In most countries around the world, well-educated individuals are the ones that utilize social media, however, in Germany this is not the case. According to The Local, over 50% of social media users in Germany aren’t well-educated. On the other hand, 70% of social media users in the UK are well-educated.
Image Courtesy of OECD Statistik’s Twitter Account
Communism and Eastern Europe:
Eastern Germany (what used to be the GDR) is post-communist, meaning previously it consisted of a classless society devoid of private ownership and capitalism. It also entailed resisting globalization and being closed from other countries.
Hence, Eastern German citizens might still have that conservative communist mindset lingering in the back of their heads. They could be trying to protect their local businesses and people from Western firms and ideologies. Dr.Klemens Skibicki from Cologne’s Business School supports this theory by stating that in Germany, “protectionism and distaste for communication through the market economy [makes people] see the power of social media more as a threat than an opportunity”.
One reason why it can be seen as a threat to Germans is due to the fact that with social media comes persistence, replicability, scalability, and searchability of all things posted on it. Any person from anywhere around the world can easily search, find, and exponentially share anything posted by a German on social media.
In my Advertising class, I learned of a phenomenon in Eastern Europe called ostalgia, or nostalgia for communism. It’s the idea that after the abolishment of communism in a formerly communist country, citizens of the country eventually miss their older, “trusted” brands and products that they grew up with during the communist era.
The Local states that Germany is the second oldest nation in the world. Hence, a lot of its citizens in the Eastern part of Germany are old and have spent more of their lives in the communist era. One reason why educated Eastern Germans tend to refrain from using social media could be due to the many older Eastern German citizens having ostalgia; they could want to stick to their older news and communication mediums that they used during the communist era as they might trust them more because they have been around them for longer.
East Germany vs West Germany:
Professor Van Hook from Jones International University has stated that Germany is having problems trying to unify Western and Eastern ideologies even decades after the fall of communism in the East.
According to The Washington Post, Eastern Germany has less foreigners because it is a less accepting environment. This is partially because there is still the existence of right-wing neo-Nazi sympathizers in Eastern Germany. Being right-wing means being more conservative, hence, the right-wing party supporters in the East would probably be reluctant to open up to the world through social media.
Possible Effects on Society and Social Capital:
Robert Putnam defines social capital as “the connections among individuals and the social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them”.
This lack of social media network usage by educated people in Germany could result in a higher offline social capital relative to other countries, as people aren’t staring at their phones on social media all the time, instead they speak to each other in person more.
However, it could also result in a lower offline social capital, as people are less aware of what others are doing or where they are and it might be harder to communicate, schedule, and be updated on meetings or get togethers.
It has negative consequences for Germany’s online social capital, as educated people are communicating online through social media less than in other countries. This means less bridging (weak relationships) being turned into bonding (strong relationships), and less maintenance of strong bonds through social media.
The reason why other post-communist countries such as the Czech Republic (which has only roughly 30% of its social media users receivers of low or no education levels) aren’t generating similar social media statistics as Germany could be due to Germany’s more aging population and the many older, conservative right-wing Eastern Germans sticking to traditional forms of media and communication used before the emergence of social media and during the communist era. As mentioned by Van Hook, the post-communist ideologies of Eastern Germany have been conflicting with the Western, more liberal capitalist ideologies of the West.
I find this fascinating because it exemplifies the immense impact of communism on a society. Today, 27 years after the abolishment of the Berlin Wall, the socialist mindset instilled by the GDR’s communist rule is still present and affecting many people in Eastern Germany.
Also, social media is a lot more popular among younger audiences and generations in general. Hence, Germany, with the second oldest population in the world, consists of older people who aren’t as attracted to social media as the people in younger societies who are more eager to sign up for and be engaged in social media.
Featured Image Courtesy of Shivang Bajaj