Thursday, August 18, 2016

What Is Happening to Social Media?

Every time I'm puzzling over something in my life, I find myself asking, "is this a real thing, or simply a product of my age (as in the amount of time I've been alive)?" It's no secret that I enjoy and frequently use social media, but the entire foundation seems to be shifting, and so is my attitude toward it. 

I've been a huge fan of Facebook from the beginning because it lends itself to the written word, and that is where I am most comfortable. For a long time, that's where the majority of my friends and acquaintances went to engage on the internet. I was too young (or too not-hip) for MySpace, no one I knew used Twitter, and I found Snapchat to be incredibly confusing (and redundant). I've been blogging for over a decade now, but "blogging has been dead" for at least half that time, according to plenty of people. I was very excited to join Instagram when I finally got a smartphone (circa 2013) and I've enjoyed it ever since, but in my circle of friends, IG is used infrequently, at best. 

In the past several months, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, InStyle Magazine, and Vogue have all undergone facelifts, ranging from minor to major, but mostly major. I've liked some of the changes - InStyle's layout is sleeker, and even though it's a total ripoff of Snapchat, I love IG stories because it helps personalize Instagram and it virtually eliminates the need for Snapchat. IG stories also provide some of the day-to-day sounding off that I enjoy about Facebook. (artwork by Sofia Bonati)

On the other hand, Instagram's new algorithm is *POOP EMOJI*, particularly for my business accounts on Instagram, as is Facebook's latest algorithm, which I've heard unbelievably little about considering how poorly thought out it is. I've been pretty much fine with every other change Facebook has made - new layouts take a few days to get the hang of, but that's never tripped me up in the past. Similarly, I've rarely been against algorithms. I understand that it's unsettling to some people to have the internet get "smart" about who you are and what you like and then market to you accordingly, but I'd rather see ads for things I'm interested in than random ads if I have to see ads at all (which you pretty much do, unless you're paying extra not to see any). What I don't like about algorithms (I think everyone agrees on this) is not having control over what I like because a computer thinks it knows better than I do. 

This brings me to the latest Facebook algorithm which is stunningly bad, in my opinion. I had heard snippets about "seeing more friends and less news" which I support, if we're talking about promoted posts and stuff like that, but I actually used Facebook as my newsfeed for friends AND actual news. I follow a lot of news outlets and businesses that I want to keep up with because they either have no other platform on which they operate (Instagram is rough for non-visual businesses) or else I don't want to go searching the web every day or go to individual websites - I just can't remember all of that from day to day. Facebook allowed me to have most everything I intake online (which is a lot) in one place (that place not being my email spam folder - p.s. who even uses email any more?!) and I'm very disgruntled that that has been taken away from me. 

I do like seeing what my friends are up to on Facebook (mostly), but the new algorithm is completely wacky. I know you all have experienced this because I asked about it on Facebook (lol), but what is going on with seeing the same handful of posts at the top of your feed for 1-2 days? It only took me 5 seconds to read it, so why does it need to stay in view? 

So, am I just getting old and pining after "the way things used to be", or is social media really in a rut right now?  What is this obsession with constantly reinventing social media? Is it simply to stay competitive with other social media? The result I'm seeing is that people, including myself, are using social media less because of it, and that makes me panic as a friend and a communicator. 

I love the internet because it allows me to keep in touch with people I know who are literally all over the world, but what's the point if none of my friends actually use social media? As a sometimes-writer and general generator/sharer of stuff, I slump at the reality that how hard I work to promote my work is meaningless when up against algorithms. A computer is deciding whether my words and thoughts matter enough to be seen by others instead of other people getting to decide whether or not what I write is interesting to them. 

This makes me sad and anxious and I don't know what to do about it. 
That's really all I have to say... 
If you work in Silicon Valley, please fix this. 

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