by Lincoln Sayger
This article was produced through the support of my Patreon patrons.
Social media promises connection. The promise is right there, in its name. Social. Social media Web sites promise to connect you to your friends, family, or colleagues. They promise to allow you to share thoughts, feelings, and images with the people who matter to you, personally or professionally. But social media fails to live up to that promise, by and large. There are exceptions to each point, but the landscape as a whole fits them.
Through greed, it imposes barriers to genuine connections. Feeds are cluttered with paid promotional posts, and content that users desire is often held hostage unless the content creator pays for it to be promoted. Both of these limit the interactions between users who wish to be connected to each other. The clutter and the limiting of content frustrate users, make sharing updates or free content less feasible, and make users less likely to make meaningful connections with others.
Through design choices that reward thoughtlessness, it encourages destructive behavior. Through the choices made by designers in enabling quick sharing and kudos, and the use of algorithms that generate filter bubbles, social media sites often bring destructive behaviors (rooted in human nature) to the forefront. A pithy graphic is more likely to be found funny or relateable than a thoughtful post, and there is often no way for users to distinguish between "mildly humorous" and "deep soul agreement", but social algorithms tend to present more of what is like what we repost and mark as special (with a star or thumb up or whatever). But when what we've marked is a little bit edgy or mean, the algorithm may start showing things that are a little more edgy, a little harsher, until we're seeing things on our feeds that are far beyond what we would originally have wanted to see. This is especially true if the algorithm takes our interaction with something on a site with user-generated content to mean we want more from that site, whose content may run a very wide gamut. Things that fall into this category may be spiteful jabs at a politician, jokes that are slightly off-color, or photo-shaming of one sort or another.
Through inappropriate technology, social media fails to allow the poor equal access to its benefits. There is a trend on social networking sites lately to do more and more interactive features with no concern for the load these features put on the user's processor. While less of an issue for those using the latest hardware, people who are not wealthy enough to have the latest hardware must suffer through significantly longer load times and CPU demands that will shorten the life of their already old and/or secondhand hardware.
We need to be careful with our use of social media. If we are not, we will find ourselves participating in more and more antisocial behavior, making our social media less prosocial. The more of that we do, the further we will be from achieving the promise of social media.
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