. certainly have connected us, but authentic voices are often muted behind a curated facade created for public consumption. While social media platforms provide an easy venue for creating a public persona, that persona may not reflect reality. For many influencers, they curate and project a social image of what they want others on social media to believe, which may be disconnected from reality.
—A tribe is a volunteer social division of people with a mutual sense of belonging, loyalty, security, and shared life experiences where members are connected through association to the tribe itself, rather than only connection to each other.—
As social primates, there is a deep psychological urge to belong to a family, group, or community—our tribes. Since the earliest beginning of civilization, our true personal paradigms have been shaped by our tribes, which have influenced and shaped belief systems, values, virtues, and morals. Further, tribes provide personal belonging and security to grow as we explore and expand our personal perspective of the world. For most of civilization’s history, the tribe has been immediate family, relatives, and neighbors that live in proximity and share a common set of values. This localized immediacy drove an empathy and compassion to share in a collective vision of health and prosperity for the tribe. The widespread reliance on social media, forming online facsimiles of tribes, can unfortunately operate counter to traditional societal tribes.
Tribes in a Social Media World
People use social media for four primary purposes: education, entertainment, connection, and a muse to boredom. Humans are social primates with an innate desire for shared learning, growth and belonging. Aristotle marked humans as different from animals over 2,000 years ago stating that we are “rational animals” that are pursuing knowledge for the pure sake of pursuing knowledge. The information and knowledge available to us in a global information economy can be overwhelming—and many are drowning in it. However, as a society, we must begin to question: Is this same technology harming connection rather than growing connection? Where do we share our serious personal conversations that affect our personal health and prosperity?
A tribe is a voluntary social division of people with a mutual sense of belonging, loyalty, security, shared life experiences, and shared identity where members are connected through association to the tribe itself, rather than only connection to each other. Tribes have shifted support from local (same time, same place) to online environments (anytime, anyplace). Technology has opened a phenomenal opportunity to build our tribes beyond our local community; to reach out globally. At the same time, global Investors have poured billions into influencing/exploiting these networks by the means of social algorithms that carefully place ads and promotions in-front of tribes and community. These investments in algorithms and metrics are not geared toward growth and connection, but rather toward advertising and social engineering (for good or bad).
Social media has not helped us build a strong and resilient tribe with diverse skills and resources. It is now simply geared to help us find others that “like” the same things as we do, which is not the connection points for tribes. Instead, “likes” simply drive homogeneous points of view where we see pages, posts, and discussions that validate personal perspectives of circumstance—a kind of confirmation bias. This provides a social environment where disinformation thrives and further polarizes people into one of the two worst tribes ever created: Them vs. Us.
Healthy tribes promote unity through psychological support, security, belonging, purpose, diverse skill and perspective, and a shared desire for social growth. Acceptance and belonging makes us feel safe and allows us to share freely with our ideas, fear, and successes to receive support and feel included. The strength of a tribe is belonging. Belongingness is a human need to give and receive support and security as an engaged member of a group. Belonging increases mentoring, development, sacrifice, learning, and growth. Can belonging be converted to algorithms and metrics? Not likely. However, our collective future intrinsically links us to each other and to our belonging in a global society.
Tribes have a special place in our global languages, history, and stories—the word is easily translated into hundreds of languages and a tribe may take on many “as needed” forms (indigenous tribal people, work tribes, or virtual knowledge tribes). Personal and professional tribes thrive in shared purpose, shared support, and security. Belonging allows people to be vulnerable, raw, real, and present. We must be seen as we are. We can try to persuade others’ perception of us, but if they are truly a part of our tribe they clearly see through our public facade and lack of authenticity.
Social media is pushing us to be more dependent on validation and entitlement and causes us to become enslaved to our emotions. Our emotions are all too often tied to larger social turmoil of Them vs. Us. In an era that has become more engaged with perception than reality, we have to disengage a market driven filter. Arrogance, self-absorption, and curated facades inhibit growth and connection. There is an urgent need for authentic connection. To sit down at the next gathering and immerse ourselves in an environment that makes us feel vulnerable and to focus on cultivating collective wisdom facilitates establishing authentic communal bonds. Tribe strengths include:
- Leadership, growth of future leaders, and individual roles.
- Shared optimistic vision for health and prosperity.
- Belonging in a safe and secure community.
- Shared values, perspective, and intergenerational mentorship.
- Shared commitment, risk, and rewards.
- Cultivation and evolution of individual and collective knowledge, skills, and values.
Humans are choosing to live in a passionate fiction rather than a grounded reality. The most important tribe is your tribe, not some online construct supported by a false reality and influenced by advertising and social engineering. Your tribe values your authentic contributions and commits to a shared future that includes you. There is work to be done in our tribes. There are mentors and future mentors to grow. There are lessons to be learned. Rare is an instance more freeing than when we are challenged to grow by that we value. Tribe members believe. They are not cynical, they care. Our tribes are the key to life that is real, and earnest.
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Allen, J. & Zimmerman, T. (2022, January 20). Arbiters of Truth. Information Matters. Vol.2, Issue 1 https://r7q.22f.myftpupload.com/2022/01/arbiters-of-truth/
Rosellini, A., Allen, J. M., Khader, M., & Njeri, M. (2022). Work Tribes Present an Opportunity for Firms in Knowledge Management Systems. In T. Merlo (Ed.), Understanding, Implementing, and Evaluating Knowledge Management in Business Settings (pp. 58-82). IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-6684-4431-3.ch004.
Zimmerman, T., Khader, M., Njeri, M., Allen, J. (2022). Default to Truth in Information Behavior: A Proposed Framework for Understanding Vulnerability to Deceptive Information. Information, and Learning Science, https://doi.org/10.1108/ILS-08-2021-0067.
Cite this article in APA as: Allen, J. & Radcliffe, W. (2022, December 14). Social media is killing our tribes. Information Matters, Vol. 2, Issue 12. https://informationmatters.org/2022/12/social-media-is-killing-our-tribes/