Index » Thoughts » The Antisocial Internet
Originally written 06/13/22 - Posted 6/26/22 - Updated 8/26/22

The Antisocial Internet

I can't shake the feeling that the web today feels fake. Sure, it was never "real", but it used to feel like a gathering point of humans. At some point in the last decade the Internet hollowed out and almost no one was paying attention.

As old websites die off, social media* replaces them. But I can't think of a single social media platform which is truly well designed. For it's users anyway. Let's take a tour of the social media landscape as it exists today:

Discord: Discord servers, (except the private ones,) are just small talk. There's no such thing as finding an interesting thread on Discord. Even when the server has a dedicated purpose, you aren't going to to join at a time when there's a conversation relevant to you. Those are going to be buried far back in a channel's history.** When a server gets big enough, everyone becomes a mutual stranger shouting into the void. Joining most Discord servers, there is a number of irrelevent channels where posts won't get many replies (because checking every channel on a big server is a chore) and, at least in my experience, overwhelm you with notifications until you start to ignore the entire server, and then Discord itself.

reddit: Reddit has a system where the visibility of comments and entire threads are determined by the number of upvotes. When you view the subreddit for a particular hobby, what do you see? Discussion about the hobby? No, you see people showing off. This is what the upvote system encourages - the loss of actual discussion, the kind that could go on for pages and pages back when forms were the norm.

"your post/comment has been automatically removed because you have too few karma points on your account"

twitter: Twitter is a one-way feed. When you DM someone who doesn't follow you they don't even get a notification - seriously try it. They have to follow you before you get the privilege of being considered human enough to talk to someone. Twitter will be sure to notify you of any popular tweets you might have missed though! Personal interaction is explicitly discouraged by this design. I'll admit that spammers seem to be common in DMs, this probably also discourages people from checking their messages, if Twitter wasn't already hiding them.

On Twitter people default to hostile interpretations of your posts, a culture has emerged where guilt by association - that is mentioning any mildly controversial figure without including a condemnation - is seen as invitation for an attack. I've even noticed this culture influencing me when writing for my own site, assuming that I should put "disclaimers" everywhere, that I don't agree with something unquestioningly, as if no one reading is capable of independent thought or critical analysis on their own.

"blocked, rude to go around someone's RT's and do this"Someone made the mistake of replying to some days-old tweets. Discovering each other's profiles or website and then emailing a response was once a common way for people to meet on the Internet. Today this person has been conditioned to treat it no differently than stalking. You are supposed to watch them make "content" in silence.

YouTube: YouTube got rid of their social features years ago.

facebook: Like most people under 40 I'm not familiar with Facebook. I've seen my dad use it, and I've never seen him be genuinely social on it, just scroll through a feed full of videos and news.

When you post on the Internet, you are shouting into the void. You must act like you're a celebrity or a brand, creating "content" instead of simply having a conversation with peers. Everything you say has to stand on it's own without context. These platforms fundamentally aren't designed for two-way conversation, they are designed to be one-way content feeds for others to scroll past. Your thoughts, conversations, feelings, are all just marketable content. Social media platforms are not designed to foster connections between real humans beings because it's not profitable, not addicting enough. The very design of these platforms keeps people isolated.

Instead of meeting people, you rack up followers who never talk to you. Reposting is always just a click away, far easier to flood your followers with more noise than engage with them personally. I can't get over how empty it all feels.

I've always been bothered by how transitory Internet relationships are. People just disappear, and it's all too easy to forget and move on.

A conversation isn't between two or three or any sane number of people anymore, it's between you and everyone and no one simultaneously. Everyone in the whole world must be catered to on a single platform. Your posts compete for space with celebrities, Internet celebrities, brands. On Facebook your employers too watch everything you say. Zuckerberg, (interviewed in The Facebook Effect,) loved this sort of context collapse, keeping us all "pure". He believes he's doing us all a favor. An ever-growing number of people disagree, but the current alternatives are hardly any better.

Whenever there's a moderation problem, there is no human who steps in. Algorithms are deployed to make sweeping bans and deletions. "Just don't have a dislike button, that'll make everyone be nice." The style of moderation is always overreaction, too much to compensate for always being too late. You talk to your friends with the unstable permission of a billion-dollar corporation. Is your self-expression advertiser friendly? It better be. It's an amazing contrast with the utopian vision portrayed by their PR teams, their sites are apparently places where everyone gets to have a voice.

Engaging with these platforms is becoming all but mandatory for those seeking relationships. (I haven't even mentioned online dating.) There seems to be this gigantic push to move all social interaction online. Partially explained by the money involved and the pandemic, but even so.

Back when working from home was popularized, there was an office I know decided to start doing it permanently. It's a welcome vacation for people already used to seeing each other for years. But I couldn't help but wonder - what if you're a new employee? Will you never meet any of your coworkers? It feels like more and more, people are being funneled into using these skinner box platforms just to talk. I wonder what sorts of effects this might have.

Is there any reason to be optimistic? Although tech companies are huge at this moment, I'm skeptical of their stability. Social media sites historically don't last forever, they are easily replaced and rely on ads.*** Getting personally upset over social media at this point feels like getting mad at the weather. If you think about it the trend of isolation has been ongoing since at least 1925. It's this huge impersonal force that's been coming for years, you can't stop it but you can point out the storm coming, and some day you might even see it break up.

*and spam

**Incidentally, because Discord has effectively replaced forums, a lot of information will be lost in the near future. In fact it's already happening. Servers can't be indexed by search engines or the Wayback Machine, they can be deleted in 4 clicks, and Discord's interface (like all modern web design) does not easily let you search for past messages.

***Although "ad bubble" articles have been written for years(I did come across a rebuttal article extolling the greatness of digital advertising, but I wasn't able to read it because of a big fat popup covering the screen) now with the end still not in sight, it's still difficult to imagine this farce lasting forever. Just think about the absurdity of the modern ad industry. It's worth $350 Billion dollars and expected to grow several times larger in the coming years. Tech companies are the most valued on the entire planet because they shill penis pills and sugar water. And with a minimal amount of effort I don't have to see a single advertisement and neither do you.

Update: Looks like I'm not the first person to bring up these points.
A Case Against Today's Internet | A Yesterweb Retrospective(I don't think lack of moderation is the problem, but later on the article covers many of the same points.)