What is the purpose of social networks? Connecting with friends? Gathering information? Staying aware?
Let’s take a trip back in time. When I joined Facebook, I was still very active on Orkut and Facebook was like that new child in the class you went to say “Hello” to but not stick around for long. Time passed by and it became the social network of choice. In the early days of the Facebook, all the engagement efforts were focused around your friend circle and every new feature or development circled around the same. Facebook continued expanding with a vision to connect everyone globally. But with great investments, comes the need for a “Revenue Model”. We will come back to that.
Let’s take example of Twitter. It was like a secret society in the beginning and a great source of information. It used to be a key learning platform (like Quora at present). All the major news of the day could be found in the top trending hashtags. It was a great place to share your ideas, discuss and debate.
Fast Forward to the date. These two platforms have become the networks of choice to spit venom. Facebook’s advancements started turning towards methods to generate revenue. I never complained when I saw an ad sandwiched between 10 updates from my friends. The problem started when these two switched roles. I scrolled through my news feed today. The top 5 posts were by pages / brands advertising themselves, followed by a “Mannequin Challenge” video and a suggested friends slider (none of whom I know). No updates from friends. I scrolled down further, only to find people fighting and hurling abuses at each other (rather than debating) over political ideologies. A wedding pic of an acquaintance provided a welcome sigh of relief amidst all this clutter.
Let’s switch to Twitter. I have noticed a pattern in Twitter. The top trend is usually a paid trend, linked to an MNC campaign. For instance, #PanasonicElugaMark2 is the top trend right now. When I skimmed through this hashtag, I noticed that every third tweet is about a random subject, with this top trending hashtag used to highlight that tweet. The subject is, obviously, no more important. Number of impressions are. Moving on, the second top trending hashtag is regarding another paid MNC campaign, followed by a Bollywood campaign. The next three in the list are related to Demonetization – not discussing issues but targeted to praise or abuse the Prime Minister. The place is overflowing with bots, gossips and rumors.
I have moved on and found solace in Instagram and Quora. I use Facebook mainly to share my travel pics and Twitter to rant. But I find it hard to consume information using these. I am sad to say that slowly, but surely, Instagram and Quora are heading the same way. While Quora has been showing a lot more of love / heartbreak / baseless questions surfacing up, Instagram’s search feature is full of posts from pages and marketers. I believe that it is only a matter of time before these two follow the suit.
What has polluted the system? Basically the following:
- Fact Check. I wake up everyday to find a multitude of messages with random links and news, none of which I can verify and hence believe. The sad part is that I meet many people in real life as well who are well educated and smarter than me, but still believe in everything they read just because it affirms with their ideology. Change the title from Faking News to Real News and you will be surprised to see how many people would actually believe it. Can I get a built in verification of the news?
- Marketers, bots and fake pages have completely taken over Facebook. Twitter is losing the war and Instagram might go the same way very soon. Get a large user base and then throw Ads at them. Since all their friends are on the same platform, they have no option but to stay, and to peek at each other’s profile amidst the avalanche of irrelevance and dirt.
- Have words lost their meaning? What happened to those days when we wrote what we felt (doesn’t matter if it was good or stupid – I love On this Day feature of Facebook, even though it always throws embarrassing things at me. At least it was real). On an average, a photo gets 2X times attention than plain words. Hence, Bye Bye words.
- Politics. What happened to the times when we were neutral and used to criticize everyone alike. There was never fandom in Indian politics. It was politicians vs the people mostly. We stood together over the issues. Now we have developed affiliations and anyone who doesn’t affirm is against us. Among all the things I have listed, I find this the more dangerous. A leader who only spits venom coupled with people who will believe in everything they are told, is a recipe for disaster.
What do we do now? Do we need a new social network? I don’t think so. Even if a new Facebook comes and manages to move all the users to it’s network, it is bound to follow the same life cycle and land as exactly the same place where we are right now, if not worse.
The social network in not white and black. It’s Facebook and Google. And that’s where the solution needs to come from. I believe that the vision to connect everyone is still very much in place. There is no solution right now because we are still not ready to admit that there is a problem. But the day is not far when it will all come crashing down. Either online or offline. We need to wake up before that.