The Future of Digital Social Networking
For the past seven years, I've become increasingly skeptical of the techno-utopian narrative that the trend towards digitization and the dominance of the internet as the premier means of communication and commerce will continue into perpetuity. My skepticism has been driven in part by an intuition of a fundamental wrongness underlying large swaths of the Web, especially social media platforms. That dysfunction has come into pubic view since 2016, first with election meddling, and now with domestic terrorism. For example, the El Paso shooter was partly radicalized by the insular, online community of white supremacists, particularly on the platform 8chan. As the New York Times wrote in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, while it's hard to draw a direct link between domestic terrorism and online content:
the design of internet platforms can create and reinforce extremist beliefs. Their recommendation algorithms often steer users toward edgier content, a loop that results in more time spent on the app, and more advertising revenue for the company. Their hate speech policies are weakly enforced. And their practices for removing graphic videos—like the ones that circulated on social media for hours after the Christchurch shooting, despite the companies’ attempts to remove them—are inconsistent at best.
We also know that many recent acts of offline violence bear the internet’s imprint. Robert Bowers, the man charged with killing 11 people and wounding six others at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, was a frequent user of Gabi, a social media platform beloved by extremists. Cesar Sayoc, the man charged with sending explosives to prominent critics of President Trump last year, was immersed in a cesspool of right-wing Twitter and Facebook memes. (from "A Shooting Disturbingly Rooted in the Internet," 3/16/2019.)
Mark O'Connell in the New Yorker (The Deliberate Awfulness of Social Media) and James Bridle on Medium.com (Something is Wrong on the Internet) have also written compellingly about the ways the web has been hijacked towards the ends of profit and influence. But keeping the conversation focused on social networking, it's worth asking how much longer this state of affairs can go on. Will the entirety of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like become cesspools of deep fakes, bots, and hucksters? And if that happens, will people migrate to different web platforms? Or perhaps, as the result of a wider confluence of events and trends, will they abandon digital social networking entirely? I have some thoughts on how all of this could play out, but I'm interested in hearing what others in this community think.
Also, I found this prediction for the year 2025: Facebook is done. (Julie)
I believe there will always be a places on the internet where people united by their beliefs, no matter how positive or abhorrent will gather and exchange ideas, opinions and information. However, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. are ephemeral because their revenue generation models are flawed. The information they sell-- I think it will either become prohibited or simply worth less or better tech will supersede them.
I agree Rowsella, one way or another, the tech giant's revenue model of selling user's data will become unprofitable. In the economy thread @Celticwitch posted that she saw people coming off the internet when the economy crashes. I've also been thinking that in the event of an economic crisis, the "spell" will be broken and people will stop spending so much time on social media. The demands of the real world will just be become a lot more urgent and compelling.