Threads was feted last month as the latest addition to the social media tapestry. My Facebook feed was filled with posts about the launch of the new platform. I quickly learned that it is Meta’s alternative to Twitter, or, to be more blunt, Mark Zuckerberg’s challenge to Elon Musk. Star wars in cyberspace.
I managed to control my curiosity, my technophobic tendencies beating the equally unhealthy FOMO phenomenon. Fear Of Missing Out wasn’t born on social media, but it is bred and nurtured there. The last thing I need in my life is a new way of showing the regular roller-coaster of highs and lows. And it wouldn’t be wise to always share exactly what I’m thinking.
The app managed fine without me. Threads quickly wove a web that captured an impressive 100 million new users in less than a week. Who’s counting? Big Tech, businesses, and advertisers. Those same entities were watching this month as Threads somewhat unraveled, the numbers of users plummeting after the novelty appeal wore off.
Is Threads a sign of thought control?
Many friends, upset with Musk’s politics, initially welcomed Zuckerberg’s brave new world. But I question to what extent Threads can really be considered an expression of healthy competition. Zuckerberg, it should be recalled, already owns Facebook, Messenger, Whatsapp, and Instagram. Threads even uses Instagram to facilitate easy sign-up. If so many social media platforms are placed in the hands of one person, it is not a sign of freedom but of control – and that includes thought control.
It’s all very well to offer an alternative to a rival platform but ultimately, Zuckerberg is competing against himself. These huge and mighty platforms, after all, are private businesses. Monopolies might be good for business, but they do not serve the customer, in this case, the user.
The caveat emptor principle comes with a big caveat in Threads’ case. It’s a given that social media collect data on users’ location and search and purchasing history, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable granting a social media platform access to information about “health and fitness,” and “financial info,” among the other categories it asks for. You follow Threads and it tracks you in return. Nothing is private when you, the user, are the intended recipient of hyper-targeted ads. You are paying a price for a free service.
MUSK HAS come to almost equal Donald Trump as the bogeyman of the Left. And his bizarre management of Twitter as soon as he acquired it, did nothing to calm fears. Just as I was busy avoiding Zuckerberg’s Threads, along came a new version of Twitter. X marks the spot.
I took a course in marketing long before the days of social media, but the principles – like human nature – can’t have changed that much. It makes no marketing sense to simply delete a universally known brand name such as Twitter – with its instantly recognizable logo and the verb “to tweet” – and replace it with an X.
When Zuckerberg transformed the Facebook parent company into Meta, he – or his marketing advisers – had the sense not to touch the Facebook name and trademark logo when it came to the social media platform itself. Similarly, when Google Inc. renamed itself Alphabet Inc. in 2015, it didn’t touch the name of the search engine, hence we still “Google,” rather than “Alphabet,” information.
The feud between Zuckerberg and Musk almost turned into a real fight, a cage fight, if you believe everything you read. Earlier this month Musk said he needs to get his neck and back examined before a fight could take place. He should get his head examined at the same time.
This week, Musk tweeted – I mean, Xed – that he was going to test drive a Tesla model to Zuckerberg’s Palo Alto home and if Zuckerberg answered the door “the fight is on!” To be livestreamed, of course.
Zuckerberg, however, responded via Threads that he wants to “move on” from the idea of the fight and focus on “competing with those who are truly dedicated to the sport.”
It gives a new – shallow – meaning to the idea of competition in the business world.
SOCIAL MEDIA content can so easily spill over into general dis-content. What passes as discourse can be distressing. Limiting the length of posts does nothing to keep them focused, it merely lengthens the thread. (Any resemblance to the name of a commercial product is not coincidental – there are no coincidences, there are algorithms.)
The virtual world is made up of echo chambers. While creating the illusion of bringing people closer together, they create parallel universes in cyberspace. Echo chambers are places where you can feel free to voice your thoughts – as long as you self-censor and sound the same views as everyone else.
In the turmoil surrounding the government’s judicial reform/overhaul/revolution – depending on your preferred echo chamber – friendships, real ones and virtual ones, have been lost. I have been blocked by some people and trolled by others. But just as shouting “Demo-kra-tia” repetitively through megaphones at endless protests and Days of Disturbance isn’t – after more than 30 weeks – going to suddenly make someone change their mind, neither will non-stop nasty posts, tweets (or whatever you call them), TikTok videos, Telegram messages, or Threads.
The number of times a protest is described on the news as “spontaneous” would be amusing if it weren’t so serious. In the age of Whatsapp and other social media, it is not hard to get out a message about where to meet and when; what color to wear, and what slogan to promote on a placard. It could lead to combustion, but spontaneous it ain’t.
These mega/Meta companies influence the way billions of people receive and perceive news but who has the final word? How much is left to artificial intelligence, with the emphasis on the artificial?
With the appearance of AI platforms such as ChatGPT, the questions become even more critical. Who is the final arbiter of the truth or of errors that are about to turn into a truth, spreading unstoppably in an instant around the global village?
If you can pull yourself away from a screen to read a book, try The Echo Chamber by John Boyne. It had me laughing out loud – and laughing at the modern world where the absurdities of wokeness and the cancel culture play out through the obsession with social media.
There’s nothing funny about The Social Dilemma on Netflix, but I recommend that, too – especially if you are spending time mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Threads, or X, Y, and Z.
The documentary exposes the darkest aspects of social media: How they can manipulate political thought and encourage users to remain online far longer than people intended. Social media purposely nurture a lucrative (for them) addiction. We all have a need to be liked, after all. That’s what Facebook’s thumbs-up emoji relies on.
LAST MONTH, the 10th World Emoji Day was celebrated on July 17. According to Emojipedia – the acknowledged authority in the field – the most popular emojis so far this year are the Face with Tears of Joy (which was also top of the list in 2013), followed by the ROFL pictograph. (That’s Rolling On The Floor Laughing, if you need me to spell it out.) They are followed by the Red Heart, Folded Hands, and Loudly Crying Face.
According to a USA Today report: “Collectively, we share more than 10 billion emojis daily. That’s nearly seven million a minute.”
Among those expected to appear on a social media platform near you next year is the Phoenix, rising out of the ashes to depict a success.
While I’m rarely lost for words, I do find myself baffled by enigmatic emojis. Something in those 10 billion characters a day is bound to get lost in translation, or interpretation. In other words, this type of sign language needs to be used with care because the mixed messages are part of the package. One person’s laugh is another person’s ridicule.
Emojis lack nuance and subtlety, but in the past decade, those iconic characters have become undeniably a part of our lives, messages, and emails. In an age when so much of what passes for communication is conducted on X (ex-Twitter), Threads, Telegram, and Facebook et al, when words fail, there’s always an emoji willing to do the job. The social media are sadly lacking in the social graces.