At one point in the time-space continuum, social networking was simply a place for people to gather around the virtual water cooler and share stories. We’d connect, relate, appreciate one another’s successes, and comfort those who’d suffered failure. It was far from perfect, but it knew what it was and allowed itself to be just that.
But then, a tectonic shift in the landscape brought about change on a scale no one could have predicted. Social networking:
Slowly began to replace respected news sites as the go-to source of information
Became a megaphone for social cause, justice, and reform
Allowed like-minded people to convene and share ideas for change
Gave wide-spread voice to conspiracy theories
Empowered fringe groups to share and spread their manifestos
Refused to conform to the wants and needs of society at large
Some of the above list are an evolution forward; some are not. While this happened, those who stood sentinel over those platforms grew further and further disconnected from both reality and how their service was fueling division.
SEE: Cheat sheet: Facebook Data Privacy Scandal (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Much of this discord was/is politically driven. On one side, you have Twitter who fact-checked the president, thereby pitting the White House against the social media giant. On the other hand you have Facebook, who refuses to do anything.
To everyone who uses these two platforms, there are unanswered questions:
Why does Facebook refuse to step up and tend its garden?
Why did it take Twitter so long to add fact-checking links to misleading posts from prominent leaders?
Let me offer up an answer.
I will preface this answer by saying I have no proof to back up this claim. However, what I do have is decades in the tech industry, that started with the dot com bubble of the late 1990s. I’ve watched countless darlings rise and fall on the sword of venture capitalism. Because of that experience, I can, with good confidence, say I believe the reason these social networking services have responded (or not responded) to the public outcry boils down to a single word:
That’s right, money.
One of my all-time favorite bands, Rush, has a song about this. In “Big Money,” Geddy Lee sings, “Big money got a heavy hand, big money take control. Big money got a mean streak, big money got no soul.”
And that’s exactly what we’ve witnessed with both Facebook and Twitter. Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey have a heavy hand with their soulless rule over their respective platforms. When an overwhelming majority of their users call for change, they don’t listen. Zuckerberg and Dorsey know:
Every tweet posted by the president is a cash cow for Twitter
The more divisive Facebook is, the more people use the platform, ergo the more ads can be served
This is not what the public wants from the services they use, but the owners don’t care what the public wants.
Imagine you own a company that makes X. You’ve evolved X to do Y, but the masses wanted X to do Z all along. You don’t listen, because you’re the only game in town–no one else makes X or anything close to it. You know people aren’t going to stop buying and using X, so you can do whatever you want with the product.
As you make money, hand over fist with X, you are seen as the soulless monarch over a virtual kingdom. You even sit on your own board of directors, ensuring your future and the future of X.
That’s what we have witnessed with the rise of Facebook and Twitter.
A warning to social media giants
I want to offer up a warning to both Zuckerberg and Dorsey, a warning that should send a shock of reality up their spines and into their frontal lobes.
That warning is simple: The second someone comes up with an alternative, one that offers similar features and a simplicity of use, the masses will flock from both Facebook and Twitter.
That’s right. The level of frustration toward those platforms is at an all-time high. It’s why the #freedomfromfacebook movement started in 2018 and hasn’t lost steam since. You can even find services that will help you permanently delete your Facebook account.
Unfortunately, at the moment, the masses feel stuck between a virtual rock and metaphorical hard place. They desperately want to leave Facebook and Twitter, but they cannot disconnect from the communities and people they know, love, and depend on. Without social networks, so many voices would fall silent. That’s part of the beauty of these services–it amplifies our voice such that we don’t always feel like a single drop in an ocean.
All of a sudden we are heard.
Or at least we think we are.
And sometimes perception is all that matters. But what was once a relative concept, perception has become everything in this modern era of hashtags, likes, and shares. The truth of the matter is that the court of public opinion now perceives both Facebook and Twitter as a necessary evil.
They don’t want to depend on those services, but they do. And, more than anything, they want something new.
Here’s your chance
This is where the tech industry comes in. A global network of the brightest developers and admins the world has ever had the pleasure of knowing. You are brilliant, agile, forward-thinking, and in-sync with public opinion.
It’s time for new platforms, for services to rise from the ashes of the souls left behind by Facebook and Twitter, and become the next social networking platform. And to you developers, I want to offer up a few suggestions that should help make your platforms a massive hit, right out of the gate.
Are you ready? I’ll lay this out in easy-to-consume bullet points, so you don’t miss anything.
Make it transparent
Make it unbiased
Don’t accept political ads of any kind
Don’t monetize user data
Give users granular control over their accounts
Allow users to post photos, memes, videos, and other content
Don’t allow any groups that espouse hatred or violence (and rule that with a zero-tolerance policy)
Don’t allow content posted from sites known to promote hatred or conspiracy theories
Offer two types of accounts: Free and paid. Paid accounts would be ad-free and offer additional features. Make sure the paid account fee is reasonable (like $5.00 USD/month)
Include an edit button for all types of posts
Don’t use algorithms for content ranking–let the people decide
Make it easier for users to fact check posts
Do not, in any way, allow yourself to think (for a second) that your platform is above reproach and that you are above the law.
That’s just the short list, off the top of my head. I fully understand that some of the above bullet points would be much harder to implement than others, but it’s on you to go out of your way to pull them off. That above list would go a long, long way to win over the trust of the public. I’m not going to sugar coat this–it won’t be easy. The public has very little faith in social media these days. That is a rather odd statement, considering how much people have grown to depend on the platforms.
It is, for all intents and purpose, the devil and angel on the public’s shoulder. They hate you and they love you. They want to get rid of you, but they can’t.
Which is why I say to any developer out there, considering this long slog up a very high mountain, it’s going to be tough. But if you can pull it off, if you’re honest, if you create a transparent platform that has the best interest of the public in mind, you will have an audience size you never dreamed of.
If you build it, they will come.
With smiles on their faces.
The public is primed and desperate for the next social networking platform. You have the tools to create it. You have a list to guide you in the design. All you need now is the financial backing to make it happen.
You can do this.
We’re counting on you.
Make us proud.