“People like us do things like this.”
Social media understands this.
It also knows that people like points, likes and something that feels like popularity.
The social media companies optimized their algorithms for profit. And profit, they figured, would come from engagement. And engagement, they figured, would come from confounding our instincts and rewarding outrage.
Because outrage draws a crowd.
And crowds establish culture.
And a desire to be the leader of a crowd reinforced the cycle.
And so the social networks created a game, a game in which you ‘win’ by being notorious, outrageous or, as they coined the phrase, “authentic.” The whole world is watching, if you’re willing to put on a show.
That’s not how the world actually works. The successful people in your community or your industry (please substitute ‘happy’ for successful in that sentence) don’t act the way the influencers on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook do. That’s all invented, amplified stagecraft, it’s not the actual human condition.
Many of us have an overwhelming need to rubberneck, to slow down when we pass a crash on the highway. This is odd, as most people don’t go out of their way to visit the morgue, just for kicks. And yet…
I hope we’d agree that if people started staging car crashes on the side of the road to get attention, we’d be outraged.
That’s what happening, and the leaders of social networks pretend that they can’t do a thing about it, just as Google pretends that they can’t control the results of their search algorithm.
The shift that the leaders of the social networks need to make is simple. In the long run, it will cost them nothing. And within weeks, it will create a world that’s calmer, happier and more productive.
Amplify possibility. Dial down the spread of disinformation, trolling and division. Make it almost impossible to get famous at the expense of civilization. Embrace the fact that breaking news doesn’t have to be the rhythm of our days. Reward thoughtfulness and consistency and responsibility.
You can do this. Enough already.