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Kill Your Twitter!

Submitted by kmeisthax on Sat, 01/23/2016 - 23:38 in Rants

Social media is a fundamentally exploitative business model. Social media platforms work by providing a communications medium that can then be used as an advertising platform far more powerful than previous Internet direct response systems. They work on the basis of getting detailed profiles of all of their members and using it to shape what advertising they get. It's barely effective; enough to pay the bills but not to provide a sustainable, long-term growth model.

Likewise, using social networking systems is exploitative: you share and repost things in the vain effort of getting your friends to like and interact with them. The numbers and analytics that social networks provide hammer this point home. Your friends, interactions, posts, and comments are numerically summed into a count; a score of how well you are playing the game that is Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, and so on. And, in many particular industries, having some kind of presence on all of these networks is essential for having an audience.

This kind of situation itself would not be an issue - we do far worse in the name of capitalism and living under it. But it has been enabling a large number of harassment incidents by incredibly unhappy and abusive people. Because social networks operate on roughly shoestring budgets, they don't have the money or the time to establish proper moderation. Actual violations of their terms of service or rules do not get caught and corrected. Instead, victims and survivors of harassment are funneled to ineffective block, mute, and report buttons that act more as placebos than effective anti-harassment tools.

The simple fact is that fighting harassment cannot be a do-it-yourself task. Because of the obvious abuse factor, individual blocks, mutes, or reports cannotĀ be a viable anti-harassment tools because otherwise it would also be a viableĀ harassment tool. A trusted judge needs to be present in order to ensure that only harassers get banned and that harassers are not able to get their victims banned. But there's no funding for that. Like Twitter's attempts at diversity, harassment on social networks has yet to become an existential problem that inspires business-wide mandates to solve it.

And I don't see it evern happening. There's a dark side to social media harassment: it's outright encouraged; if not conciously. Social media platforms have a business model which benefits from increased engagement with the platform. They need to keep you using it and find new ways to inject it into your life. From the point-of-view of a social platform's internal metrics, harassment and non-harassment interactions look nearly identical; except that the former might involve somebody pressing the placebo button.

I don't know what we can do about this. This is a problem which is actively exascerbated by distributed, P2P equivalents to social media. I've lost my enthusiasm for censorship-resistant communications platforms; a world in which nobody is privileged to shut out criticism is also a world in which nobody is capable of addressing harmful behavior. And I don't think moving to a "better neighborhood" would help either. We did that when our parents got Facebook; and it didn't help.

Tumblr might have a stereotype of being full of hyper-sensitive social justice advocates, but it's not necessarily a fair one. It also has an undercurrent of actual Nazis just like Reddit does. And Reddit also has boards full of social justice advocates; albeit ones that are self-aware. Shit Reddit Says moderators are intentionally hyper-sensitive with the goal of pissing off the site's right-wing fringes and blowing off some steam.

But the idea that there's some social platform out there that abusive people haven't found is a joke - the only ones that don't have abuse are the ones too niche to be useful. Wide broadcast media is always going to catch horrible people in it's net. But that's not an excuse for a lack of meaningful, useful tools for fighting back against that abuse.

And that's sad, because the clock is ticking for social media - both in terms of core user burnout, as well as how many well-publicized harassment incidents we can have before politicians decide to mandate what social media won't do voluntarily.

Some people may have noticed that I have taken my Twitter handle private. This is primarily because I'm tired of off-handed comments being caught by the Internet Hate Machine and giving me stupid bullshit to deal with when I wake up in the morning. I don't know if or when I'll bring it public again or if I'll wind up creating a separate public handle for the site.

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