Is AI Taking the Social Out of Social Media?

AI exploded onto the scene the last year, perforating every digital platform from search engines to cooking apps. We can write with AI, design with AI, analyse with AI and even converse with it. The technology is absolutely everywhere, but with great power, comes pretty odd consequences.

Take social media. From Meta and Snapchat, YouTube to TikTok and X, each giant has leapt at the opportunity to embed new AI features. It’s a technological revolution, but one laced with irony. Each update drives us closer to one question: Is AI taking the social out of social media? If AI is driving the majority of content and our interactions on platforms, can we still claim to be being using them socially?

Let’s examine the most used AI features to determine if it’s helped or hindered our social interactions.

Text Generation

Though AI tools have been around for some time, our current understanding of it rose to prominence with the meteoric rise of ChatGPT back in November 2022. Within just five days of its release ChatGPT reached 1 million users. By January 2023, it surpassed 100 million users, making it the fastest-growing consumer application in history.

Since then, we’ve seen numerous platforms rush to embed various text generation tools, Instagram for example, will help you write AI captions to your posts. It’s the same with TikTok, which also leverages it to generate content outlines. They’re not alone. Nearly every platform now has an AI tool to generate copy, each in attempt to mimic popular short form vernacular.

As a writer and content creator, I understand how difficult it can be to create an engaging caption. One can only say they’re “thrilled to announce” in so many ways – I see you LinkedIn members. But there’s something disconnecting when deferring speech generation to robots. How can we truly say what we mean when we aren’t the ones saying it? It’s the equivalent of gifting a birthday card to say communicate just the right words. Except we’re sending one every time we post. If we’re using AI to put words in our mouth, what thoughts are we really communicating?

On the other side, AI has sparked more discussion with our ability to write ideas faster. We can say even more in a shorter timeframe thanks to text generated from just a few bullets. Were we really communicating that much from a short sentence anyway? Let’s all just keep commentary to emoji’s shall we?

Digital Imagery

Then there’s digital imagery – photos and videos designed by AI tools, either from reference or worded prompts. AI imagery skyrocketed with the launch of DALL-E back in 2022. Remember those photos of your friends as goddesses, astronauts, and cowboys that flooded your feed? That sure had people talking.

AI isn’t actually that new in an aesthetic sense. We’ve had filters and photoshop features for years, and cameras pixel correcting to produce better shots. But what started as minor touchups has transformed into full productions, from ideation right through to completion.

The argument against AI in a social sense, is that we’re sharing less of our authentic selves. Less handmade art, less unedited selfies, and less of our realities as they are. That being said, computer generated imagery has sparked plenty of conversations. There’s been discussions around perfection standards, of the basic human attractions to framing and colour, and on the merits of digital art in general. Both the rejection and celebration of it has been social.

There’s also been an influx of new social accounts, completely dedicated to AI created visuals, from scandalous photos of celebrities to full out competition reality show simulators. One can argue that AI tools have made digital images more accessible than ever before, generating more discussion and content to share.

Computer Generated Influencers

Not only are we replicating copy and imagery, we’ve created entirely false people with the power of AI. Accounts such as Miquela feature digital influencers designed to reflect micro celebrity online culture – and importantly earn sponsorships. Digital influencers tap into a longstanding tradition of fake celebrities. For example, Hatsune Miku, an anime character marketed as a virtual idol since 2007.

While AI influencers are rising in popularity, who do they contribute to social media? Fans have certainly been able to connect over their adoration of these personas, which in a sense creates personal bonds. However, given the characters don’t exist, it’s hard to argue that socializing with them, via chatbot or shadow writer, is a social experience.

AI Chatbots

Finally, we have chatbots. Largely implemented as way to save cost, hundreds of companies have employed the use of chatbot services. With regards to social media, is often replaces customer service reps, but it’s increasingly being used in a consultive way. Looking for your ideal lip colour? Just feed the chatbot a few details and you’ll learn your perfect shade in moments.

Some platforms have gone further still. Snapchat has dedicated (link) an entire section of its app to an AI chatbots, powered by Chat GPT. The app actively encourages its users to interact with it. The users get their questions answered, and the chatbot learns from the conversations.  

While Chatbots can get a person talking, I’d argue removing human interference inherently makes them anti-social. In my own experience, chatbots only delayed the inevitable contact with a service rep anyway.

Is AI Making Social Media Less Social?

So is AI taking the social out of social media? To answer the question, it’s worth a revisit to its definition. Cambridge dictionary describes social media as “websites and computer programs that allow people to communicate and share information, opinions, pictures, videos, etc. on the internet.”

We are sharing content, and we are communicating, albeit perhaps not always with each other. But since AI is dominating the conversation, it is doing its job to keep us social.

It’s when the hype dies down, and we forget who we’re taking to that social media becomes just…media.