Seth Godin summarizes how social networks have undermined communication and culture with cheap efforts to achieve “engagement:”
And so the social networks created a game, a game in which you ‘win’ by being notorious, outrageous or, as they coined the phrase, “authentic.” The whole world is watching, if you’re willing to put on a show.
That’s not how the world actually works. The successful people in your community or your industry (please substitute ‘happy’ for successful in that sentence) don’t act the way the influencers on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook do. That’s all invented, amplified stagecraft, it’s not the actual human condition.
His prescription is aimed at social media networks, but we would all benefit if traditional media could listen and apply it, too:
Amplify possibility. Dial down the spread of disinformation, trolling and division. Make it almost impossible to get famous at the expense of civilization. Embrace the fact that breaking news doesn’t have to be the rhythm of our days. Reward thoughtfulness and consistency and responsibility.
Indeed. What if social media were recalibrated to encourage healthier use of social media networks? The companies who produce these systems often say their algorithms act neutrally. This is plainly false. You can’t write an algorithm without making decisions about how it will work, first and foremost among them the decision of what the output should be.
Amplifying outrage might be a cheap way to keep people scrolling and clicking, but it’s not healthy—for the users or, in the long run, the social media networks.