Another new year is upon us, and as we try to stick to our resolutions, the start of the year gives us an opportunity to consider what might happen in the social media landscape in the next 12 months. 2021 was a huge and turbulent year for social media, with its role in the January 6 Insurrection hitting the headlines, followed by the rebrand of the Facebook group to Meta, Jack Dorsey’s resignation as Twitter’s CEO, and of course the continued pressure on social media outlets to end the spread of disinformation on their platforms. But what do emerging trends and recent activity tell us about what could be in store for the social media world?
Will Clubhouse remain popular in 2022?
When Clubhouse exploded onto the scene in 2021 as the fastest-growing social media app in history, Silicon Valley was awash with stories about the live audio discussion app becoming the future of social media. Aiming to convince users accustomed to communicating online by image, video and text to turn to audio instead, Clubhouse offered more than previous, less sophisticated audio chatrooms, with the inclusion of opt-in audio spaces with varying levels of privacy. This addressed issues with the intimacy of the format that had contributed to opinions, such as that of social media expert Stephanie Morgan, that “audio-based social networking is a relatively new concept, but it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon”.
Things were looking up for Clubhouse in February 2021, when it received a whopping 9.6 million downloads. The app was initially invite-only, with accounts selling on eBay for hundreds of dollars, although it later moved away from this model. Today, anyone can open an account. However, as 2021 came to an end, the rate of Clubhouse’s growth dwindled as larger competitors introduced similar features, including Twitter’s Spaces and Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms.
Although Clubhouse is reaching new demographics as it continues to expand in international markets, its future may depend on whether it can find a way to offer something unique and compete with the giants on the social media stage once again.
Extended reality (XR) continues to gain prominence
A rising number of people engaging in social media during the height of the pandemic, coupled with a surge in the development of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technology, has led to some fascinating advances in extended reality in the social media realm. As apps continue to compete for consumers, AR and VR have provided the perfect opportunity for social media businesses to create more immersive experiences: these new technologies are no longer the fantasies of sci-fi, but are now becoming part of the everyday online experience for many.
In 2021, Meta (formerly Facebook) announced Horizon, a collection of apps (Horizon Worlds, Horizon Venues, and Horizon Workrooms) that use virtual reality “to create meaningful connections between people and foster a strong sense of community”. The apps have made it possible for people to work together, play together, and communicate in new ways, even when distances separate them. Another tech giant, Microsoft, has also announced a new VR platform, Mesh, which can be used on the already popular Teams app.
Whilst AR and VR look set to be an important part of the future of social media, there are concerns about how privacy can be regulated within the new technology, particularly relating to the data that can be tracked by VR. This data is often highly personal, with the advancing extended reality technology even capable of collecting biometric data such as how a user’s eyes behave when online, giving tech companies increasingly detailed levels of information about individuals and their behaviour. There are calls for much tighter scrutiny and regulation of this technology and the data that is collected.
Managing misinformation in 2022
Misinformation spreads like wildfire, with millions of users sharing information online without checking the legitimacy of the source – and it is becoming increasingly harder to spot. So, what could happen in the year ahead to combat misinformation online?
Regulation is likely to be key, with a new Online Safety Bill going through parliament in the UK, which aims to make social media and the wider online world a safer place to be. Social media platforms have a wide reach and therefore great power, but this also comes with great responsibility. The Online Safety Bill places a duty of care on social media platforms to protect their many users, with Parliament introducing harsher punishments to ensure the companies regulate their apps more strictly. It will be interesting to see how the Bill will inform changes in social media governance over the coming year, and how companies might adjust to increased regulatory oversight.
What exactly lies ahead for 2022 in the social media space remains to be seen. It is likely that innovative new players will emerge, some smaller existing platforms may struggle or be acquired by the giants, and VR and AR technology will play an increasingly important role. As technology enables the collection of ever more personal data, regulation and privacy will be brought to the fore. As always, we’ll be monitoring with interest throughout what looks to be another fascinating and fast-paced year for social media developments.