Thursday, November 3, 2022

The end of social media?

Photo by Dasha Urvachova on Unsplash

Are the social media platforms that have dominated our lives for the past 15 years or so nearing the end of their useful lives? As Meta/Facebook transforms itself into the so-called metaverse and the Bond villain lookalike Elon Musk takes over Twitter, these platforms are likely to be completely transformed and millions of users, like me, will choose to leave. An article by Ben Werdmuller, The end of Twitter, mourns the demise of a networking platform that has been so important to many in education over the years but is now drowning in the vitriolic hatred and disinformation that has polluted today's society and is likely to get even worse as Musk makes massive staff cuts and reinstates banned accounts, thereby removing the present inadequate controls against hate and threats. Indeed, since Musk's takeover the levels of hate content has risen steeply, according to an article in The Guardian. Community and collaboration are being sacrificed for whatever gives the best financial returns and today that means scandals, insults, lies and conflict.

I have benefited greatly from social media over the years, allowing me to build a global network of educators and friends who have inspired and encouraged me and I hope I have returned the favours. I would be so much poorer without access to this network but sadly I see the end of this era rapidly approaching. Facebook and Twitter will not disappear overnight but will either fade into irrelevance or drown in trash and hatred. They will no longer offer the social interaction and and sense of community that they pioneered and that we have all enjoyed. 

I have a Mastodon account, the multi-server platform that offers a safer alternative to Twitter, but have not really discovered how to make it work for me. I haven't found many of my Twitter contacts in there yet and have no appetite for building up a network from scratch - it took several years to build my Twitter network. It's not so easy to start all over again but there are, however, some useful tips by for example Martin Fowler, Exploring Mastodon. The same applies to alternatives to Facebook like MeWe (I'm sure there are many others out there). Ideally I'd like a social platform that is safe and where I can continue to interact with the people and groups I have built up over the last 15 years. If that doesn't work then I will have to rediscover what life was like back in the nineties.

Werdmuller sees a shift to a multitude of new social media channels and a more complex landscape.  

As big tech silos diminish in stature, the all-in-one town squares we’ve enjoyed on the internet are going to start to fade from view. In some ways, it’s akin to the decline of the broadcast television networks: whereas there used to be a handful of channels that entire nations tuned into together, we now enjoy content that’s fragmented over hundreds. The same will be true of our community hangouts and conversations. In the same way that broadcast television didn’t really capture the needs of the breadth of its audience but instead enjoyed its popularity because that’s what was there at the time, we’ll find that fragmented communities better fit the needs of the breadth of diverse society. It’s a natural evolution.
The main benefit of the major platforms was that everyone was there. If we all scatter into a multitude of closed communities we lose that global connectivity that was so empowering and fun. The embryo to this inter-connectivity already exists in the Fediverse concept, gathering a number of open source social media platforms like Mastodon and PeerTube and allowing people to connect across the platforms. I haven't dared to investigate this much but it seems rather complicated and I wonder how many of my contacts are out there.  

I deeply dislike both Twitter and Facebook and how they profit from the spread of lies, hatred and horror but I still appreciate the human contacts I have made through them. But I sense that very soon I will have to move out. I can maybe find another platform that offers some consolation but I fear that many contacts and groups will be lost forever. Very sad.

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