Social media: from social utopia to algorithmic reality
Hey, friends! I read this article by Om Malik that really got me thinking. It's titled 'SOCIAL INTERNET IS DEAD. GET OVER IT.' and it's about the social internet's evolution. We're going from the days of 'hey, we're all friends online' to an era of algorithms running a shit-show. Reading this article will make you rethink how you view social media.
I read these three articles and was reminded of something I have known for a while, though I had not synthesized it succinctly enough: the internet, as we have known it, has evolved from a quaint, quirky place to a social utopia, and then to an algorithmic reality. In this reality, the primary task of these platforms is not about idealism or even entertainment — it is about extracting as much revenue as possible from human vanity, avarice, and narcissism.
Frankly, none of this should be a surprise. Most of the social algorithms have been specifically designed and optimized to do just that. The Social Internet began as a place to forge “friendships” and engage in “social interactions.” It performed its role as intended until companies needed to generate profit. By then, we were all hooked on the likes, hearts, retweets, and followers and the boost they gave to our egos.
Looking back, the very idea that socially inept and maladjusted founders would define online social norms feels almost laughable. The notion of having 5,000 people as “friends” was as preposterous then as it is now. We were naive in our thinking, and happy to replace real-life friendships with an unlimited number of online friends. After all, digital friends are superior to real ones, right?
Back then, the internet was still seen as a utopian ideal — not a massive marketing machine. Our friendly chats and discussions weren’t enough for platforms to draw the advertising revenue required for giants like Facebook and Twitter to keep growing. However, sharing news and media links became an effective way for social platforms to keep users engaged. Discussing the latest news was often more straightforward than initiating a genuine online conversation. Hence, the social internet morphed into “social media.”
It was evident where this was all headed.
Over the past few years, I’ve argued that there’s nothing truly “social” about social media and that algorithms now primarily guide the flow of information. This direction serves primarily the deities of advertising and revenue. And the algorithms are there to do two things — boost engagement and sell more ads.
Where do we go from here? We find ourselves lost in a fog of misinformation, a reality we must acknowledge. Reluctantly, we must admit that the Social Web, as we knew it, is on its last legs, and we stand at the threshold of a new era marked by social disconnection.