Is social media dead?
The Future. The ongoing decline of some of the world’s largest social media companies has been so steep that many are wondering if the age of social media is over. As the most financially successful “social media” apps have come to resemble one-way broadcasting services rather than social networking sites, the question remains as to whether sites truly devoted to creating communities will survive — if such a thing even exists.
They all fall down
Twitter and Facebook — two of the world’s largest social media titans — are collapsing.
- Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that Meta would lay off 11,000 employees. Meanwhile, Elon Musk has been scrambling to save Twitter in the wake of mass advertiser defection, a debt crisis, lawsuits from former employees, and more.
- While some “social media” sites are growing rapidly — TikTok, YouTube, Twitch, and to some degree, Instagram — they’re less social networks than one-way broadcasting services that captivate users with an endless feed. The model is wildly profitable, but it’s not really social media. It’s solitary entertainment.
- The earliest social networking sites, like LinkedIn and Friendster, were primarily about networking: utilizing social connections.
- 10 to 15 years ago, though, the arrival of Instagram and the smartphone changed this. The purpose of social networking platforms gradually pivoted to post-resharing and content generation because both of these increased platform engagement and, ultimately, ad revenue.
- As these platforms aligned increasingly with profit motives, polarization and misinformation multiplied, advanced by algorithms designed to hold users’ attention. Now, sites like Facebook are unrecognizable from their origins.
If social media is giving way to a kind of broadcasting like TV, what could take its place?
Some apps are trying to figure that out. Mastodon — the app that tons of Twitter defectors have gravitated to — is a decentralized, less scalable alternative to Twitter that’s less likely to be co-opted by advertisers. And Reddit is an example of an effective social networking site, with its focus on niche discussion threads. Still, all of its users are anonymous, linked by shared passions rather than a community that meets in the physical world.
The bigger question is this: can a platform be truly devoted to community when that platform is privately owned? How can we create a space that prioritizes human connection over one-sided surveillance, whether that watching is done by other people or corporations mining our data? How can profit be disentangled from community?
Only time will tell.