I've been on social media for about as long as it has been around being a GenX kid. I recently got kicked off of one of the major players for playing too rough apparently which led me to explore an up and comer platform. It was nice. It reminded me of the Golden Age of social media, the time before governments, big corporations and advertisers get a hold of a platform and destroy it. Here are my thoughts about the transformation from what I would define as a pure platform and its slow demise as outside forces attack and destroy the social fabric of social media.
Average people when left to their own devices will often share posts about music, travel, children, pets, food, inspiring quotes and stories, some sports perhaps, play games maybe, and share jokes. That's what we do on our own without interference. Often there is beauty and love in the posts. People share the things that bring us together, things that we care about the most. This usually builds large platforms of users happily chatting and sharing like a fun picnic or cocktail party.
Politics can come into these early stages, particularly now a days because it has become so prevalent and worrisome in our daily lives. But often in the pure phase of a social media platform, politics is a spicy side dish that a few wish to partake in, but it is far from the entire content meal. It's over there, not center stage. It's not the main driver of clicks and shares.
Then as a platform becomes more popular the bad actors arrive. My heart sinks and angers simply at the typing of it. They ruin everything! And here's how. Often you hear snide comments laughing about people sharing snaps of their lunch. Then they come in with vicious kinds of politics for clicks. Not problem solving politics mind you. They are articles and posts meant to incite anger and inspire an attack on an individual. That individual is chosen because they represent a group, teachers, police officers, public servants, and groups. Groups are racial, ethnic, class, however humans can be divided up and set against one another.
Don't get me wrong. There are times when this outrage is absolutely called for. There is a great deal of corruption going on in the world today. Abuses of power and valiant struggles to find Justice in and unjust world. However, the side effect of a cesspool of this kind of strike and attack content created solely to create outrage and hatred without channeling that energy into an outcome that is more suitable to the group only creates a community of hostility and destruction. Not one of coming together in a spirit of finding out how to harmoniously share public space with one another which would be a far more meaningful discourse to engage in. It would be far more productive to solve problems that way.
This dark social space is not the fault of the average user. They only reflect the world in which they live. The pain forced on them from an increasingly authoritarian and austere political and economic environment is like the boiling frog in that they don't feel the heat until it is too late and they are captured in it. Where else can they go to let off steam and feel heard? If they don't let off steam life feels a great deal less manageable. So though a casual observer might find this behavior unhealthy and unreasonable it is quite the opposite. It is very healthy and reasonable especially when due to lack funding or access, no professional counseling or guidance is available to them.
Nevertheless, as advertisers begin to take up the time line which people resent because they come to social media to escape the pressures of corporatism and finance. As the political forces fear monger and vomit false platitudes on the screen. As corporate media churns out miles and miles worth of vicious click bait the environment of social media discourse becomes more acidic and vile until it breaks. That hasn't happened yet but it is close. A societal reckoning.
It is not that this vicious content doesn't hold a truth to it. People are telling their truths on social media. Each personal lived experience, even if totally fabricated holds a truth because to advertise how you would like the world to be and your place in it holds as much powerful truth as reporting strictly in unemotional terms what is happening in your space. However,when that becomes a pumping of a particular kind of manipulative communication which is not meant to do anything but spread a false narrative like a virus in order for people to participate in destructive behavior that is not beneficial to anyone but a few who profit off of it that holds no moral or social value.
I am happy that I have been released from that Hell. It is nice to be on a new platform again looking at puppies and kitties, lunch, and beautiful landscapes. Smiles of laughing families having fun. This is the best of us as humanity. This is the best of not only what social media can be, it's also the best of what we as humanity can be as well. I support that.
Sophia Tesch is a graduate of the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University. Sophia is a community advocate. She lives in San Tan Valley, Arizona with her husband and children.