Social media is conceptually broken 2021-10-20 on Kenneth Dodrill's blog

This post is mostly about a realization that I had a few months ago - social media (as we know it) does not need to be fixed. It needs to be abolished. Social media brings way more negatives than positives to humans. This post is somewhat biased as I also care about invidividual privacy and data protection (I would certainly love to see large companies like Facebook and Twitter fall).

Concepts of social media

I have seen a documentary and read a few articles where developers or higher-ups at social media companies say that they didn't really think about what they were doing at a conceptual level. They didn't realize how their software would change how humans act. I can believe that, specifically for the Facebook story. These same developers or higher-ups are usually people who have quit that job for something else, and they usually mention that they don't let their children use the software that they helped create.

Think about that for a second. They are restricting their kids access to a software from a company that used to pay them to make it. They are not only aware of the press and scientific studies around how awful social media is, but have also seen the internals. They are the best kinds of people to believe when it comes to understanding how social media just can't work.


There are three major concepts that I think of when I think of social media.

Involve everyone on everything, all the time

This is likely something that was a child of modern social media. I don't think good ole Mark thought that his platform would involve everyone on everything, all the time. Social media wasn't exactly defined back then, however, and I think most would agree that this is something that the modern definition of Social Media encapsulates.

Connect people together, across the world

This is mostly part of the first concept, albeit more specific. Software is not region specific, so of course before Facebook it was possible to email someone (or send snail mail) to someone in another country. The point here is that before social media, nothing existed that contained so many people from all over the world that could see, respond to, and share text and media.

Create a space that anyone can join

This clearly plays into the second concept. What I want you to think about with this concept is - why do we need or want a space that anyone can join? Why is that a problem and/or why does it need to be solved?


These concepts by themselves have one clear path - a centralized platform with millions of users. Put these concepts to work under an eventually faceless company with money as it's goal, and you get the tech giants we have today.

Why these concepts don't work for humans

Millions of people access these platforms every day. Ideas are shared, articles sent and reviewed, text and media are analyzed...surely that's a good thing, right? Can you picture 1 million people? How about 100,000? How about 10,000? The hell does that even look like? You don't know these people and can never really understand these people. Different cultural backgrounds, religions, morals, and ideologies are fine - but when they are being discussed by millions of people at the same time, what do you get? Confusion, which usually leads to division, which can lead to anger and violence. There is no way you can moderate millions of people, or even 100,000 people (or, at least, not without automation, which just further divides people).

The best example I've seen that examines the issue of the amount of people involved is this:

I think the tragedy of the Eternal September is a function of human socialisation crashing into the seawall of large scale communication technology.

If you think about a local pub or coffee house, there are limits on attendance that tend to be driven by proximity first and foremost, followed by acceptance of whatever aesthetic and facilities the establishment has chosen as a focus; e.g., loud music, sports on TVs, quiet with board games, etc. The size of the crowd is limited by the available space. Patrons that are bothering everybody tend to be ejected by the proprietor. If a pub becomes too popular, it can be overwhelmed to the extent that it can be hard to be a regular because there are no longer reliable seats available.

Online environments like Twitter and Facebook often have no such limits. Whether you say something particularly funny or especially untoward, it may be seen by millions of people. Even if just a tiny fraction of global users respond or interact with you, it can quickly become catastrophic. It’s not possible to know everybody or even an appreciable factor of users with whom you interact. This is in practice quite unlike the pub.

Environments where attendance is constrained in some way, like Usenet once was through a high bar of technical complexity, and like the pub is through physical proximity, strike me as being a more recognisable human social experience. This is necessarily exclusive, but increasingly the challenge of moderation and safety and maintaining positive interactions in gigantic online social networks seems difficult or insoluble. Maybe more things should be like a coffee house rather than like Twitter, and maybe that isn’t actually a tragedy.

Source

I get goosebumps every time I read that. It's such a fantastic summary of how broken social media is. It further leads me to believe that communication between humans can really only work in packs - you need some sort of trust to be able to communicate successfully. This is why we have different branches of governments, different experts working in different fields, and why frontend and backend programming teams work better than throwing everyone in all together.

What this has caused

Narcissism

Jesus Christ, the narcissism. I believe that this mostly stems from the first concept of involving everyone, and how that has integrated itself into our world-wide culture. Now, everyone feels like they need to say anything or everything, all of the time, regardless of whether it's a reaction or a response. Social media's idea of "I have to have an opinion immediately" has also spread into general real-life conversations and other forms of media. If you don't have an opinion, you must either be stupid or totally against everything I've learned about X from Facebook articles! Do you really think that most people are doing research on topics in general conversations since most people aren't doing research before posting a thought?

A false sense of community

This point really is attached to how many people are on these platforms. You can't have communities, because communities aren't meant to contain 200,000 people. This is especially bad on Reddit. I can't tell you how many times I've seen posts about active shooter situations, where the comments eventually reduce into Lord of the Rings jokes.

Manipulation of the (mostly ignorant) user

I didn't want to mention this because I wanted this to be more abstract, but I would be remiss to not involve it. Understand that these companies do not care about you. The big companies are looking to make big money, and usually corruption is involved where big money is made. You can make it your homework if you want to look at the countless cases of unfavorable ethical decisions by Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc, but I hope this post alone makes you want to remove yourself from an incompatible system.

What can I do

Leave any social media that you are a part of. Seriously, go and delete your accounts, if you have any. Yes, Reddit is a social media (it was one of my last ones to go).

Surrender your opinions, and understand that it's okay to say "I don't know, I'd have to do more research on that." Also understand that if the person you are conversating with has some kind of negative reaction to this, it's normal. It's part of our culture. However, someone's value (to me) is much higher when they consider you a smarter person for being able to step out of a conversation that you know nothing about.

If you feel like you're missing out on discussions or conversations, first direct these at your friends and family (you could start with this post). Otherwise, consider the alternative - find a community. These communities may take advantage of certain software, but still - they are a community, with a manageable amount of people who care about similar values and enjoy discussing them. This can take some time. You might join a community just to leave it upon learning that it's not for you, but that's okay. For me, I've found a great community which has around 18.6K users. I've only interacted with maybe 100 of them.