It’s Time for a Social Reboot

It’s Time for a Social Reboot

6 minute read

It might be a little awkward to come out of a 10-year blogging hiatus to tackle such a complicated topic. But these are thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for over a year, and it’s time to share them. I’m hoping to put into words what a lot of you are thinking.

So I’m just going to get to the point:

The Internet Is Broken.

OK, maybe not the whole internet. Just the social part. Which is, like, a lot of it. You could argue that digital communication is the point of the internet. Which is probably why social media platforms are so popular.

What value does social media provide? We want to feel connected with family, friends, coworkers, and strangers who share our values and experiences. We want to know what’s going on in our world – news and politics, sports and entertainment – recipes, makeup tutorials, stunt fails. This is not such a bad thing.

It’s human nature to want to be “in the know”, and we want to beat that FOMO feeling. So social media platforms provide that benefit to us. In return, they have our eyeballs, with which they make their profits.

Some platforms (like YouTube) even share some of the profits with their content creators. It’s not an altogether horrible bargain when we state it like that. So what’s wrong with it?

Each Platform is a Silo

Social media, as you’re aware, is fragmented like crazy. Every platform has its niche: you’ve got a platform for your friends and family. Another one for coworkers and networking. Another one for your neighborhood. Another one for photos. Another one for videos. Another one for DIY projects. Another one for random thoughts for anyone who will read them.

And you probably have an account on each one. If you’re like most people, part of your daily routine consists of scrolling through at least a few of these apps:

social icons

So the value of social media is spread out across the various platforms.

Some people try to fix this by re-posting to multiple platforms. A tweet with a Youtube link. A Facebook post from Instagram. Then of course you get to see duplicates of your friend’s Hawaiian vacation photos everywhere. I was jealous enough when I saw them on Facebook, Amber, but now I have to see them on Instagram too?

Worse, think about “cross-tagging”. Let’s say you have a friend @fubar on Instagram, and you tag them in a photo of last night’s awesome party. Then you decide to post that photo with its description on Twitter, where someone else has the @fubar handle. That stranger just got at-mentioned in your Tweet, and probably got an email with your photo in it! Awkward.

Each Platform is a Gatekeeper

As you scroll through your feed, you may forget that each piece of content you see is determined by an algorithm developed by the company. It may be a relatively harmless re-ordering of posts that you might be most interested in. It might be to filter out adult-oriented or truly disturbing content. Or it might be that slippery slope of “offensive” content that the platform doesn’t want you to see, maybe even curated by humans with natural biases.

The flip side of the coin, and what may be even less obvious to you, is that your own content goes through that same algorithm. Let’s be real, your kid’s summer camp photos or your hot-take on #whatever will probably make it through the gauntlet. But what if your opinions or beliefs don’t align with those of the platform? Will that post show up when your friends or followers are scrolling through their feeds? If you’re consistently going against the grain with your controversial thoughts, you could get “shadowbanned”, “demonetized”, or even “deplatformed”.

But what about freedom of speech and the First Amendment and all that? Read the First Amendment. It limits Congress, not private companies. If you want to play in their sandbox, you have to play by their rules.

Each Platform is a Data Miner

The relationship between social media platforms and their users was summed up very well almost a decade ago:

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:41 PM on August 26, 2010

These software companies have developed their apps and maintain their servers, while you’ve acquired their user base for them, and you provide the content that keeps them coming back. But that content belongs to them. Their users – you and your friends and followers – belong to them.

In order to keep their customers (the advertisers) happy, these platforms must understand how to most effectively sell their product (you). So these platforms build a profile about you based on your location, the content you post, the people in your network and how you interact with them, and a whole host of other secret-sauce metrics.

Targeted advertising is not especially controversial anymore. In fact, there’s a convenience to it: why should I see an ad for a snowplow when I live in Fresno? But that’s just a side benefit. The real point of targeted advertising is so the advertisers don’t waste their money showing you ads you don’t care about.

Unfortunately, there’s an element of trust required here. You have to rely on the platform to treat this data in a way that protects your privacy, even when it would provide a lucrative business to share it with third parties.

Platforms usually assure their users that the data is anonymized and stays with the platform. But as we learned with Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica fiasco, we can not trust the platforms to protect our privacy. The incentives are just too strong in the other direction.


I’ve been collecting articles for this post for the better part of the last year. Here are just a few examples of “surveillance capitalism” (profiting off the activities of others) and “gatekeeper abuse” (suppressing speech).

Twitter feigns political neutrality, but my pro-life organization sees the bias firsthand

Silicon Noir and the End of Techno-Optimism: The Intercept’s 2018 Tech Coverage

Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments

The facts about Facebook: Zuckerberg wants to redefine “transparency, choice and control” – let’s not give him consent

Facebook Stored Hundreds of Millions of User Passwords in Plain Text for Years

Welcome to the Age of Surveillance Capitalism

In Court, Facebook Blames Users for Destroying Their Own Right to Privacy

Bodies in Seats: At Facebook’s worst-performing content moderation site in North America, one contractor has died, and others say they fear for their lives

The Bottom Line

When we look at the state of social media today, it’s not such a great bargain after all. It’s actually the worst of both worlds. We have fragmented centralization, a collection of walled gardens. To obtain this value of staying connected to people and events, “we the users” give up a lot. If you weigh the costs and benefits, we end up pretty far in the red. Our interactions are spread across multiple platforms, they get to decide what we see, and we have to trust that our privacy is protected.

What if you had one place to go to connect with the people and news you care about? What if we could trust that our thoughts and values would not be used for the profits of others? What if we could speak freely without fear of being silenced by the gatekeepers? Wouldn’t this be better than what we have today?

Sound off in the comments below. But please, to align with the spirit of this post, don’t comment on social media!