Thinking About the Future of Social Media

Annalee Newitz has written a long, thinky piece for the New York Times about where social media might be headed for its next iteration, and she spoke to me (along with many other opinionated people) about my thoughts on the matter. If that sounds like something you want to stuff into your own brain, here’s the link. Check it out.

19 Comments on “Thinking About the Future of Social Media”

  1. No, there is no real privacy. Some of us (maybe because we’re old) are just (I know it seems incomprehensible to you) NOT on Facebook or Twitter or any other so-called “social media” site. That doesn’t mean we are stupid or oblivious that every time my wife checks the Marriott website or a sale at Macy’s, voila! An ad almost immediately pops up. But someone who posts nude pictures “just” to an intimate friend and is then shocked to find them all over the internet, well, more fool you.

    As my wife frequently says, I am glad we grew up when we did rather than today.

    And keep off my lawn.

  2. The article is mostly about the platforms and their abuse, but not about the social networking itself.

    I tend to think it’s the real problem here. The ability to connect with people, fast, effortlessly, has generated massive echo-chambers of people whose idea align more than anything else, which in turn creates a group “belonging” feeling that is massively higher than what you get in a random social grouping (like colleagues or even friends). This, in turn, lowers the barrier to ideas spreading across those groups, and makes viral stories more likely. It won’t matter who generates those stories – the very nature of a decentralized, countrywide/worldwide social network will make sure those stories, true or false, will propagate fast.

    Which, in turn, feeds the second problem the current social networking era has generated: the culture of outrage. This is jumpstarted by the clickbait phenomenon, but it IS amplified by the echochamber above. The thing is, it is easy to get outraged at something. We care more about outrageous things than nice things mainly because there’s less of the former. So we tell our friends about that. And it goes into the echo-chamber, and increases the outrage levels of everyone. The latest faux-pas of Donald T. is an instant outrage to the left-leaning, the latest policy proposal of Alexandra O. C. is an instant outrage of the rightwing, and on and on it goes, into each network.

    And that’s the thing that is the most dangerous about the social networks. The culture of outrage they generate. It’s what swings elections abruptly, without warning. You don’t need Russian interference truly – elections themselves have become more chaotic. Anything will suddenly spark and flip opinions, one way or another.

    You could change the way social platforms operate, but without addressing the underlying phenomenon, you will still have the same problems. Your suggestion, M. Scalzi, about “Your online profiles would begin with everything and everyone blocked by default.” is good, but it only delays the entrance into an echo-chamber. Any echo-chamber.

    I’ve seen a few better suggestions, and one, I think, that is extremely good is meme-vaccination. You have your social network, but 2, 3, maybe even 5% of what you see comes from outside. At random. You can select the amount, but you can’t reduce it to 0. You must be exposed to things outside the echo-chamber. This teaches you to filter, judge, analyze things. But most importantly, it allows you to see what you think is “your enemy”. When you judge him bad, you will know why from the source itself, not from your echo-chamber.

    This, I think, will build your social immunity. You’ll be more resilient, because you’ll be more aware of what is out there.

    It’s drawback is that, of course, it is deeply uncomfortable. It is far easier to surround yourself in the cocoon of your favorite echo-group. And only get outraged “for the right causes”, not for the right reasons.

    At some point, I even wonder if Social Networks are not the Great Filter that extinguishes civilizations. Forget about nuclear wars – maybe it’s Facebook that ends civilization.

  3. It’s a very interesting article – but I am wondering – as a person who makes videos on YouTube (and would like to make videos as a living), how this imagined future of social media will impact that side of things.

    Discovery is one of the hardest things related to getting started in video production even when I got started 10 years ago (insert internet old man joke here), and the current state of YouTube just makes things harder. Partnering with a larger site with established creators can allow you to better collaborate with other creators to further get noticed, but that comes with its own issues (as #ChangeTheChannel made very clear).

    Never mind the fact that hosting video, especially HD video, is very expensive, and having someone like YouTube or Vimeo (or DailyMotion, or Vine, or Blip, or GameTrailers, or any number of other sites that have bit the dust in the past), never mind running an active live-streaming platform (ala Twitch, Mixer, or Hitbox). So, having to try to set up your own web hosting would up the barrier of entry to new smaller creators.

    Ironically, considering that some of the more toxic players on YouTube (Logan Paul, PewDiePie, etc.), actually come from a moneyed background (PDP’s parents are, IIRC, very well paid CEOs who helped him get off the ground with some relatively high-end prosumer equipment), this wouldn’t do anything to impact them in the slightest.

    On top of the rest of this, a lot of this smaller level programming would have been stuff that would have been going on Cable Access in the past (which is how MovieBob got *his* start), but as satellite TV and internet streaming services like Youtube TV and Sling don’t carry cable access as well, Cable Access is effectively dead.

