Tuesday 2¢: You are social media

Many of us complain about our social media experience, and yes, big tech and its algorithms have much to answer for, but in this Tuesday 2¢, I wonder if some of the blame sits with us.

When we are stuck in traffic and complaining about it, we are traffic. We are the thing we are complaining about. And, seeing people complain about social media on social media, I had a thought that it’s like that old thing about traffic.

We choose whom to follow on social media, what to like and what to be outraged or offended by, and what to share.

Long-time Twitter users crave for the clock to be rewound from where we are now to when it a better time when the platform first started. It’s an attractive idea; I certainly feel that Twitter was a friendlier place in 2009 than it is now.

Many folks, including me, quickly followed lots and lots of people, maybe cynically, in the hope to gain followers, without really thinking about what social content experience this will give them.

Who are these people? What do they have to say? Who is the person behind the witty tweet or article we liked?

Our feed is then filled with the thoughts of many people we hardly know, sometimes giving us something new, different, and wonderful to think about, but often not so much. We chose that wall of content. We chose this experience.

Are we really wanting to rewind the clock to a different Twitter, or is it more about going back to when we followed a few hundred people we were more engaged with and knew better?

Even the ads, to a certain extent, are down to us. My Facebook feed promotes stories about Chelsea FC, Formula 1, for some reason, seemingly endless videos of making things with wood and epoxy, and of course, the annoying retargeting of things I’ve glanced at on the internet from pick-up trucks to B2B marketing tools.

These things are still down to me; it’s in the algorithm’s interest to serve me stuff I might click on. I’ve clearly shown an interest in videos of things made with wood and epoxy, I’m an F1 and Chelsea fan, and I am still flirting with the idea of buying a pick-up truck if we are ever allowed to go anywhere again.

I take the old-fashioned view of not discussing politics or religion in polite company. Still, I’m sure if I did, Facebook would eagerly reinforce whatever perspective I’ve expressed with more of the same. Again, down to me.
LinkedIn is a better experience for me than Twitter, but I believe this is because I have been disciplined. I only connect with people I’ve met, know, or have done something significant with remotely. My feed is full of the thoughts of people I somewhat know.

On LinkedIn, people complain that they connect with someone they don’t know, who misplaces their trust and tries to sell them something immediately. Well, what did you expect? You didn’t know this person.
What often happens when you get an unexpected knock on your front door?

It’s someone hawking something; do you need your driveway paved, trees trimmed, or a magazine that will get you closer to Jesus? Often, if you open the door, you immediately know you should have pretended to be out. You don’t blame the door, the pavement, or the road. You opened the door.

There is a lot wrong with social media. We can create a personalized, curated bubble, driven by these algorithms, which only reinforces our perspective is bad for the diversity of thought and entrenches extreme views. It’s our human nature to click on and seek out content that reinforces the story we tell ourselves about ourselves.

As is often stated, in years gone by, we had limited access to media, a handful of TV channels and the content we consumed was curated for fairness, balance, and breadth (the same with our education). We were constantly exposed to people who were not like us and ideas we either didn’t know or disagreed with, and this mix was governed.

For example, often when I am driving I listen to Radio 4 on the BBC, it’s talk radio, and they have a long-running show called “Woman’s Hour”, yes, I feel it’s not for me, I’m almost intruding, I wonder if I should change the channel, but I listen and learn a new perspective.

Yes, big tech and their algorithms purposefully prey on our deep primitive brain. The heavily curated by algorithm nature of the social media experience leads us down our own rabbit holes. Something needs to be done about their responsibility as media channels, but that’s the topic of another rant.

We need to recognize that the responsibility of curating our media consumption to ensure it’s balanced, fair, and broad has now moved from those that governed our media to now being down to us. We are responsible for our own enlightenment.

There is a deeper point that we need to educate people to do this, and a story for another day is that if in my 20’s, I’d lived in a personalized world, I believe I would not be married to my wife.

I’ve digressed, back to my original point;

Like traffic, we are social media.

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