I’ve been studying social media for 16 years.
I think what Charlene Li and I observed back then is still true.
People want to connect with friends.
People want to connect with strangers with whom they share an interest.
People want to engage intellectually with strangers. Or at least, they used to.
Back when blogs were the epicenter of social media, these things all applied.
These connections are powerful, taken together. People with like interests form movements. They are formidable in groups. The Arab Spring proved that social media could remake the world.
Now the epicenter of social media is corporate. Facebook. Instagram. YouTube. Twitter.
Platforms are, or must make themselves, referees, or else social media devolves into trolling and disinformation and, at worst, doxxing and violence.
Elon Musk purports to support the idealistic view of social media for Twitter.
Unfortunately, there is no way to put this particular genie back into its bottle.
You open things up, the trolls run wild. You allow violators back on the platform, and they feel there will no longer be a penalty for harassing people.
You shut down the people that you claim are “woke,” you tilt the debate.
When your CEO takes political positions, it’s hard to believe his platform will remain neutral.
Truth is no longer an absolute, there are no definitive sources. No wonder so many journalists are deserting Twitter.
I wonder if it is even possible to have a mode of social media interaction that:
- Is free.
- Is available to everyone.
- Has enough freedom to be interesting.
- Has enough control to prevent the worst of trolling, nastiness, and violence.
- Has few enough ads to be tolerable.
It seems as if the same algorithms that are necessary to target ads and encourage interaction are subject to subversion for evil purposes. Nastiness invites “engagement.”
Every popular place curdles into evil.
Social media used to be a nice neighborhood. I miss that.