Bree Patrick
Nov 01, 2023

Opinion: The creepers, stalkers, lurkers and ghosters - social media has gotten spooky

The performative nature of social participation today can be compared to a cheesy, straight-to-streaming horror movie – either you're acting or you're watching

Opinion: The creepers, stalkers, lurkers and ghosters - social media has gotten spooky

Welcome to the era where social media trends and behaviors change as quickly as a bat's blink.

In the past year or two, marketers have bore witness to the rise and fall of the metaverse, the fashion trend cycle that imploded and whispers of social media's impending demise. It's safe to say that social media has gotten eerie, with a vibe straight out of a horror movie.

A haunting transformation

Lurkers, zombie sex bots, shadow journals, creepy followers, scam DMs and doom scrolling because of villainous company owners: It’s scary out there. 

Social media looks a lot different since its inception or even the last couple of years. At first, people were cool with change, but it’s just not that fun anymore. 

Now, as social media changes to take a more sinister turn, older generations saying something along the lines of “Back in my day, social media…” are reminiscing about the old social – the one that was about creating real and open connections online.

More and more, people are missing the social media that was about naturally sharing your interests and having more cordial interactions with friends and strangers. It’s no surprise then that the TikTok viral “aging” filter alongside the “It was the end of ‘60s” sound is trending. Everything is just strange, fake and weird now. 

Part of what makes things feel more disconnected and strange is that it’s all an act. The performative nature of social participation today can be compared to a cheesy, straight-to-streaming horror movie – either you're acting or you're watching. 

For our bad actors, social is now mainly about personal branding or curated carousels and feeds. Even if it feels natural, authentic or cringe, it can be tricky to discern what’s genuine, what’s cap or what’s a cash grab. Anything can be staged in today’s social world. This can be a good or bad thing, but for our social horror film it’s bad – and it’s giving Get Out vibes.

Everyone is tired of trying to figure out what’s real or fake, and they’re freaked out by the uncanny valley-ness of it all. It’s messing with their mental health. Most users are, at their best, overthinking, paranoid and fearful of judgment. At their worst, they compare themselves, peers and strangers. 

A content maker asks herself questions like whether her share count is higher than the likes because the post is funny, relatable, good cringe, or just too embarrassing that it must be discussed in someone’s group chat. Who knows? All she knows is that there’s crippling fear and anxiety behind content creation or posting on social in general. All types of negative emotions are swirling around social media today on all sides because someone is watching – a psychological thriller for sure.

If you can’t beat them…

The devastating part is that we’ve all gotten the “just be you and post what you want” pep talk, but on social media, it can feel like shouting into the void, like the evil whirling vortex from Evil Dead II. All of us just want to escape the echo chamber of horror but we can’t — or can we? 

We’ve reached the pivotal moment of our social horror story and as most tropes go, good always defeats evil, right? The positive ending of this era of social is that, hopefully, the next one will be better. 

A genre-changing sequel, maybe? 

In an idealistic sequel, we've successfully navigated our way out of the dark and treacherous realms of clickbait and sensationalism that plagued social media. Our heroic journey has led us to defeat the stereotypical social horrors that once haunted us, culminating in a satisfying and inspiring conclusion. We've unlocked the doors to comfortable and safe spaces, riding off into the 'better' corners of the internet.

The next chapter in the world of social media carries a distinct protopian vibe, and we're already witnessing its emergence. New social platforms, channels and behaviors are all about embracing warmth and a sense of community.

The landscape of social interaction and engagement is undergoing a transformation. Instead of the one-size-fits-all approach of major social platforms, smaller communities are flourishing. 

Research has illuminated a significant trend: 60% of young consumers under 30 are not only preferring but actively seeking out these smaller social communities. These communities can take the form of DMs, WhatsApp group chats, or any digital spaces where you can truly be yourself. They are the hidden pockets and niche corners of the internet, away from the ominous shadows of the past. In these emerging social utopias, engagement is fervent yet relaxed, and bonds are being forged based on shared interests.

These are the passion platforms, like Letterboxd, where fandoms of all kinds congregate, or the dedicated spaces on social media where fandoms like the Beehive, Army, Navy, and Swifties stans come together. There's even a campfire-like atmosphere over at r/nosleep on Reddit.

The next era of social media stands in stark contrast to the dark web, and many people have already set out on their journey to discover their very own cozy web final destination. It’s time to set out and find yours.

Bree Patrick is the associate strategy director at Barbarian.

Campaign India