What Social Media Has Become

My commentary on what social media was and the problems that it has today.

Social media is a very complex topic. There are a range of opinions on it, and I would like to give mine. I want to believe that social media started as place for people to connect in a way that other forms of communication didn’t allow, or at least didn’t allow easily. In its most naïve form, social media is a way to asynchronously share your day to day experiences and ideas with the people connected to you in some way. Email and RSS, while being asynchronous, never really caught on in the sense they could be a decentralized form of social media.

Email is great at replacing a lot of what postal services have to offer or even faxes. Where it starts to fall apart as a social media replacement is that there is a high barrier of entry for both a producer and a consumer. The consumer has to setup a mailing list1, and a consumer for every producer they follow, have to subscribe to a mailing list. RSS is essentially a single producer, multiple consumer format, but consumers have no real way to interact with content easily in a way that isn’t just read-only2.

The earliest form of modern social media I still see referenced is MySpace. Was it the first social media? Probably not. Was it the first to catch traction? I would say yes. Eventually MySpace lost traction for various reasons. The next social media I can think of to catch on was Facebook, which is obviously still around in 2022. As someone who wasn’t around in the MySpace days, which is a lot of Gen Z if not all, Facebook set the pattern of what modern social media has become: shares, likes, posts, walls (timelines), direct messages, groups, etc. All these features make it easy to reach your sphere of influence.

Fast forward from the rise of Facebook to 2022, and the purpose of social media has really changed. Something that exists in social media today that seemingly didn’t exist when the movement started is the monetization. These days brands go above and beyond to get influencers to talk about their product. Influencers themselves seem to be on a war path to make as much money as possible using social media before their sphere of influence collapses in on them.

Another issue with social media is the advertising as it currently exists in social media platforms. Think about an advertiser. An advertiser wants to get the most largest targeted audience they can with the money they are willing to invest. So what does that mean for a social media company? They want to collect as much information about you as possible, and people on the platform are more than willing to give that information up.

This leads us to the final point. Why are people willing to give up so much information about themselves? As a plain person, I post information about myself generally to tell my sphere of influence what I am up to, how I feel, or an idea I had. This is pretty easy to see from my Mastodon account, which happens to be my most active form of social media that isn’t Reddit. Besides people like myself, we have two other groups, influencers and people that care way too much.

Influencers are another branch of the monetization arm of social media. Influencers generally start small like the rest of us and grow their followings to a point where it can be monetized through sponsored posts. Advertisers, instead of reaching out to the platform itself, identify individuals that have a following that matches the demographics their campaign is looking for, and work out deals with them. This leads to a lot of sponsored content on social media besides the usual ad content.

Now for the last group, the people that care way too damn much, whom I will call the artificials. The artificials are similar to influencers in that a lot of what they post is within a cloud of insincerity. There is a good litmus test I have to determine whether one falls into this group:

  • Spends too much time trying to come up with a caption.
  • Cares about what time of the day the post goes live.
  • Touches up photos to find the filter.

Perhaps this test applies a little too much to media-based social media content, but hopefully you get the idea.

Social media has great aspects. I enjoy catching up with things my friends and sphere of influence are up to because generally these are people I care about in some form or fashion. At the end of the day, unfortunately, what social media has become is not really something I want to be a part of day to day. Naïve sincerity left a long time ago and will probably never come back as the majority attitude on social media platforms.

  1. SourceHut makes this fairly easy however, though it’ll eventually cost money to be on the platform. ↩︎

  2. Webmentions are a way to kind of get consumers interacting with your content, but requires a consumer to have a site of their own. ↩︎

Have a comment or question on one of my posts? Start a discussion in my public inbox by sending an email to ~tristan957/public-inbox@lists.sr.ht. If you are unfamiliar with mailing lists, start with reading about mailing list etiquette. Otherwise just shoot me an email to my address which is linked in the sidebar.