Why Cypriots are addicted to Facebook & other questions about social media you were afraid to ask: 5 Minutes with Costa Constanti

We figured that if we were going to do a blog post about social media in Cyprus, we had to talk to Costa Constanti.

For those of you who don't know Costa, he's an international relations expert with a sincere belief in the power of responsible social media, which he gets to put into practice daily as a citizen of Cyprus and at a Nicosia-based diplomatic mission as their social media man. And he's a really nice guy and a great speaker. We talked about everything from why Cypriots have flocked to Facebook (which is actually making us more miserable by the day), to fake news and mistakes entrepreneurs make in their online branding.

Read all the way to the bottom and you can check out Pop the Bubble, a social media campaign Costa recommends for all us liberals and conservatives living in our own private online echo chambers. In keeping with the spirit of social media, this interview happened entirely online.  

Storyline Creatives: Every country has its own favourite social platform. In Costa Rica they have WhatsApp, in Cyprus we use Facebook. In fact, Cyprus has the highest per capita Facebook usage in the EU. How did a country that wasn't really that interested in the Internet before 2008 become so interested in social media so fast?

Costa Constanti:
Cypriots are curious people. They are also incredibly social creatures. It's not offensive, or uncommon, to quiz your neighbours, friends, colleagues or even the counter staff at a retail store about their political beliefs, social habits, family status, plans for the weekend or their opinion on an upcoming event or breaking news piece.

In most places I have lived, people tend to shy away from prying into your personal life, leaving it open to interpretation and securely kept private—both ways. In Cyprus, however, the private life is minimal, and people are reluctant to stay mum on their comings and goings.

Cypriots are almost exhibitionists when it comes to what they like and don't like, what they eat and don't eat, what they do and don't do and who they socialise with or don't. Facebook was a great, efficient and user-friendly way of uploading this social behaviour to an electronic platform, of speeding up the social sharing hemisphere and engaging with an even wider society on the island and abroad.

Cypriots are almost exhibitionists when it comes to what they like and don’t like, what they eat and don’t eat, what they do and don’t do and who they socialise with or don’t.

The Cypriot disapora is wide and far reaching. These little feeders through Cypriot expats abroad have helped Cypriots on the island access the globe in a prompt and intimate way. Suddenly, Cypriots were able to discover the world outside the CyProb bubble, and to be able to comment on Brexit, Trump and Climate Change.

It was also a way to bypass the social taboo of dating in a society where everyone knows everyone and there are no secrets. Through Facebook, relationships have manage to permeate the Big Brother nature of the island and go unnoticed until the couple chooses to "go public". Before this, a date at a café was the talk of the village. Now the ice-breaking happens online and if the couple want to go the next step, they can, having already established a base.

SC: Social media is your job. You’re paid to use it and use it well. But the fact is, whether we admit it or not, social media has actually been proven to make us less happy. Do you have any tricks or advice for FB users on how to not get stressed and miserable when skimming through their feeds.

One must always remember to see a lot, and believe a little. The human nature of sharing only good news, bragging about your achievements and personal life, parading the positive aspects of your being and not airing your dirty laundry in public is exaggerated on Facebook. We must remember that we rarely see a person's sad story. We rarely see their failures, mishaps or the negative consequences of an action. People tend to ignore the cries for help from sad and lonely Facebook users, opting to enjoy pictures of people's latest fancy dinner, suntanned legs on the beach or a puppy jumping at the camera. We rarely see selfies of people looking miserable, nor do we see group photos at a funeral.

People tend to ignore the cries for help from sad and lonely Facebook users, opting to enjoy pictures of people’s latest fancy dinner, suntanned legs on the beach or a puppy jumping at the camera.

Whilst Facebook can be a platform to express grief or sadness, in general we only see the successful lives of our peers. This gives us the false perception that everyone is having a great time and climbing the ladder of life's accomplishments, whilst we often are made to feel futile and pathetic in comparison. Facebook looks like it shares a happy world pumped up on steroids.

We should always remember as well that we get an intense dose of everyone's life in a news feed that has filtered out the stuff they don't want to share with us. Try not to take it personally, and always remember that you are seeing things out of context and in a skewed reality.

SC: What does a post have to have to get your attention?

I'm a sucker for breaking news, especially as it is part of my job to follow global developments. Fatigue is setting in, however, as we seem to have reached a tipping point where the words 'breaking news' mean almost nothing now, as the media seems to define tomorrow's weather report and the latest scores in a football match as breaking news.

We seem to have reached a tipping point where the words ‘breaking news’ mean almost nothing now.

I do however enjoy seeing what my friends and family abroad are posting online, as this is my live feed to what is happening in their lives and helps me stay up to date with them, in real time! It makes it harder to miss someone or be home sick, and I think that is a good thing.

SC: What’s the biggest mistake you see entrepreneurs or companies making when they turn to Facebook for advertising or marketing their brands?

The biggest mistake I find is having an online presence that isn't up to date. Companies and entrepreneurs need to ensure they have at least two weekly posts to look alive and well, to be modern, offer the most up-to-date information, garner a regular and loyal following, draw attention to themselves and remain at the forefront of people's minds.

It's easy to fall to the bottom of the bucket when you don't remind the audience of your existence and advertise your wares, services, projects, etc. Regular colourful photos of your products, news on your latest developments and posts that make the follower feel like they are loved and respected all contribute to a fruitful engagement between a company or entrepreneur and a client.

The biggest mistake I find is having an online presence that is not up to date.

The other golden rule to remember is to advertise yourself without bashing another competitor. People are smarter than you think and they take great offence to this. This is especially a notice to be received by politicians with an online presence. Focus on what makes you great and not the failings of others. 

SC: Fake news is the concern du jour. How do you think social media companies should be tackling it, if at all?

I don't believe it's up to social media companies to control what people post and so forth, unless it's heavily offensive, racist, dangerous or incites hate, violence or encourages crime. Other than that, it's a human right to express yourself. It's the same right that allows you to reply to something that is posted online.

We must also teach the younger generations how to spot fake or alternative news, how to be objective, how to source various angles to a story and how to understand what is legitimate or not.

It's also our own fault, albeit unconscious, that we live within a social media bubble. We see, hear and react to like-minded people. There is a great online campaign now that is worth visiting that can help you 'pop your bubble'. Watch the trailer here.

Costa Costanti was born in Melbourne, Australia, and moved to Cyprus as an adult in 2006. In Australia, he studied psychology, psycho-neurosciences, politics and history at a bachelor level, followed by a masters in international relations. Today he works as an adviser and researcher in the fields of international relations, conflicts, politics, civil society and public diplomacy whilst he travels frequently. Costa is often spotted exploring ancient and historical ruins and rambling through nature trails whilst he engages with local people from around the world, forging relations and links between them and Cypriot civil society in an attempt to enhance international engagement and globalization of the island. Costa is an advocate of the crucial and real power of civil society and social media. He believes that we need to harness these opportunities to improve the local and regional world we live in.