First-Gen Social Media Users Have Nowhere to Go

The golden age of connectivity is coming to an end. “I deleted my Facebook years ago, I spend at least three to six months off Twitter every year and the Bluesky invites stay in my inbox,” a friend tells me when I ask her about her relationship with the media social has changed in recent times. “Basically, I only use [Instagram] Stories and almost never published on the grid. I do it once a week so I can say “Free Palestine” without the algorithm punishing me. I refuse to have other accounts. I moved on.”

That’s how things are today, in what’s being called the twilight of a social media era that has redefined community building and digital correspondence. For many first-generation social media users (millennials ages 27 to 42), there is a growing sense that the party is over.

Twitter is bad (sorry, I will never refer to him like X). Instagram is flooded with ads and influencers selling face creams and fitness tips. TikTok, which originally seemed like a shinier alternative to YouTube, is increasingly looking like a shopping mall full of “dupes”, prioritize hype over lasting influence.

It’s an attribute that Twitter, which I’ve spent countless hours on over the past decade, has never lacked. It was the avenue of the Black Lives Matter movement, a voice for everyday users, and through a wave of landmark and life-altering US elections, it transformed the culture into a 24/7 participatory event . There is no #MeToo without Twitter, nor the beginnings of racial reckoning in Hollywood. Twitter has reshaped the appearance of communication through a vernacular of memes and GIFs, where resident collectives like Black Twitter and NBA Twitter have excelled as virtuosos of the form.

He has it’s been a year now since Elon Musk took over Twitter, and in what seemed like record time, he is took a hammer to everything that gave the platform its unique appeal (safety and inclusion issues were an issue under former CEO Jack Dorsey, but have gotten significantly worse). Musk has created a void in the social media universe that, until now, Twitter has singularly occupied.

At its peak, from 2008 to 2015, and before social currencies like retweets and views reoriented the way users interacted with each other, no other platform offered what Twitter did in quite the same way: conversations in real time down to the second. analysis. It was a blank page, and because it was a blank page, it was a canvas to document what was happening to us and what was happening around us. It was revolutionary, and soon what we remember will be gone.

If the first promise of social media was to bring society closer to a virtual ideal, the more recent shift in how the platforms are used has lost the plot. Alongside Twitter, the erosion of the user experience on Facebook and Instagram – with tiered subscriptions, a proliferation of hate speech and misinformation, privacy protection to be sold as a luxury, and the threat of generative AI – marks a watershed moment in the value of the social web. It’s “too much of an echo chamber,” my friend says of the evolution of the social Internet. “It’s too much of treating people you know in real life as marketing categories.” Today, everything about user experience is “too overwhelming,” she says.

Today, social media is less focused on actual social connections. It’s fueled by “the appearance of social connection,” says Marlon Twyman II, a quantitative social scientist at USC Annenberg who specializes in social network analysis. “Human relationships have suffered and their complexity has diminished. Since many of our interactions now take place on platforms designed to promote transactional interactions that provide feedback in the form of attention metrics, many people don’t have much experience or practice interacting with people in contexts where there are collective or community goals for a larger group. .” It has also led people to be more aware of their image and identity in real-world interactions, Twyman adds.

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