Social media isn’t as social as it used to be. As I write, CEOs of major social sites are testifying before Congress about their seeming unwillingness to make their platforms less addictive and toxic for minors and why their algorithms favor false, divisive, and defamatory material. The platform formerly known as Twitter has pretty much-jettisoned content moderation and become a home for more and more racist and anti-Semitic content. Mega’s competitor, Threads, makes a point of featuring algorithmic content over your chosen content to the point of scuttling the proliferation of real-time news on the platform.
Case in point: former editor-in-chief of the website Gawker and current editor at New York Magazine noted that when he recently had COVID, he went to social media to find information on the virus’ spread and how long he should quarantine. “I literally couldn’t,” he told NPR. “I just gave up. Like, it was just dead links and random spam and just sponsored garbage and old pages. It was just absolute nonsense.”
Social media is changing. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your point of view. Originally, social media was famed for its ability to connect people with one another. Individuals posted matters of interest and other interested individuals viewed and responded. It was easy to find people who were knowledgeable or even expert in their fields. That’s not the case anymore:
“According to Eleanor Stern, a TikTok video essayist with nearly a hundred thousand followers, part of the problem is that social media is more hierarchical than it used to be. “There’s this divide that wasn’t there before, between audiences and creators,” Stern said. The platforms that have the most traction with young users today—YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch—function like broadcast stations, with one creator posting a video for her millions of followers; what the followers have to say to one another doesn’t matter the way it did on the old Facebook or Twitter. Social media “used to be more of a place for conversation and reciprocity,” Stern said. Now conversation isn’t strictly necessary, only watching and listening.”– Kyle Chaker, “Why the Internet Isn’t Fun Anymore,” New Yorker
The New York Times points out that “Instagram and Facebook feeds are full of ads and sponsored posts. TikTok and Snapchat are stuffed with videos from influencers promoting dish soaps and dating apps. And soon, Twitter posts that gain the most visibility will come mostly from subscribers who pay for the exposure and other perks.”
‘Corporatization’ is the word that comes to mind. Social media has been corporatized. That’s bad for people seeking accurate, up-to-date information or interpersonal connections. However, it’s probably good for… you guessed it – corporations. Organizations have more opportunities than ever to put their wares before young social media devotees through paid influencers (who never reveal who they’re working for), sponsoring content to appeal to specific audiences, and even developing content to manipulate algorithms. AI will be a great help in this work.
Social media’s evolution seems to follow that of the internet in general. In its infancy, the internet was a more democratized free-for-all where size and influence were more organically earned than hierarchically ordained. Soon, however, giant players absorbed more and more real estate and we have today the tech giants who rival in size and scope any corporations the world has ever known.
That’s when social media showed up. Once more, the democratizing principle seemed ascendant. Individuals developed followings, experts opined to the interest, and networks of individuals formed.
Now, big players are once more adapting and absorbing. “Instead of seeing messages and photos from friends and relatives about their holidays or fancy dinners, users of Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and Snapchat now often view professionalized content from brands, influencers, and others that pay for placement,” writes Brian X. Chen in the New York Times.
It seems we may be entering a golden age of social media for corporate users. For the rest of us, maybe not so much.
Leonce Gaiter – Vice-President, Content & Strategy