Recovering From The Weaponization of Social Media

Earlier this yr Jon Henshaw gushed over federated social. I didn’t fairly get it however I managed to create a Mastodon account, which I summarily deserted till Elon Musk bought Twitter.

The acquisition pushed me to determine Mastodon (not as exhausting as you would possibly suppose) and led me to appreciate what I’d been lacking and simply how corrosive present social networks had turn out to be. I’ve concluded that immediately’s social media is a nasty batch of Soma constructed from Soylent Inexperienced.

Social Media

I’d normally begin out with a definition to assist floor the dialogue. However there isn’t a canonical definition of social media from what I can inform.

There’s this definition of social media from

web sites and different on-line technique of communication which can be utilized by massive teams of individuals to share info and to develop social {and professional} contacts

Then there’s Wikipedia’s definition.

interactive media applied sciences that facilitate the creation and sharing of knowledge, concepts, pursuits, and different types of expression by way of digital communities and networks.

Thoughts you, they’re not that dissimilar. However the first doesn’t embody creation of content material and the second doesn’t point out the event of contacts. In the long run, I discover Wikipedia’s definition to be extra descriptive of immediately’s social media setting.

I see increasingly individuals creating content material on Twitter and LinkedIn. Twitter incentivizes this by implementing a personality restrict. Yeah, yeah, you possibly can create threads however that’s an outlier. And the entire platforms work very exhausting to maintain the dialog about any content material on their platform.

Did we simply acquiesce to the concept of digital sharecropping? Can we even take into consideration this anymore? Bueller. Bueller. Bueller.

I additionally don’t see most of those platforms as serving to to develop contacts. They assist develop a following or a fan base. You aren’t creating Hank Green as a contact whenever you observe him on Twitter. You might be actually not connecting with him both.

Certain, LinkedIn nonetheless pushes of us to develop contacts. However I can’t be the one one who’s had a dialog go as follows:

Them: I see you’re related to so-and-so, how are you aware them?

Me: Who?

Them: so-and-so

Me: *typing title into LinkedIn search and seeing we’re, certainly, related*

Additionally Me: *I’ve no recollection of this individual*

Each of those definitions make social media seem to be a utopian trade of concepts. The vaunted city sq.! Does this jibe with what you encounter on a regular basis? Or are you as a substitute served up influencer content material with a aspect serving to of focused adverts primarily based in your conduct?

Algorithms and Influencers

I'm Special

I nonetheless consider that Dunbar had it right, and that the variety of social relationships one can keep is just not that prime. Expertise would possibly be capable to prolong the quantity previous 150. Nevertheless it actually doesn’t attain 1.4 million.

Follower and following numbers are significant solely to the algorithm, permitting it to know who would possibly provoke a response and, thereby, create financial worth. For this reason we’ve influencers. As a result of social media isn’t actually about being social anymore. It’s about individuals.

Certain they wanted content material to get there however increasingly of those platforms need you to create that content material on the platform – whether or not that’s Twitter, Instagram or TikTok. From there the one technique to revenue from that system is to amass a big sufficient following.

Algorithms create a aggressive incentive to supply content material so customers can seem in subjects that produce monetizable engagement. It’s quite a bit like going to the on line casino. Most individuals lose. A number of (influencers) win. However the home (platform) all the time advantages.

This nonetheless wouldn’t be an issue if the content material that produced engagement wasn’t, for lack of a greater phrase, poisonous.


This is Fine Meme but with Twitter Bird instead of Dog

Let me say up entrance that Twitter was superb to me after I was constructing my model. Nevertheless it was a distinct time and if I had been to construct a model immediately I believe I’d lean on LinkedIn extra so than Twitter.

I began to make use of Twitter quite a bit much less three to 4 years in the past. Even throughout the pandemic my utilization stayed about the identical. A part of this was due to the way in which I used Twitter within the first place. I used it for enterprise as a result of I all the time discovered Twitter to be extra akin to a megaphone. It didn’t actually encourage dialog. Nevertheless it certain helped to get your model out to extra individuals!

