Hey, I know that being condescended to by someone that has quit using social media feels bad. I try not to shame people for using it. I used social media hours and hours a day. I'm just trying to help others recover from it and try to think of other ways to interact online.

work in progress.

Table of Contents

  • Content You Never Asked For
  • Gambling & Infinite Feeds
  • Love, Hate, Repeat
  • Mark Hates Users
  • Advertising Scams
  • Real Name Policy
  • Lessons from the "Old Web"

    Content You Never Asked For

    Via the infinite feed, we are bombarded with content that we had no choice in seeing. While the "infinite feed" is taken as a given in the Web2.0 era.
    We hate seeing advertisements when we are going about our daily life, we hate being harassed by a random stranger while walking around, we hate neighbors who are loud and rude when we are trying to relax.

    All of these things though are basically what we accept via the layout of infinite-feed social media: a bunch of stuff we never asked for, given to us by a black box algorithm we can never understand and which might even be intentionally designed to hurt us!

    Gambling & Infinite Feeds

    One of the tricks of gambling and why it is so addictive to people is the randomness itself - you never know when you will win big, or win a small prize, etc, so every time it happens you feel grateful and lucky and good. This is basically what the infinite feed does to us, and what the notification systems do.

    We might complain that a lot of our feed is "irrelevant" content, that many notifications we get are "bogus" notifications that are meaningless. This is part of the design and addictive nature though. It is exactly because genuinely meaningful things are nested between "annoying" and "pointless" content which makes the act of checking more satisfying.

    Checking in itself is a compulsive habit that makes us feel in control. When we check, we may not have control of what we see, but we can judge and respond to what we check, and that act of "judging" and "evaluating" the thing being checked is satisfying to us in itself, regardless of the content.

    Love, Hate, Repeat

    Even worse, the more extreme the random reward or "punishment" is, the more addictive it gets. You would think that after getting into a heated argument or flame war or harassment battle on social media, it would sour you on using it.

    In fact, it does the opposite! Traumatic, painful and unpleasant experiences actually keep us using the platform similar to how abusers will hurt us, and then turn around and offer us something nice to "make up" for it, which makes us confused and kills our ego and sense of autonomy. Negative experiences on social media do the same thing to us, we are drawn back in because of how extreme the negative emotions are mixed with the "making up" for it with content we like or need.

    Mark Hates Users

    Judging from the fact that Mark Zuckerberg is quoted as having said people who using facebook are "fucking idiots" and that the site was designed to rank women by attractiveness, it isn't surprising that these abusive tactics are used, and it wouldn't be surprising if they are actually very intentionally planned.

    Advertising Scams

    If you have ever had the misfortune of running a page on Facebook or many other Web2.0 platforms, you might have been suckered into paying for on-platform advertising.

    You may have, like me, paid for ads only to realize that not only has the platform taken your money and simply fed your page a bunch of fake bot "likes" or follows, but that you have actually paid money to destroy your own page because those low-engagement likes and follows de-prioritize your page!

    I thankfully didn't spend much more than $30 on ads on Facebook, but the fact that that money not only didn't help but hurt my page is absolutely infuriating.

    Real Name Policy

    These web2.0 platforms require your real name. If you have talked to any trans person, you will realize how problematic this policy is, but furthermore if you have ever been harassed or stalked on these platforms you will realize that stalkers and nefarious actors using fake names almost never get banned, but Domestic Violence victims, trans folks, sex workers, are regularly banned for not using their real names. Is this surprising? I'd like to see some research on this, because everyone i know only has anecdotal evidence, but Facebook consistently lies and makes excuses for this type of stuff so why would research on the harms or maliciousness effect anything?

    Lessons from the "Old Web"

    I was talking to a friend who had never used Myspace back in the day. One of the immediate things that they were flabbergasted by was that Myspace didn't have an infinite-scrolling news feed. How did people find content to engage with? Well, on Myspace there were messaging groups you could join that were basically like mailing lists, but then main way that people interacted was by commenting on each others' profiles. Especially having used infinite-feed platforms so long, this seems bizarre.

    You had to actually go to someone's page to interact with them, and the primary content of the platform is interactions and profiles themselves: people read the comments on each others profiles, read people's interests and about me and browsed their photos and notes (little blog entries). It was much more intimate, although it also allowed for a lot of vanity and could be seen as self-absorbed. However, we should consider how early social media sites like Myspace were inherently focused on people themselves, not "content".

    Before Myspace and others, there were Forums and BBS's, which also have a completely different social "flow", that you could call something like "slow communication". You could argue that forums and BBS's are designed in a way to make people communicate more reflectively and thoughtfully.

    On the other hand, there also was IRC chat, which was the opposite of slow, but still differs a lot from chatting on Web2.0 social media: IRC chat logs were often impermanent, whereas Web2.0 chats and instant messaging is very permanent and almost force the user to mull over every message and go back and review conversations over and over. IRC also brought together people that largely didn't know each other at all based on a common interest, while Web2.0 social media largely brings together people who already know each other (the "network effect" that Facebook relied on so heavily). This leads to another long-lost aspect of the "Old Web": Pseudonymity.

    Before Web2.0, pseudonymity (using a consistent alias instead of one's real name) or even anonymity, was the default. Pseudonymity allowed people to form an identity separate from their IRL self, and I would argue that this inherently encouraged people to not only listen to other perspectives, but even fully inhabit another perspective, and for many people it can be a very liberating experience that helps one grow to be more tolerant and consider other perspectives more thoughtfully.

    Pseudonymity, however, can definitely fail when it is combined with Web2.0-type social environments: people can inhabit their pseudonym so fully and consistently that they become convinced it is the same thing as their actual "self", and then they become egotistical and shitty. Anonymity is a whole different can of worms that I don't really feel like I can analyze or explain because the way it effects people is so incredibly complex.

    I will say though, that in the Web2.0 era, most people have almost no way at all to experience either pseudonymity or anonymity - and I would argue this not only defeats one of the core purposes of having a "world wide web", but deprives people of experiences that can be really enlightening and rewarding. Being able to have an "alter-ego" is good for the imagination, and being able to be just an anonymous face (or default picture) in the crowd can be a relief, and being able to talk to other anonymous people without fear of judgment can be very therepeutic.