We are going through a seismic shift in the social media landscape. This type of transformation hasn’t occurred since Facebook and Twitter were first launched. And, naturally, it’s causing a lot of heartache for individuals and organizations.
People are grieving.
That’s perfectly natural. People have poured their heart and soul into their social media presence. It has been a way of keeping in touch with old friends, or making new ones. A form of town square where we shared world news, and news about our daily lives. It made the small feel big, and brought the big down to our size. The original purpose of these sites are powerful draws for us.
It’s even harder for small organizations who have relied on these aggregate sites to get word out about their existence. Crowd funding has been made viable by these ostensibly free mass communication channels. You’re not just reaching a few hundred folks, you have the potential to reach millions, all at one time in one location, all for the cost of your internet connection.
But these sites are and were abusive. They spiked their algorithms to increase “engagement” and turned our timelines from the orderly “time it was posted”, to content that generated the most profit. That often turned out to be the sort of rage inducing misinformation and lies of a certain political viewpoint. They weren’t selling us a platform to share on. They were selling us to advertisers. What better way of doing that then making us angry as all fuck every day. Hate sells almost as well as sex.
They promoted bigotry and sexism, dog whistling racists. They allowed unfounded, irrational views to become “trending” topics of discussion as if they were truths. They platformed the alt-right, who would as soon seen minorities and progressives pushed to the back of the bus again as they would tolerate us sharing their platforms. And when they had to moderate, how many times did we see the marginalized, the minorities, the activists fighting for a better world being the ones punished? Too many times.
It was never about “free speech.” It was about platforming hate, and denying speech to those who opposed it. It was about WHO gets to speak, and who is forced back into the margins again.
It turns out, giant silo’s of information managed by libertarians with a skewed view of what makes for a good platform and an intrinsic need to maximize their profits is not a true “town square” at all. It’s a shit show for democracies world wide. It’s led to the rise of fascist authoritarians around the world. The vilification and violence against groups of people. Attacks on opposition politicians. Attempts at coups.
So, grieve. The potential was there, and it was lost. By 2015, we could see the writing was on the wall as all the filthy, disgusting lies of the alt-right flooded these channels we relied on and our society split ever more apart. It’s been a long, seven-year slog towards the end. But Facebook and Twitter are now dead platforms.
I have already moved on. I’m deleting my Twitter account tomorrow morning (I quite Facebook five years ago). Mastodon is my choice right now, though I’ve also made profiles on other platforms, like Countersocial (a separate fork of Mastodon) and Cohost. I like Mastodon because I like the idea of a decentralized system, where one group cannot dominate and control what millions of people see by manipulating their software algorithms, but we can all still interact. It’s a site where, for the time being, profits are not the goal, but building community.
None of these systems are perfect. None ever will be. They can’t be perfect because they are run by people, and people can and will make poor decisions. But they can certainly be better than what we’ve had these last seven years.
When you’re done grieving, I’ll see you on the other sites. Hopefully we’ll be building something better this time, something that improves society, not tears it apart. But propping up the billionaire tech douche bags and their libertarian, conservative, coup-attempting fascist friends who spew lies and deceit are not what should do any more. Let’s let them all burn to the ground and they can grieve over their wasted billions.