2020-08-01 The problem of social media

Sometimes I wonder about the construction of social media: built to comment on anything, thus revealing all our shit opinions to each other, leading to estrangement and abandonment. I don’t trust anyone anymore. There are so many ways to be wrong: on taxes, on public health, on politeness, on what’s the best text editor – and any single opinion spouting event turns into an uncomfortable reveal.

Maybe that’s why deliberate platforms, where it is harder to post, either because the software is bad, or there are costs associated with it, like long form blogging, make for a better reading experience: where you don’t end up disillusioned in your fellow humans. Or is this simply my filter bubble and social media simply reveals the limits of my own tolerance, the closeness of my horizon? 🤔

Why can’t we just be friends, accepting our respective opinions? I think we can, but face to face we differ in our taste of clothes and our preferred pastry but online we differ in our opinions on black lives, Islam, taxes, immigration, and these opinions affect other people not just yourself. I think that’s what makes the difference. How else would you explain the difference, or have you managed the balancing act?

I think it hurts even more on Facebook because we used to know these people face to face. My current disappointment is my wife reading me the opinions she finds of people that used to be our friends. And… maybe I should geoblock Switzerland from my blog so that my real and imagined friends from the face to face past can’t read my shit opinions.

In offline society we don’t run into this as often. In church, at work, in pottery class, at the play ground – it’s easier to bond with people because you don’t know about their shitty opinions. There’s fear of repercussions, of non-verbal negative feedback.

Maybe that negative blowback is missing, but then again I also understand that some people need safe spaces to vent their opinions without the blowback they get in real life. Hm. Not sure.

Perhaps we still need to figure out how to best use social media. At least some of us have learned that maximizing engagement does not lead to good outcomes. Little advancement, at least.

I think the problem with general wisdom like we’re all wrong some of the time and don’t know it because we all hold opinions based on the best of our knowledge – the problem with statements such as these is that it’s unclear what we should do with this insight. It’s not actionable. Once I accept my limitations with humility, what do I do? It might explain the phenomenon, but what is the solution? To discuss politics with friends until we all learned something? Sounds like what we did back when I was twenty years old. Or just let them be, and be friends and ignore what they say online?

I guess we could try and suspend judgement on other peoples’ opinions. But what else should we judge but opinions? There’s no point in being judgmental about anything else, I think. Or then the entire thing about judging – having opinions about others because of their opinions – is flawed. Or: all opinions are flawed in a religious sense – but that doesn’t help me in my daily life unless I shut myself in, proclaiming all opinions a distraction from the good life I intend to live without contact to anybody else.

I used to think that forgiving people is where we end up if all goes well; or a culture of hidden identities and double lives if things go badly; but now I see we have ended up in a culture where we use real names to be wrong online and all it leads to is me scratching friends off the friends list. I find myself forgiving but not forgetting – and so my esteem of fellow humans keeps dropping day by day.

So now we need a delicate, fragmented, multi-faceted approach: face to face friends who will take me in after a breakup; internet friends to vent – and sometimes to learn because our own opinions are flawed; people who share my politics regarding taxation; people who share my view on immigration; circles and circles…

Is this me arguing for an algorithmic segmentation of social media friends? When we tried this “circles” thing on Google+ it definitely didn’t work like that, that’s for sure. Too complicated, too time consuming. Face to face, we do it implicitly, in the background, all the time. Online, using software, we have to explicitly move accounts from one circle to the next. It just never works that way.

Thanks for your comments on social media, @hannu, @InternetKevin, @Jens, @superruserr.


Good reply by @acdw.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-08-01 16:28 UTC

  • BLM = thinly veiled black power movement capitalizing on a tragedy
  • Islam = superstition, values incompatible with civilization
  • immigration = cultural suicide. breeds culture wars.

(All these subjects receive protection by censorship and deplatforming. Modern blasphemy. Making them heavily contested warzone subjects. Because censorship has driven a wedge between common sense and the consensus. )

The previous generation knew talking politics or religion with friends was a good way to lose friends. Current one prioritizes hunting thought-crimes.

People who use their real names on the internet are being fleeced by megacorps who are burning society down to make a buck.

Most people’s beliefs are absurd: ghosts, psychics, horoscopes, healing crystals, a religion you don’t hold, etc. Don’t lose sleep over it.

– Anonymous 2020-08-01 17:35 UTC

You certainly have shitty opinions and we can’t be friends.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-08-01 20:15 UTC

Hi Alex,

I think this report which I “ran into” the other day will interest (and, sorry, depress) you if you haven’t seen it before. While not directly (but maybe causally??) related to your posts contents it is definitely fitting to the title:

I will quote the book “The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crises” where I found the reference to the report:

Three centuries ago Jonathan Swift wrote, “Falsehood flies and truth comes limping after it.” How prophetic this turned out to be. A recent analysis by MIT shows that on Twitter lies spread on average six times faster than truth, and that truth never reaches the same level of penetration. Social media is an engine for the production and dissemination of lies.

From the report itself:

Whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people, the top 1% of false-news cascades routinely diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people.


– Björn Buckwalter 2020-08-04 10:59 UTC

Interesting to see people actually researching this. Thanks for these links!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-08-04 11:23 UTC

Interesting reply by @acdw. The following is based on an email I wrote in reply.

Context collapse is definitely a thing. And yet, content collapse seems to be a phenomenon centered around the kinds of identities I want to corpartimentalize – but that would seem to be independent of my disappointment in my fellow humans. Sure, perhaps I’m suffering from their context collapse. They can’t keep “serious Alex” separated from their Hicks-admiring friends or something like that, and so I’m seeing a side of them that I did not want to see (and that they did not care to show me).

But perhaps the main issue is that we all believe in things such as integrity and honesty and authenticity which are now shown to be either an illusion protected by context separation, or unattainable, because of all the mutually exclusive demands made on us, or unsuitable concepts to structure our social interactions. If I know that nobody is (nor can they be!) as honest and authentic (and I want to add: as integer! Hah!) as we expect them to be, I’m setting myself of for disappointment.

Is this still context collapse or is that already something else? It feels like a breakdown of some of our core values, of values that are part of our self-identity (in German we’d say “identitäts-stiftende Werte” – values that provide identity). Those who still believe in integrity and honesty and authenticity face an impossible task or find themself excluded from life online, and those who don’t believe in them – what do they believe in? I’m looking at the neofascists all around me and I get a sinking feeling about all of that.

– Alex

I think Social Media are pure anti-social poison. More and more long term studies now get published that demonstrate that the more you use them, the more depressed, suicidal or angry you get.

So we all should try to avoid it like drugs. They might taste good at first but the long term consequences are severe. Also consider the indirect interaction effects, e.g. four people sitting at a table and all updating their social media profiles instead of talking to each other.

I try to focus my online activities on the “old internet”: reading some niche hobby message boards for D&D or adult piano beginners and looking up stuff (images, wikipedia entries, annual reports). Everything else is just a waste of time at best and makes me feel angry or miserable at worst.

– Peter 2020-08-06 12:51 UTC

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