A non-toxic social media space is a pipe dream
Toxicity continues to be alive and well in the world of virtual spaces.
In many ways, the pandemic has been a ‘boon’ for social media giants. Certainly, no amount of forecasting could have predicted the unprecedented upsurge in user engagement these platforms have been experiencing since the start of this year. Unfortunately, that has included folks, like myself, who ‘filed for digital divorce’ a few years ago in a last bid to retain what was left of their sanity.
It’s been nearly three years since I unceremoniously showed all my social media apps the door (save for WhatsApp, which, for lack of a feed that swamps you with unsolicited updates of other people’s lives, hasn’t been as detrimental to my mental well-being). For reasons mostly related to work, however, I’ve had to revive the lot of them. I did so in the vain hope that things had changed. Well, to put it lightly, more fool me.
Toxicity continues to be alive and well in the world of virtual spaces. Even LinkedIn — which used to be a much ‘drier’ platform to record professional milestones — is now swamped with sensationalised posts that depend heavily on the same algorithms powering Facebook and Instagram to help you stand out in a sea of information. It seems that a non-toxic social media space is but a pipe dream for mostly one reason: it’s forgotten why it began.
Right from when Six Degrees, Hi5, and Orkut first broke out onto the scene, to when Facebook and Co. cemented themselves as the biggest bullies on the playground, the universal offering was that of connection. Discovering friends old and new was the great allure. But, today, we’re kidding ourselves if we imagine social media is still about relationships. What it has transmogrified into is a marketplace — something only too evident from the massive jumps in ad revenue the brands are seeing. (Last year, Facebook generated more than 98 per cent of its total revenue for the year from advertising.)
More than capitalists driving interests though, it’s the toxicity stemming from the intangible marketplace of ideas that has proven especially incorrigible and irredeemable. In this age of big data and social justice, we’re either being told exactly what to think by big shots with influence — or being incessantly lobbied by ‘warriors’ with agendas. The ability to broadcast one’s every thought without filter has proven deadly. Is it any wonder that studies have shown that people are deactivating accounts or opting for digital detoxes in droves?
The system is definitely broken. Necessity being the mother of invention and all that, perhaps that will spawn a new generation of social media spaces with a framework that will leave toxicity at the door. But what ought to be the biggest wake-up call for us is that the primary cause for the ongoing exodus — from online to offline — is not boredom or some other trivial rationale: it’s mental health. And on that front, it’s just not enough to tick a box that says it’s complicated.
To European ears, of course, that sounds a little bit too close to Trumpian contempt.
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