    So, while the article pitches the future of video sharing as a form of internet public broadcasting with everything safe for kids, and I think there certainly is a place for that (particularly compared to the current nightmare-scape of the “YouTube Kids” service) – I think there needs to be a place for a streaming equivalent of cable access – both with the public service side of things (city and county council meetings being put up for streaming), and with the opportunity for the general public to get access to the service as well – to cut their teeth providing the kinds of programming that we’re not getting as much from actual commercial media anymore, whether it’s media criticism of works that aren’t necessarily kid-friendly, or riffing of public domain shorts, or alternative sources of sketch comedy.

    Or are we going to a future where user-created streaming video just isn’t a thing anymore?

  4. From the article…”That slowness would give human moderators or curators time to review content. They could quash dangerous conspiracy theories before they lead to harassment or worse.”

    The question remains…. Who will watch the watchers??

  5. Doh: Try Opera. It works for me on a Mac, but since it’s multi-platform, it should work on whatever you’re using. It’s one of the most fascinating ways of displaying a page I’ve ever seen, As you scroll down in a painting of Adam and Eve showing each other their cell phone screens, Adam’s screen expands to show you the article.

  6. To paraphrase an old quote from a Monty Python sketch, “it’s no fun any more.”

    Social media has become so toxic/”us vs them” that it becomes depressingly pointless. While I’m on FB, I limit myself to just 25 minutes in total per day. I’ve unfollowed (but not unfriended) about a half dozen people because their political toxicity has gone completely off the rails.

    Granted all these suggestions “sound good” but would they be equally applied. Like it or not, it’s a given that the powers that be who run the major platforms lean moderately-to-extremely left with their politics, which in turn fosters a “do what I say and not what I do” mentality when applying their T.o.S. of their website (see Twitter).

    Censorship in general is a bad thing, and this seems to be the 1,000lb elephant in the room that the one side in power (e.g. owners of the major platforms) do not what to confront in any way, shape or form. Until that happens, nothing what’s being proposed will ever be acceptable to the masses.

  7. As somebody said, we thought the internet would bring us all windows on the world, but it turns out people want mirrors. Wish I could remember where I read that, but I think about it a lot.

    Who watches the watcher indeed…. and is a bad watcher worse than no watcher?

  8. While I’m horrified by what Facebook does as a business, I’m quite happy with my experience of it as a user. I only send and accept friend requests from people I’ve actually met in real life, and I use the platform to keep up with my friends, church, and family throughout the week. We share memes and advice and joys and frustrations and have long political and philosophical discussions. Of course we also see each other in real life as much as we can, but it’s nice to have the option to connect other times. It’s also useful for when I just want to talk about something but don’t need to talk to one person in particular or to wear out people who are already stressed – whoever has the cutlery can respond.

  9. Facebook is toxic because facebook makes money selling conspiracy theories to true believers. Facebook broke the law. It took foreign money to run campaign ads in US elections. Facebook claims it didnt know, but some ads were paid for in rubles.

    Zuckerberg has strong libertarian-sociopathic tendencies and doesn’t care if he makes money destroying our democracy. Even if the money is in rubles. When confronted with selling political ads with lies, zuck said everyone should be able to tell lies and let the public decide the truth.

    The problem with micro-targeted lying ads is that the only people whl see them are people facebook thinks will believe the lies. So no one reports them and the lie is never truthed out.

    When we had only three networks, if you lied on CBS everyone saw it and repercussions occurred. Now, facebook makes a living selling lies onoy seen by a microtargeted audience who want to believe the lies.

    With every tech advance, we find sociopaths willing to abuse it for money and that behavior then has to be regulated. Beforr the industrial revolution, we didnt have laws against child labor. But the industrial revolution created a way for sociopaths to make money exploiting child labor on a massive scale. So we had to regulate it.

    Facebook is the new childlabor-run-by-sociopaths of the internet revolution. It needs to have the shit regulated out of it. The only question is whether we have the will or whether we believe the lies.

  10. I think you’re right about the idea of curation.
    Skill, craftsmanship, and artistry are valuable in an environment flooded with things of questionable value.
    Intelligence, wisdom, and good judgement are valuable in an environment flooded with information of questionable value.
    The interesting problem is how to provide that curation.

  11. The ironic Star Trek episode “Bread and Circuses,” complete with boos and hisses on the gladiator games console, seemed to say that our noble ancestors would have used technology just as ignobly as we do, if they only had it. Perhaps people being as joyful at having outrage as my (hypothetical) cousin is at having racial prejudice have inevitable human nature. Or not. I try not to enjoy outrage.

