2020 was the year we learned just how corrupt social media has become. 2021 must be the year to change it.
This will be my final email to you using the Substack platform. It became clear this month that Substack has been secretly paying its top users to create the false impression that its business model was good for writers. In truth Substack is just one of many corrupt social media companies revealed in 2020.
Early in 2020 my Facebook account was suspended. Facebook is famously impossible to contact. After months of agitating to have my account re-instated, I created a viral Twitter post that accused Mark Zuckerberg of looking like a haunted potato.
The next day my account was deleted entirely. No trace of it remained.
Did the Zuck take my insult personally? It doesn’t matter. What we can say with certainty is that having one man in total control of the world’s biggest communication network is a recipe for absolute disaster.
As we found ourselves locked-down we turned to social media for connection. And we realised just how corrupt social media was. The Twitter algorithm is a money making engine that cultivates outrage to hold our attention. Instead of connection and support, Twitter breeds tribalism and arguments.
The problem with social media is not the technology. It’s the people. Social media companies are staffed by people too young and too privileged too understand what they are actually doing, and funded by venture capitalists determined to turn human attention - our attention - into dollars. If all this wasn’t clear by late 2020, the release of The Social Dilemma broke the story wide open for most people.
So. What do we do?
It’s ironic that I began using Substack by publishing a series of posts on kicking social media addiction. Some interactions with Substack staff made it clear to me the platform’s “mission” was insincere. I have no plans to “monetise” the 1500 subscribers to my occasional emails, and with the new revelations against Substack, I will return my email list to a neutral platform like Mailchimp.
I see only one answer to the bigger problems of online communication:
We must take responsibility for our own sense making.
Social media isn’t something most of us can stop using. I think the idea you can simply quit Facebook, Twitter et al is probably that greatest privilege of online life. For most of us these tools are integrated into our work lives.
Instead we must use these platforms consciously. We have to be aware of how the platforms twist our communication and compensate for it. In the words of Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message. If the message of social media is outrage, tribalism and echo chambers, we have to be better than that.
New social media networks often have an early phase when rich connection and true communication are possible. The drop-in audio network Clubhouse is in that phase currently. I’m greatly enjoying the discussions I find there (while being aware that like Facebook and Twitter before it this network is also likely to become corrupted).
So, with that awareness, you’re welcome to join the discussions I’m following on Clubhouse: https://www.joinclubhouse.com/@damiengwalter