Disintegrated Parts

#algorithms #social-media

A significant change in the way social media functioned has occurred over the years. MSN had been my first serious social media platform, or perhaps service. From there onwards Facebook, Twitter and many others came along, which I also dealt with.

All these platforms somehow supported status updates. The main difference however had been the role these status updates fulfilled on the platform. With Twitter for example, public status updates had been the main function of the platform. For Facebook status updates were a thing as well, but mainly focussed on social cohesion and organizing.

MSN however is completely different from these other platforms. MSN had not been designed around status updates, but around chat instead. Status updates only had a supporting role by inviting users to a personal interaction instead.

Over time unfortunately it seems like we are moving further and further away from this concept of personal interaction. Nowadays interactions on social media feel like either we’re in an echo chamber, or like we’re shouting into the void. Status updates had been decoupled from their personal social function, and instead we started addressing the world, rather than the small social circle around us. TikTok seemingly takes this principle one step further by promoting group behaviour. Something somehow becomes popular upon which vast amounts of people start to imitate the original art. In that regard it truly functions as a collective cultural hive-mind. Although ongoing cultural developments are important, the social aspect to TikTok is mostly lost. As such I wouldn’t categorize TikTok as social media any longer, but instead as cultural media.

Even though cultures and subcultures can feel a great form of social cohesion, the difficulty with TikTok is that it is a socially isolating force, rather than that it connects people. The cultural trends emerging from the platform are opaque, and due to the black box algorithm running it can differ between people. Even though subcultures back in the day were distinctively recognizable by their ways and their walks, such thing is barely the case any longer. The somewhat homogeneous blend that seemingly developed over time makes it significantly more difficult to identify subcultures and groups of people. Following the current trends the next big social media platform is where one is made to feel like they are part of an even bigger cultural movement, while being even further isolated from the messy realities of real social interaction.

Socially no such thing is sustainable however. If you’re addressing everyone all the time, you’re addressing no one in particular. It’s incredibly isolating, and the direction such algorithm pushes you can even be detrimental to your own health. The authority such algorithm by itself takes to push one in a certain direction can feel disempowering. Combined with assumptions about whom a person is I would argue this may eventually (hopefully only in severe cases) lead to severe mental health issues, for there is a disconnect about intrinsic hopes and dreams, and the direction a classifier pushes you into. These algorithms have the power to bring relief for a short amount of time, while at the same time having the potential to fracture whole societies.

At the same time not all hope is lost. Not at all. Due to the hostile takeover of one of the big social media platforms by a lunatic, an alternative social media platform had become a more vibrant place. The beauty is that this platform is decentralized, and there is not just a single actor whom can determine the direction of it. It’s a mess, just like societies are, but that’s a beautiful mess. It’s a more accurate and sane depiction of our real environments, which in this time of widespread algorithmic manipulation can feel like a relief. Because this platform can be extended by anyone I am looking forward to eventually providing my own interpretation of what social media could and should be. More about that later though.

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