Social Media is on the decline. Not just any one site but all of it. The entire idea. Traffic everywhere is down. What we once saw as a way to stay connected to our friends became a tool to be used against us. By advertisers after our attention, by politicians pushing their propaganda. Any passing thought potentially turned into ammo for haters years down the line, influencers and thought leaders trying to lead and influence our thoughts. People getting fired for likes and retweets, or executed for daring to speak out. It’s no surprise that these sites are less appealing than they once were. But where are people going instead? Private chats, direct messages, curated groups and gated discords. Back to our friends, away from everyone else.
Some of you might remember the running joke on Twitter circa 2009 where anytime anything bad happened we’d explain it by saying “Brands.” Why was the price of gas going up? Brands. Why weren’t my friends seeing my tweets? Brands. Why did the radio keep playing this song I hate? Brands. You get the idea. Thats about the time the site shifted from being a place to talk to your friends to being a place for brands to sell you things. Social media was exciting when it was a place to learn the news from locals talking about their own experiences, but that was quickly taken over by major media who wanted to capitalize on the attention. “That’s where people are, so that’s where we’ll go!” At one point I was arguing “we don’t need to say social media anymore because at this point all media is social” though at the time I thought that was a good thing, I thought that was a sign of news outlets giving in to our way of working, but it was actually them co-opting it for themselves.
At some people people started writing safety protocols for the younger generation signing up for the sites filled with thoughtful precautions none of us had ever taken ourselves. It took almost 20 years, but our worst fears all came true. I talked to my son about this and he bluntly said there’s nothing appealing about any of these sites, it’s just people trying to push shit on him and he doesn’t see any reason to ever spend time there. No one sees his posts anyway. He’d much rather hang out in a voice chat with a few of his friends. Thinking back to my own childhood and how much time I spent on the phone and how exciting 3-way calling was and even the introduction of Party Lines (though I was never allowed to try them) I can’t really argue with his logic.
The thing that made the internet so exciting, the chance to connect with other people, has been turned into endless commercials and non-stop surveillance. That’s what we were trying to get away from in the first place. Writing this I don’t know why I still spend any time there either. If the algorithms don’t even let me see posts from my friends who I intentionally follow, what’s the point? Maybe I just want to see how it all ends.
I do find myself getting much more out of the private telegram groups and gated discord channels. Secret societies without all the pomp and theater, (not that there’s anything wrong with the pomp and theater) just people with shared interests connecting and hanging out. In a way, it’s what we wanted from Social Media in the beginning, but could never be done correctly by a company. We just needed a protocol that worked, a way to connect A to B without a need to jack up user numbers or meet profitability goals. Let Zuck and Elon and all those other fucks have the castles they built. They’ve become useless to us and we’re moving out.
I write that knowing it comes across with all the earnestness of a 7 year old storming into the kitchen and informing his parents that he’s packed up his favorite toys and is running away because he can no longer live under the oppression of their mandated bedtime. But I’m not pounding my chest acting like we’ll go build our own site and show them! I’m just saying that for most of human history people were able to communicate with their friends directly and it worked out pretty well, and for the last couple decades we tried letting companies be the intermediary to those relationships and it was a disaster, so we can just go back to talking to each other directly. Those sites need us, but we don’t need them. Sure there’s an entire generation or two that don’t know how to communicate without Facebook but the algo will get them too, or red pill them or whatever else causes their families to stop talking to them and they will have to pick up a phone. The change won’t be overnight, but it’s inevitable. RIP social media. You had your moment, and it was fleeting af.