Social media

Over on Mastodon, said something important:

I feel bad for peep that come 2 fedi make these heart felt posts and get literally 0 interaction, no stars, no reshares, no follows, [eventually] they just leave. and thats on us, Fedi doesn't have an algorithm to [link] people with their interests, and the way federation functions it can easily over represent certain people ( like anime spammers ) while giving others 0 reach

I’ve got complicated feelings about this, so writing them out here feels more appropriate than a simple reply over there.

First, it makes sense that people come to the internet looking for connection and community. These are things that we need, and this hegemonic society deprives us of them (sometimes it feels like that’s by design — they make us miserable and use our misery to goad us into buying crap and obeying leaders — but it could be an emergent property, and this is an unnecessary digression). Those of us who recognize these human needs, and who have found our own needs occasionally fulfilled on the internet, probably do have a collective responsibility to look out for each other. So in that regard I absolutely agree with the sentiment of the post.

On the other hand, I believe that modern social media platforms have made addicts of most of us. All this “engagement” (likes, boosts, replies, follows, etc.) is designed to feel rewarding, occasionally thrilling, so it’s natural that we come online seeking these feelings. But this is a habit that we’re well served to break. Like most addictions, people often get caught up in unhealthy behaviors seeking these signals, and they suffer because of it. But maybe worse than that, our engagement with this cycle gets in the way of actually building the sort of community which we came online to find in the first place. The relationships we need to build happen through different kinds of interactions than the ones facilitated by social media platforms. I think this is true even for “good” social media platforms that have good cultures, are well moderated, and full of nice and interesting people.

Our interactions are influenced by the tools through which we interact, and social media gives us a particular set of tools. I want to make it clear that I’m not anti-social media, for the same reason that I’m not anti-eating desserts. These platforms (the aforementioned good ones, at least) are a ton of fun, but they can’t meet all of our social needs. A boost on Mastodon feels nice, and an email received in reply to a post feels even better. But neither comes close to the feelings that depend on actually building relationships with people who have similar values and aspirations. These connections take a lot of time to build — it usually takes years, especially through online correspondence.

So if you’re feeling lonely and unheard, know that you deserve better. The internet might be able to help you, but be careful not to fall into a trap of mistaking social media engagement from the actual community-seeking that you need. Online and off, meet people. Get to know them. Let them know you. It’s not always easy or fun (but sometimes it’s the easiest and most fun), but you’ll feel better in the end.

And then we’ll fix this society together.