Reports of the death of social media are greatly exaggerated maybe

14 November 2022

Ian Bogost writing for The Atlantic:

It’s over. Facebook is in decline, Twitter in chaos. Mark Zuckerberg’s empire has lost hundreds of billions of dollars in value and laid off 11,000 people, with its ad business in peril and its metaverse fantasy in irons. Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has caused advertisers to pull spending and power users to shun the platform (or at least to tweet a lot about doing so). It’s never felt more plausible that the age of social media might end — and soon.

The question is, what do we do next, if we don’t have social media? Go back to meaningful face-to-face interactions? What do content producers, who enjoy self-publishing do? Print a zine? I’m not sure that social media is about to disappear, even if some of the bigger players are having some trouble. Still, Bogost makes some salient points.

As I’ve written before on this subject, people just aren’t meant to talk to one another this much. They shouldn’t have that much to say, they shouldn’t expect to receive such a large audience for that expression, and they shouldn’t suppose a right to comment or rejoinder for every thought or notion either.

People have been over-talking since people could first talk. Ditto expecting a large audience for their rants. Social media only amplified the voice of these over-talkers. On the upside, anyone we don’t want to listen to can easily be ignored, blocked. Try doing that to an over-talker you don’t want to listen to at a family gathering.

Social media might not be about to roll over and die, but it is at a turning point. Yet as Twitter’s implosion shows, people are not quite ready to walk away from connecting online. Membership of Twitter alternative, Mastodon, has spiked in recent weeks. Billing itself as a social network, rather than a social media service, it has become a sanctuary for people seeking a place where they can hear themselves think.

Presently there are few brands, and — better still — influencers, and possibly over-talkers, on Mastodon. That some servers, or instances, forbid commercial accounts, helps in this regard. Instances are either owner funded, or member supported, meaning they don’t need advertising revenue to survive. Perhaps this means there’ll be more signal and less noise, but only time will tell.

If social media is about content creation and publishing to the widest possible audience, then social networking is about forging more meaningful connections with those in your network. No doubt some will welcome the demise of certain social media channels, but if the migration to Mastodon is any indication, people are still looking to connect online with others, both known and unknown. Or maybe a whole lot of us simply want to be part of the next (sort of) big thing. Only time will tell.


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