Transform Social Media 1

Let’s talk about Social Media. It’s an established part of our culture and daily life, for better or worse. Even if you or I choose not to have a Facebook or Twitter account, we still tolerate their effects on society. The problem is the worst parts seem to outweigh the best parts. So wouldn’t we be better off without Social Media?

The Pros And Cons

As with most things, Social Media has pros and cons. I’ve deleted my Facebook account four or five times. And I always end up rejoining. Why? What’s the first thing I do? I start re-friending! The greatest feature of Social Media is the people you know: friends, family, and acquaintances.

The Good

We can talk about the convenience of connecting to all the people we like. You enjoy following them, reacting, emoting, and commenting. We do this anytime and anywhere; just whip your phone out of your pocket. It’s easy!

There’s also the utility. We like the tools that help us network with others: Facebook Groups and Marketplace, or breaking news on Twitter. It’s handy!

Sometimes Social Media is fun! Remember Farmville? Okay, nevermind. Cat videos…memes… It’s silly!

The Bad

Despite the pros, we must deal with the cons. I don’t know about you, but I often reach the point where I’ve had more than enough of the worst parts of Social Media. And I’m not talking about its addictive nature.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Social Media Fatigue or Newsfeed Stress. In the past few months, we’ve been stuck at home surfing the web more than usual. I bet you’ve noticed a lot of negativity on Facebook or Twitter.

A global pandemic. A deadly virus.

Panic, protests, and politics.

Discord, division. Stress, anxiety.

Riots, violence, brutality, and death.

We did not sign up for these in our Newsfeeds, did we? There are not enough cat videos or silly memes to make up for it.

All that is bad stuff. And you’d hear about it in the news on Cable TV or news websites. Or you might even hear about it in the good ol’ fashioned grapevine, the word-of-mouth network.

The Ugly

Here is where it gets worse though. After bad news knocks you to the ground, you get kicked while you’re down by everybody’s opinion. Then things devolve. Not sure what to think about the hard times we’re facing? Twitter or Facebook will tell you what to think. They want you to pick sides.

Social Media is everybody’s soapbox. It’s a personal megaphone for declaring opinions as if they’re facts. It amplifies our base natures. Pseudonyms lower inhibitions or inflame egos. Algorithms exacerbate the situation, causing a downward spiral. Have you seen any high-profile incendiary posts lately?

You and I agree, on a rational level, that issues we face have many nuances and gray areas. But then we disagree, on an emotional level, over those same issues, making them binary. We end up polarizing the problems, which causes more problems.

Social Media is a place to post short statements, like sound bites. Whether pictures, video clips, or words alone, they’re brief. Often the context is incomplete. We make hasty generalizations and oversimplifications of complex issues.

When we do that, we lack civil discourse because Social Media platforms are not designed for it. The comments section of a post is a poor place to discuss watershed moments. Who likes arguing about politics or religion on Facebook?

The Turning Point

What are you and I to do about this? We ask the question that Nick Bilton in a recent Vanity Fair article asks:

If this is the case, it leads back to the age-old question of whether social media is a net positive or a net negative for society.”

My answer to that question came to me a few weeks ago; it’s what prompted me to write this article. It’s clear to me that Social Media is a net negative. The cons outweigh the pros.

Plus, Social Media is not necessary. It’s fun, convenient, and has utility. But you and I can have plenty of all that without Social Media.

Yet a troubling point came from Nick Bilton in the same article. The answer to the question isn’t what you think (emphasis mine)

“I spoke to both a former Twitter employee and a former Facebook employee about this, and their answers were surprisingly similar. Social networks are neither a net negative nor a net positive for society, they both said. Rather, they magnify our most visceral feelings and beliefs, at a blazingly fast speed. We yell at one another and point fingers, these former employees said, until we eventually abandon the platform that does not align with our views, and instead go to the one that does.”

I’m afraid those employees are right. Social Media is either neutral or playing both sides! It muddies the water.

So which is it? Should we remove social networks or improvethem?

In my next blog post, you’ll read about my ideas for No Social Media.

Then, in part 3 of this article, I’ll talk about ideas for New Social Media.