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 buy pushed me to determine Mastodon (not as arduous as you would possibly assume) and led me to understand what I’d been lacking and simply how corrosive present social networks had develop into. I’ve concluded that in the present day’s social media is a nasty batch of Soma comprised of 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 means of communication which can be utilized by giant 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 info, concepts, pursuits, and different kinds of expression by means of digital communities and networks.

Thoughts you, they’re not that dissimilar. However the first doesn’t embrace 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 in the present day’s social media surroundings.

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

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

I additionally don’t see most of these platforms as serving to to develop contacts. They assist develop a following or a fan base. You aren’t growing Hank Green as a contact while you comply with him on Twitter. You’re actually not connecting with him both.

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

Them: I see you’re linked to so-and-so, how have you learnt them?

Me: Who?

Them: so-and-so

Me: *typing identify into LinkedIn search and seeing we’re, certainly, linked*

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

Each of these definitions make social media appear to be a utopian change 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 advertisements primarily based in your conduct?

Algorithms and Influencers

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I nonetheless imagine that Dunbar had it right, and that the quantity of social relationships one can keep shouldn’t be that top. Know-how would possibly be capable to prolong the quantity previous 150. However it definitely doesn’t attain 1.4 million.

Follower and following numbers are significant solely to the algorithm, permitting it to grasp who would possibly provoke a response and, thereby, create financial worth. That is why we have now 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 these 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 rather a lot like going to the on line casino. Most individuals lose. Just a few (influencers) win. However the home (platform) at all times advantages.

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


What it's like on Twitter

Let me say up entrance that Twitter was excellent to me once I was constructing my model. However it was a special time and if I have been to construct a model in the present day I feel I’d lean on LinkedIn extra so than Twitter.

I began to make use of Twitter rather a lot much less three to 4 years in the past. Even through the pandemic my utilization stayed about the identical. Half of this was as a result of of the way in which I used Twitter within the first place. I used it for enterprise as a result of I at all times discovered Twitter to be extra akin to a megaphone. It didn’t actually encourage dialog. However it positive helped to get your model out to extra individuals!

So I cultivated a presence that was about sharing the perfect of what I noticed in my trade. I could not have made rather a lot of pals throughout that point. I ceaselessly ignored requests to Tweet posts from colleagues. I used to be a content material snob. However I feel that made what I did share that rather more beneficial.

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 all the way down to a trickle. However that doesn’t imply I wasn’t lurking.

I didn’t lurk in my trade. I discover web optimization squabbles to be unimaginative and uninteresting. As a substitute I’d look in on the traits, significantly throughout these tumultuous instances. Man is that unhealthy in 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 stated one thing silly. And I’d see few zingers confirming my viewpoint. However then I’d see others defending him and, in in the present day’s parlance, I used to be triggered.

Somebody is unsuitable 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 might 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, actually, you’d be within the hospital with alcohol poisoning for those who 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 possibly can clearly go down the identical rabbit gap there than you may on Twitter. However for me Fb is relatively tame as a result of I exploit it largely to maintain up with household, previous 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 could submit 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 interact in these posts anymore however merely go and block the individuals arguing in them as a substitute.

There are different, extra delicate risks surrounding Fb. I imagine that sustaining these connections from the previous usually maintain us again from shifting ahead. I’m not the identical individual I used to be in highschool. I’m not the identical individual I used to be in school. 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 won’t have lifelong pals that you just sustain with. I’m an introvert so I possible have fewer of them than some of you. However what number of totally 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 these 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 discuss what it feels like and what it evokes. Utilizing Mastodon is like going again to the early days of social.

I used to be an enormous fan of FriendFeed, a social platform that almost all 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 comply with the individuals who would assist deliver great things into your feed.

I appreciated FriendFeed a lot that I ventured out to satisfy the crew on the Peninsula throughout one of their occasions. That was an enormous step for this introvert. I felt super-awkward at that occasion however it was attention-grabbing to satisfy 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 chicken and it’s not misplaced on me that Bret Taylor wound up at Fb and, in the end, on Twitter’s board.

The solely different social platform that felt comparable was Google+. As soon as once more, that platform labored based totally on the standard of these you adopted. I didn’t have to comply with everybody within the web optimization group. I simply wanted to comply with those who would share the vital posts they discovered.

What each of these platforms had in frequent, for my part, was that customers have been in cost of 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 as a result of of them.

Configuration and Ego

Configuration can be confusing

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

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

Recently I’ve seen the concept the ‘customers are the product’ on social media platforms. And that works once 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 comply with them. I comply with 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 keen to configure their feed with out an ego primarily based algorithm fueling competitors? The solely platform that comes shut is Reddit. In some ways you may assume of 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 trade 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 probably a stable sign for the group.

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

The larger drawback with Mastodon is the shortage of ego. Don’t get me unsuitable, some of it should at all times exist in a single type or one other. We’re solely human. However it’s a content material first universe with no actual rewards for reputation.

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

However I digress. We’ve develop into inured to social media that rewards tribal content material from influencers. We have a good time after we go a milestone for quantity of followers or subscribers. I’m not saying I’m proof against these issues. It feels good to be … validated. However I’m at all times on guard to make sure I don’t produce or share content material to achieve these metrics.

However it is perhaps more durable 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

In the event you can, I feel you’ll discover that Mastodon is extra constructive, extra numerous and produces extra actual interplay. I received’t say it’s the perfect place to have a full-blown dialog but. It would by no means be.

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

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

This stuff make me comfortable and likewise assist me make disparate connections with different issues in my life and work. Serendipity is a function and never a bug.


Social Media doesn’t should be dictated by algorithms that reward influencers who produce divisive and monetizable content material. However 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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