The end of social media innocence

by Ron on December 28, 2016

8583949219_9e7df7c399_hIt was a tough year for social media, one in which its once great promise came crashing to the ground in a toxic mix of derision, rancor and division. What was once hailed as a great democratizer has deteriorated into swarming hordes of hostility.

Back in the heady days of 2008 when social media was just beginning to find its footing (and I came up with the idea for this website), there was a sense of camaraderie among the early adherents, a belief that this internet-fueled medium could provide entirely new ways to drive communication, and perhaps even contribute to positive change in the world.

Back in those days, not everyone knew about or grasped the concept of Twitter and Facebook, the two primary offerings at the time. It was hard to explain the power of this broadcast medium. It was like none other ever created, giving individuals the power to communicate in an entirely new way and potentially reach a mass audience in the process. Podcamps blossomed, a uniquely designed un-conference, driven by the participants and designed to share ideas in a spirit of cooperation and a strong belief in the possibility of social media.

We started to see news break on social media before it appeared in traditional news outlets. It became a go-to medium to make friends, forge business relationships and learn about the world. The hashtag developed to tie together conversations in a channel that could be random otherwise.

We began to experience the real power of social media mass communication with the rise of the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street in 2011, two movements that were driven entirely by the ability to broadcast online and mobilize large numbers of people to affect positive change.

Unfortunately, over time those early feelings of camaraderie began to erode, slowly at first, and then in a great rush. As the medium mainstreamed, people began to feel more comfortable mocking ideas and individuals than with helping one another. Then, over the last couple of years, we have seen personal attacks become the norm, where people are pummeled, sometimes viciously, simply for airing the wrong opinion.

I think back to the earliest days when the tendency was to help, to reach out, to communicate, to find common ground. There was a naive belief that social media could be a positive force in the world and Podcamps were a real-world extension of that.

This year it felt like the last traces of those humble beginnings disintegrated. We witnessed the dark underbelly of social media, one in which people didn’t look out for one another, but instead belittled, bullied and berated. We watched as the era of social media innocence ended — and with it those early feelings of so much possibility.

Photo: Jason Howie on Twitter. Used under CC by 2.0 license.

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