    Sometime I sense that when people say “stuff on the web lasts forever” what they mean to say it “should” last forever. Like when people say “nobody said life was supposed to fair” they sorta mean life “shouldn’t” be fair. At least, that’s what I sense.

    I try not to credit as “admissible evidence” any web stuff that is more than seven years old. (Unless it’s the tip of an ongoing temporal iceberg) For an example of “not ongoing,” all the sensitive artist friends of that Guardians of the Galaxy guy said he was a fine fellow, yet he got fired for a tweet that was over seven years old, closer to ten years.

    When our primitive ancestors with their telegraphs and scratchy phonographs said the statute of limitations should be seven years, maybe they were not being so primitive after all.

  12. There are a few groups of people who are actively working to implement some of these ideas in real life, loosely affiliated in an IndieWeb movement. One fairly successful community is []( – it’s replaced twitter and facebook as a salon to feed my curiosity and need for intelligent conversation

  13. Slow news sounds great… until you realize that the Yazidi were saved (partially saved anyway) because of real-time fast news. If the rest of the world got the news about their imminent demise several weeks later, there would be no Yazidi. Remember the news footage of helicopters loading Yazidi refugees off a mountaintop (!) and flying them to a safe(r) place? Real news in real time is important. Imagine that there is a new Ebola outbreak… and you don’t find out about it for 2 weeks, maybe 3. There’s no quarantine, no rapid response from relief agencies, the CDC can’t send aid or track the disease in real time, all because we’ve chosen slow news as a means of “civility”, as opposed to actually choosing actual civility or at least accuracy. Ebola is a BSL 4 disease–no vaccine (the current one is still considered experimental and is still being tested) and no cure, only palliative/supportive treatment. It also spreads so rapidly and kills so completely that it usually kills all the potential hosts in the area, which means that it (temporarily) dies out because there is no one left to spread the disease. Thanks to modern travel, no place on earth is more than 48 hours away from an outbreak. Thanks to “slow news”, diseases like Ebola would potentially have the chance to travel further and spread more completely. Or if that thought doesn’t keep you awake, imagine any given disaster around the world, in which news, and therefore aid and response, is delayed because of “slow news”.

    While you can spoof your laptop or cell phone TCP/IP address, the truth is that your internet provider is not fooled–it still bills you no matter what spoofing nonsense you engage in. So clearly the technology exists to track the origins of trolls and other bad actors. It is to the financial benefit of the IT industry that that not actually happen, just because it is more profitable to said industry to not police Teh Interwebs. For example, this site is protected by antispam software. If the entire internet was designed in such a way that spam was trackable with less effort, there would be no selling point in antispam software. So, it is to the advantage of the IT industry to not crack down on bad actors–they are the cause and the cure. It’s not a new idea–shady doctors used to poison wells to drum up business.

    There were crap news outlets/sources before the internet, the internet just amplified the effect. (Full disclosure: I worked as a photojournalist for 5 years before quitting the industry, which was collapsing.) There were crap newspapers and TV news outlets, the internet just amplified the quantity with no appreciable increase in quality.

    If you *really* want internet civility, strip away internet anonymity. Heh. Internet trolls would vanish overnight. Ditto bots.

  14. Audrey:”If you *really* want internet civility, strip away internet anonymity”

    How does doxxing everyone improve things?

    And besides, even if you make the internet “civil”, it still enables people to self select only the propaganda they want to hear. Bigots will only subscribe to sources that reinforce bigotry. Christian extremists only read christian ectremism.

    The promise of the internet was that it would greatly enable free speech. The reality is that it makes it so much easier to not listen to anything you dont want to hear.

    It has become the breeding ground for mass shooters. Some guy feels picked on. He goes online and searches until he finds some site that tells him what he wants to hear : “its not your fault. Its THEIR fault”. And thrn he reads and reads until he gets so wrapped up in it that he goes on a shooting spree.

    Facebook’s business model thrives on selling conspiracy theories to people who want to read them. Antivax movement wouldnt be possible without the siloing that happens on the internet. The flat earth movement has blossomed on the internet. Racism and other forms of bigotry has resurged on the internet. And anonymity or lack of anonymity wouldnt have much effect either way.

