The increasingly authoritarian behavior of social media companies is troubling and begs the question: are they worth our time?
The early days of social media were exciting. It was a new way to connect with friends, share photos and organize events, share your opinions and interests and promote projects.
I was an early fan of social media. I created my Facebook profile in 2005, when you still needed a .edu email address to join. I’ve spent countless hours finding friends on Myspace (remember that?) and hundreds of dollars of advertising on Facebook. I used to think it had great potential.
As membership ballooned, however, it became increasingly difficult to reach out to the people you want. A few years ago, Facebook buried all non-promoted Page posts, so you had to pay just to reach your own fans. A page with thousands of fans might only get a few views on a non-promoted post.
Facebook has an obligation to its investors to make a profit. I understand that, but we have no obligation to use their service, especially now. Facebook started as a platform where anyone could go on and express themselves. Then they started acting like a gatekeeper. (Remember the controversy over Facebook removing photos of women breastfeeding?)
People who once found it convenient to block, unfriend, or unfollow others with whom they disagreed now found themselves “unfollowed” by Facebook when they posted something with which the company didn’t agree (the guidelines themselves aren’t necessarily the problem, it’s the selective application of those guidelines).
Twitter and YouTube (owned by Google) have also been accused of de-monitizing or de-platforming people they didn’t like. Twitter has even turned its “blue checkmark” into a weapon (I thought the blue checkmark just meant you are who you say you are, but I guess it’s a stamp of endorsement?) to de-legitimize certain users.
Then there were the scandals over Facebook either selling or giving access to user data to other companies, and when user data ended up in the hands of political consultants like Cambridge Analytica. Twitter has also been accused of doing similar things.
As social media CEOs grow drunk with power, the question remains whether we even need these platforms. Is the convenience of mass messaging online really worth all the trouble? Is it worth putting your expression and speech at the mercy of Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey? I think not.