Unbuttered Thoughts on Social Media

A few years back, after the news reported all the shenanigans with Facebook and elections, some people I know quit that platform. They were justifiably angry.

Lately, I’ve noticed a number of people on Facebook making self-righteous posts about quitting Twitter. Certainly I share their lack of enthusiasm about Elon Musk.

But if you’re willing to put up with Mark Zuckerberg, why get outraged over Elon Musk? Outside of the fact that Musk makes a point of being a particular kind of super-rich asshole in public, what’s the difference between them? Both platforms have problems and they start at the top.

I don’t know if Twitter is going to survive Musk, but I think Jorts the Cat has a good approach to the current situation:

All jokes aside: I am certain that we will work together to find new and innovative ways to be completely unruly, ridiculous and annoying here. We always do ❤️

[Edited 11-4-22 to add:] Dave Karpf has some excellent observations on the Twitter situation. He had speculated that it would stay unchanged for 1-3 months and be dead in a year. Now he thinks it will change in 1-3 weeks and be dead in six months. Karpf is a  professor at George Washington University who studies the Internet and politics and I only know about him because of Twitter.

I also understand that Facebook (I refuse to call it Meta, because while I always honor individual name changes, I laugh at most corporate ones) is in financial trouble, probably because of its silly foray into virtual reality that is not yet ready for prime time.

The owners of far too many companies don’t understand what their product is about or why their users and customers use them. They are too busy looking at ways to make money in the short term to figure out what it is they’re providing.

I’m pretty sure that how much money can be made from something in the next few months is not a good metric for any product or service, but I digress.

I started out skeptical of social media. In general, I found the internet to be a place to publish things I wrote, to read lots of different work, to do research, and to send letters (that is, email as a substitute for mail). I took to blogs immediately — the reading and writing thing — but the other forms did not attract me.

I signed up for Facebook and Twitter because people told me that was how to promote my writing. Now people tell me I need to use Instagram and TikTok and probably 20 other things I haven’t heard of to promote my work.

But here’s the truth: I don’t think I’ve figured out how to use social media of any kind to promote my writing.

This is probably because I have trouble taking promotion seriously. I’m sure I could learn to do it, but it wouldn’t be any fun. I’m also sure I should learn to do it, but the odds are that I won’t because I’ve reached the point in life where I try to spend as little time as possible doing things I don’t want to do.

But I have found value in social media, which is why I don’t get off of it even though I detest Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk and all the capitalists who have worked to undermine what the Internet can do best so that they can get unspeakably rich.

Social media allows me a lot of contact with other people, some of whom I know well, some of whom are casual friends, and some whom I only know online. And this contact is valuable.

In the case of Facebook, social media allows me to stay in touch with a large number of friends and acquaintances from around the world. There is no way I could keep up with the lives of all those people with individual letters, even with email, and given how far apart I live from many of them, seeing them in person is an “every once in a great while” experience, which, between the pandemic and aging, will become even less common.

The thought of having to talk to each of them once or twice a year on the phone is appalling.

But with FB, I can acknowledge birthdays, victories, and losses, and get little bits of information. And it reminds me to reach out in other ways to people I really don’t want to lose from my life.

It’s also been very useful for keeping up with Aikido people — including ones I don’t know personally — and self defense teachers, among others. That is, some of the groups on there are very useful for keeping in touch with a larger community. (There could be better ways of doing this, I suspect, but this works better than most of the earlier versions of group discussion.)

Twitter I use a little differently. On twitter, I follow people who have interesting things to say. (I also follow my friends, many of whom also fall into the “say interesting things” category.) It helps me find some great writing on current affairs, provides me with excellent public health information (far beyond what the CDC and my local public health agencies do), and even gives me some nice entertainment (like Jorts, who might be the best thing on there).

I follow a lot of Black twitter, journalist twitter, legal twitter, and epidemiologist twitter, as well as the obvious science fiction and fantasy twitter and other writerly things. It opens to the door to a lot of information.

I am, after all, always hungry for ideas.

I also check certain specific journalists and other good observers of the world on Twitter before I actually read a newspaper in the morning, because their take on things will help guide me in reading the news. And I try to spread that take, because as someone with a background in both law and journalism, I know what’s important and how much is getting missed.

Now I don’t think either FB or Twitter are the ultimate in any of those things, but it is interesting to me how valuable that kind of thing can be.

I think social media in general opened the door to the possibility of having a much larger “neighborhood.” Of course, some earlier things like GEnie and The Well did something similar, but social media spread it far and wide so that you found people you didn’t expect.

Some of the alternatives out there slot people into different boxes, which I don’t want. What I’ve done with both social media forms that I use is curate my own experience. That is, on FB, I link to actual friends and join groups that involve things I am part of. On Twitter, I follow people whose tweets I want to see.

I do not have a large following on either, but I deliberately don’t do things to increase it. I’m sure if I followed every fiction writer on twitter I could probably do something to increase followers a bit, but in truth I don’t want to follow more fiction writers (except for friends), because fiction writers often tweet about (a) how many words they’ve written, (b) their successes, or (c) how depressing the business is, and that all makes me depressed. Also some of them are very good at promotion and others are very annoying promoters.

It interests me how I’ve come to use those things, because I never thought about needing what they do. But I do.

Obviously for some people — reporters in particular — Twitter is especially useful for work. I read reporters covering events on twitter all the time, and then go back and read the final article. I like this a lot.

Now I know about the vast disinformation on Facebook and the trolls on Twitter. A lot of ugliness is being shared and the worldwide availability of those things makes it worse. I don’t know how to fix all that, though I also don’t think anybody has really tried very hard (because there’s so much money in the evil side). I’m better at avoiding most of it.

In general, the biggest problem with social media is the monetizing of it. And actually, that may be the biggest problem with the Internet itself.

Now I’m sure someone will jump in here and suggest that we must make money from things or they won’t exist. But that’s just the system we have now. (Also, trust me, an awful lot of things exist that were made with no real hope of ever making money from them.)

Here’s another thought: What can we do next with the Internet that opens the door to a way of acting in the world that doesn’t quite exist yet?

I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it’s not what the “smart money” thinks it is.

I do think it’s possible that something will happen to shake things up online in a way that we haven’t thought of before. I hope nobody figures out how to monetize it.

Me, I’m planning to follow the example of Jorts (who, btw, did not monetize his sudden fame but instead used it to promote union organizing and finding homes for other cats).

I’m going to be unbutterable.

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