Social to Antisocial

A social space without dialogue is not social – it is antisocial. The current model is insular, monologic, performative, ad and surveillance driven, and increasingly toxic.

Threads has launched, and now Facebook (aka Meta) has entered/reentered the fractured social space created by Musk's Twitter. People are rushing to the platform, mainly because those inside the Facebook realm on Instagram have a zero-friction signup. What is perhaps not noticeable to most of those people is their passive agreement to intrusive surveillance and advertising. At nearly 250MB for what is essentially a text reader, you have to wonder - what have they packed into that code base?

But I wanted to note some ideas about what social media means and perhaps what it should mean as we enter a new phase.

The reality is that social media, as we understand it today, wasn't ever really social. It wasn't about creating social spaces or communities; it was only about leveraging existing social networks and relationships to sell your data.

Facebook's original premise wasn't connecting the world - it was a game of Hot-or-Not. It used existing social networks and university campuses, not its own unique ability to connect people to create an audience. It played into the social psychology of young people but offered little social return or value. Instead, the company's value became the audience it provided, not the social connections or ability to find and form relationships. It provided eyeballs, and all it asked you to do was perform. It wasn't to communicate; that's too boring, and people leave the app and go on with their lives.

No, here you had to perform.

Social media has only ever been social in name. It pillaged your existing networks and communities to harvest data to build a graph they owned. Your relationships became their relationships in an instant. Platforms never encouraged or even enabled dialogue. What they enabled was simultaneous monologues that fit the model of performance. A social space without dialogue is not social – it is antisocial.

And every platform followed the same model — insular, monologic, performative, ad and surveillance driven, and increasingly toxic.

Until the Fediverse.

This small cluster of apps using a shared protocol began to retake and carve out a social space built upon social ideals like federation rather than centralised control. Each space could be its own community, but its participants had the ability to connect with others outside their own space. Communities could also put walls up – exclusion is part of feeling connection - and the fediverse created a multitude of ways to engage in that practice. Things were porous but there were layers of safety and protection available. What the Fediverse didn't provide was an audience. It didn't reward performance, and that's helped keep it sane and real. It's why many haven't joined too. Without a pre-made audience, what is it all for? That question is valid for those who have built a career and reputation based on their audience and their ability to engage with it and perform for it.

That barrier of not having an audience has allowed something different to grow and flourish in the Fediverse, something that feels more social and more communal. It isn't divorced from conflict or harm, but the scale and performative value of attack is greatly diminished.

And then there was Threads.

It's too early to say what the impact will be on the Fediverse, but it won't be good if it shares any of the platforms' attributes before it. The massification it offers is not a positive for the Fediverse. The nature of all things Facebook is driven by performance and audience rather than any true meaning of social.