  15. detroitrockcity
    Why exactly do you equate lack of anonymity with doxxing? They are by no means the same thing.
    Back in the day, when news came on paper(!) AND you had to wait for the actual made-on-paper paper to arrive before you could read it… people used to write letters to the editors, for general & specific commentary for possible publication in a newspaper… AND THEY HAD TO SIGN THEIR NAMES. (Which is not the same thing as doxxing. They were not forced to show financial statements, Social Security numbers, etc. or other sensitive and potentially damaging information.) But they *were* required to sign their names or otherwise identify themselves or *their letters would be unceremoniously dumped in the garbage.* Where they belonged. The theory was that if the writer didn’t have the ‘nads to sign their names and therefore be obligated to stand behind their written statements, no one should take them seriously. And for the most part, no one did, flat-earth nut jobs and conspiracy theorists notwithstanding. People chose to get the news they wanted to hear back then too. Maybe you read the Wall Street Journal or maybe you read The New York Times depending on your preference but stating that you got your news from The National Inquirer made you a target of ridicule. The only thing that has really changed is the medium and the immediacy, not the message (or the yellow journalism, which has always existed. Now it’s just called clickbait but it’s really the same thing.) If your point of view or information was of a sensitive nature, you still signed your name but asked the editor to publish anonymously, which is still not the same as internet anonymity. I find myself questioning how many internet trolls and flamewar idiots would flame away if they couldn’t hide behind anonymity.
    The internet did actually deliver on the promise of free speech. Regrettably, hate speech is still free speech. And hate speech has been around for a long time…waaay before the internet was even an ARPANET dream. The First Amendment is a double-edged sword but I still believe that we are a better nation and society with it than without it. (See North Korea for an example of the latter.) The KKK predated the internet by about 100 years. If you want to see the cleansing effect of identity on hate speech… I offer the proposed KKK march in NYC during Rudy Giuliani’s tenure as mayor. The ACLU argued (successfully) that not allowing the KKK to march in a parade amounted to censorship and violated the First Amendment. (It did.) Rudy as mayor stated that he would allow the KKK to march, with police protection BUT the KKK marchers were not allowed to wear their hoods. They could wear robes, insignia, carry flags, etc. BUT NO HOODS. Anyone wearing a hood would be arrested.
    The march was canceled because it turned out that white supremacists were real brave in basements with their troglodyte friends but when it comes to owning their beliefs, in full public view… they did a fast fade. Yes, the idiot parade in Charlottesville consisted of unmasked white supremacists… but the ones who broke the law (such as Heather Heyer’s murderer) were readily tracked down, arrested and imprisoned. Some of the marchers were discovered to be working in the military and the Dept of Defense (illegal, white supremacists are not allowed to work in the DoD or DoD contract companies) and were fired from their jobs or dishonorably discharged. Behold the antiseptic effect of lack of anonymity.
    Regarding your assertion that the internet is responsible for mass shootings, I disagree. I suspect the easy availability of consumer versions of military assault weapons and lack of mental health health care (even if you are lucky enough to have health insurance, the truth is that most policies SUCK when it comes to treating mental illness in any meaningful, effective way.) coupled with the hard right lunatic fringe lobby that is the NRA has more to do with mass shootings than the internet does. I’m old enough to remember when Heathers was a dark comedy. Now it’s a documentary. Guns are necessary in some parts of the country (I have rancher relatives. They all have guns, mostly to shoot coyotes [the four-legged kind] and the occasional rabid animal.) but no one goes deer hunting with an AR-15, the favored weapon of red-pill entitled mass shooters.
    It is a point of pride for me that I have never had a Facebook account. (I now work for a sensitive agency, so it worked out for the best, since I would not be able to have the account anyway.) If fools want to press the large red candylike internet button, that’s on them. No one is forcing you to sign up for a questionable company’s questionable products and business practices and give away all your privacy and become Facebook’s product. Grownups own their decisions and take responsibility for them. The internet existed before Facebook and it will exist in some form or fashion after Facebook finally implodes. No one actually NEEDS Facebook, they just like the convenience and running with the herd. (Also, I have to question the advisability of signing on with a company that got its start by a guy who was pissed off at a girl who dumped him, who clearly has problems with boundaries, who ripped off his fellow Facebook founders–who sued him!–and who stole other people’s data without consent, remorse or a backward glance. Who also seems to have limited, if any, social skills and even less ethics and/or empathy. All traits of sociopaths.) Facebook doesn’t exist to sell conspiracy theories, it exists to sell the data of its users to companies who want to buy that data. The conspiracy theories are a side effect. Facebook users think that they are the client when what they really are is the product.
    The antivaxxer movement started pretty much right after Edward Jenner invented the smallpox vaccine. You can see the yellow journalism/scare tactics political cartoons if you research the newspapers of the times. My favorite is the one that asserts that by taking the vaccine, the vaccine recipient will acquire bovine characteristics and eventually turn into a cow. I saw it on PBS originally on Frontline but here it is the cartoon:
    It’s also on Wikipedia:
    Stupidity is universal. Like hydrogen. And like hydrogen, sometimes it blows up in your face if you are not careful.
    Hey–since you like songs, try this excerpt:
    Poets, priests and politicians
    Have words to thank for their positions
    With words that scream for your submission
    And no one’s jamming their transmissions
    -De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da, The Police (circa 1980)

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