I wrote this on Twitter a couple mornings ago while waiting for my coffee to brew:
Ad-funded social media companies (Twitter, Facebook, e.g.) have a vested interest in the propagation of antagonism, because the algorithm has determined that antagonism is what best keeps people “engaged.” This shapes how we participate in it, whether we like it or not.”
I realize there is some irony in the fact that I posted this on Twitter, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Part of the power of these social media platforms is that they present themselves as “transparent” i.e. they want you to think that what you read there is simply “What’s Happening,” as Twitter puts it.
It’s easy for me to look at my social media feeds and think the world is a dumpster fire, but I have to remember that social media isn’t the world. It’s websites funded by ads and venture capital with an algorithm that rewards “hot takes” and “take-downs” because that’s what keeps people coming back for more. And around and around we go.
Not that social media is all bad and we should never use it. That’s a lazy all-or-nothing viewpoint, I think. I just think it’s worth seeing it for what it is. It’s not a public square. It wasn’t designed for the good of society. It was designed to make boatloads of money for the few people who own it. It’s worth being sober-minded about that as we use it.
One of my goals for 2020 is to spend more time in the “analog” world. Real people. Real places. Getting to know the actual physical environment around me so I can discern and really feel my vital connection to the people in my life and the place that I live.
This is an interesting observation. It made me think of where conversations tend to drift at work when the boss isn’t there. While there are productive interactions, it’s common to hear talk about the “enemy”, whether that’s someone at work or people in the world at large doing something we don’t like. Maybe antagonism is just the direction the unmoderated conversations of the masses will flow. In other words, this might not just be fueled by social media and the profitability of engagement.
Ben Sternke says
I agree. Antagonism is not JUST fueled by social media. The observation I’m making is that we tend to think of media as “neutral” but they aren’t. One of the subtle ways social media “steers” our engagement with each other toward perpetuating antagonism is that it is profitable for the social media companies when people are fighting. I’m sure that wasn’t planned by these companies, but it is a result of the way they’ve structured their services. When people are mad on the Internet, they make money, so their services end up being geared toward perpetuating this state of affairs.