So I cultivated a presence that was about sharing the most effective of what I noticed in my business. I’ll not have made loads of associates throughout that point. I continuously ignored requests to Tweet posts from colleagues. I used to be a content material snob. However I believe that made what I did share that rather more worthwhile.

I discovered much less and fewer to share over time. Granted, I had much less time to learn, however what I did learn was, to place it properly, not inspiring. So my Tweets floor right down to a trickle. However that doesn’t imply I wasn’t lurking.

I didn’t lurk in my business. I discover website positioning squabbles to be unimaginative and uninteresting. As a substitute I’d look in on the traits, notably throughout these tumultuous occasions. Man is that dangerous to your well being.

I’d see Scott Baio trending and I’d click on to see what the fuss was all about. In fact he’d mentioned one thing silly. And I’d see few zingers confirming my viewpoint. However then I’d see others defending him and, in immediately’s parlance, I used to be triggered.

Somebody is mistaken on the Web

Comic from XKCD

This assertion is basically the raison d’etre of Twitter. They create a suggestions loop of tribalism.

Twitter grew to become a spot to be performative. What witticism or burn may rack up probably the most Retweets? Twitter grew to become social for sport.

All social media firms are piggybacking on the human need to attach. Star Trek: Discovery explores this theme endlessly and poorly. (I imply, truthfully, you’d be within the hospital with alcohol poisoning if you happen to drank each time they talked about ‘connection’.) However being on Mastodon, I understand that I forgot how satisfying it’s to forge these new connections.

Fb is not any angel both. You may clearly go down the identical rabbit gap there than you possibly can on Twitter. However for me Fb is fairly tame as a result of I take advantage of it largely to maintain up with household, outdated classmates and to see heartwarming The Dodo movies. However once more, that’s solely as a result of I’ve been aggressive in not participating elsewhere in that ecosystem.

I’ll put up an replace concerning the present state of issues or touch upon a political thread from time to time. However I generously block individuals. In truth, it’s gotten to the purpose the place I don’t have interaction in these posts anymore however merely go and block the individuals arguing in them as a substitute.

There are different, extra refined risks surrounding Fb. I consider that sustaining these connections from the previous usually maintain us again from transferring ahead. I’m not the identical individual I used to be in highschool. I’m not the identical individual I used to be in faculty. Not the identical individual I used to be even a yr in the past. But Fb encourages us to proceed to work together with the cohort of individuals we knew in these eras.

I’m not saying you may not have lifelong associates that you simply sustain with. I’m an introvert so I possible have fewer of them than a few of you. However what number of completely different careers have you ever had? I’ve been in promoting, fundraising and advertising and marketing. Ought to I nonetheless be attempting to have interaction and sustain with colleagues in every of those careers?

I ponder whether Fb has stunted the expansion of individuals by having them constantly wanting backward as a substitute of forging forward.


This is Fine Mastodon

I received’t go into the main points of federated social and the way Mastodon is structured. As a substitute, I wish to speak about what it feels like and what it conjures up. Utilizing Mastodon is like going again to the early days of social.

I used to be a giant fan of FriendFeed, a social platform that the majority of you in all probability didn’t use or have even heard of prior to now. It was just like Mastodon in that it had a various set of individuals from all walks of life. And from what I recollect it didn’t actually have an algorithm to current content material. As a substitute it was as much as you to observe the individuals who would assist convey great things into your feed.

I favored FriendFeed a lot that I ventured out to fulfill the workforce on the Peninsula throughout considered one of their occasions. That was an enormous step for this introvert. I felt super-awkward at that occasion nevertheless it was attention-grabbing to fulfill and chat (or witness them chatting) with Paul Buchheit and Bret Taylor.

However right here’s the factor. FriendFeed went the way in which of the Dodo chook and it’s not misplaced on me that Bret Taylor wound up at Fb and, finally, on Twitter’s board.

