Is social media dead?
It is to me.
I’m slowly switching off from social media. Facebook, well, that died the day your mum got an iPad. I can’t remember who most of my LinkedIn connections are, so find myself unmoved by Melissa Hubris’ promotion. After Elon, Twitter/X is just paid blue ticks fighting over who’s unfunniest/most racist in the replies.
I keep deleting and reinstalling apps; the bleakness of an empty screen somehow worse than carousels of your ‘this time last year’ destination wedding. I used to enjoy showing off online - visiting places deliberately to ‘check in’ and therefore validate my existence (as Descartes might have said, I’m at Soho House, therefore I am.) I just can’t seem to muster the vanity anymore.
The experience of any social network relies on two things: the calibre of the content and your chance of actually seeing it. There might be awesome photography on Instagram, but all the algorithm shows me is ads for 3 Mobile. I used to turn to Swastika (RIP Twitter) for the witty tweets, but no one gets to see them now — genuinely creative people are unlikely to pay for exposure. Because they’re broke.
There’s a third component: who you’re connected to. My close friends are highly offline types and know everything about me anyway. Attempting to impress them when they’ve heard the finer details of my IBS is a fool’s errand (‘was that bloated bikini photo taken before or after you sent off your stool sample?’) So my online network is comprised of people who, if I’m being brutally honest, I don’t share a deep connection with. Or I did once, but now we’ve both forgotten how we know each other.
Maybe it’s my fault. Like anything, you get out what you put in, and I now post so infrequently its discomfiting, come to think of it, that no one has reached out to check I’m still alive.
But all is not lost. Turns out there’s an even greater allure than impressing people you know: getting attention from people you don’t know. Enter TikTok. A wonderland where everyone behaves like a public figure, ‘announces’ their break-up and then somehow lands a presenting job. (Although making an income from bromidic monologues is harder than it looks — I have 2 million+ views on TikTok, 12k followers, and I’m part of their ‘creator fund’ — total earnings to date: £8.67.)
TikTok is not strictly social media — its an entertainment platform. A free-for-all performance playground where the creative benchmark is as low as the dopamine hit from viral success is high. Very bad acting leads to very lucrative Netflix contracts; seasoned stand-ups are eclipsed by stilted sketches. Unlikely stars emerge from every corner of the world to show you dance moves or how to organise ice cubes.
While our delusions of fame (and, more kindly, our appetite for creative expression) are sated by TikTok, legacy social media is struggling to hold our attention. So embedded is it in our culture and connectivity that it will probably never actually die – but if it is going to earn its place back on my home screen it needs to evolve into something more inspiring than another year with this one heart emoji (gun emoji face emoji). Algorithms must start prioritising the best (human-generated) storytelling — otherwise we’ll just be left with ads, bots — and Zuck and Musk in an endless mud fight. Possibly bloated, in bikinis. And no one wants to see that.
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