The one different social platform that felt related was Google+. As soon as once more, that platform labored based totally on the standard of these you adopted. I didn’t have to observe everybody within the website positioning group. I simply wanted to observe those who would share the essential posts they discovered.

What each of these platforms had in widespread, in my opinion, was that customers had been accountable for configuring their very own ‘algorithm’. Who you adopted formed your feed. So following grew to become much less about being good and doling out a pellet of ego to others than to easily improve your individual feed.

Who you adopted was a really egocentric endeavor. It was about me, and what I noticed due to them.

Configuration and Ego

Configuration can be confusing

Two issues spring from this completely different dynamic. First is that including configuration to any platform goes to make it tougher. I’ll name it like I see it, Mastodon is tougher. It’s simpler to let an algorithm study what you want and return related content material primarily based in your express and implicit tastes.

The second is that with out an algorithm surfacing content material, the variety of individuals you observe will possible, and ought to, shrink. Mastodon is extra concerning the content material individuals share fairly than the individuals who share it.

These days I’ve seen the concept the ‘customers are the product’ on social media platforms. And that works after they’re all competing to be the chosen one to be featured by the algorithm. However I see nice content material on Mastodon by following a user who has, on the time of writing, 114 followers. It’s meaningless how many individuals observe them. I observe them as a result of they put attention-grabbing content material into my feed. In the event that they cease doing so I’ll in all probability unfollow them.

Will sufficient individuals be prepared to configure their feed with out an ego primarily based algorithm fueling competitors? The one platform that comes shut is Reddit. In some ways you possibly can consider subreddits as an analog to a Mastodon server/occasion with the house feed aggregating these cases.

Reddit continues to be working to monetize their ecosystem. Oddly, there’s a cottage business on the market that takes Reddit threads and turns them into articles that may be monetized. It’s annoying for Reddit on the company degree however doubtlessly a stable sign for the group.

I say this as a result of it implies that the discussions on Reddit are taking place not as a result of it should produce monetizable engagement however regardless of it.

The larger downside with Mastodon is the shortage of ego. Don’t get me mistaken, a few of it should all the time exist in a single kind or one other. We’re solely human. However it’s a content material first universe with no actual rewards for recognition.

In truth, to get geeky, recognition may produce some issues given the way in which Mastodon and federated social works. An individual with a big following may tax smaller servers since either side have to retrieve that content material. For that cause, there’s already an admonishment to not add video.

However I digress. We’ve turn out to be inured to social media that rewards tribal content material from influencers. We have a good time once we cross a milestone for variety of followers or subscribers. I’m not saying I’m resistant to these issues. It feels good to be … validated. However I’m all the time on guard to make certain I don’t produce or share content material to succeed in these metrics.

Nevertheless it is likely to be tougher for others to let go of these vainness metrics. I’m not saying it’s going to be straightforward. I’m saying it’s going to be value it.


One Thing Leads to Another by The Fixx

For those who can, I believe you’ll discover that Mastodon is extra constructive, extra numerous and produces extra actual interplay. I received’t say it’s the most effective place to have a full-blown dialog but. It’d by no means be.

As a substitute it’s like having an attention-grabbing speak with a stranger you meet on an airplane. You may not communicate however you stroll away feeling constructive and amazed by the world we reside in and the way completely different however alike all of us are on the similar time.

As a substitute of being power fed content material about Kanye, Kate Middleton or Kyrsten Sinema I discover details about CRISPR advances, a captivating story concerning the Battle of Halfway and an incredible portray of an octopus on the underside of a resort desk.

These items make me glad and likewise assist me make disparate connections with different issues in my life and work. Serendipity is a characteristic and never a bug.


Social Media doesn’t must be dictated by algorithms that reward influencers who produce divisive and monetizable content material. However alternate options like Mastodon which can be extra concerning the content material individuals share than the individuals who share it should require extra work by customers each technically and personally.

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