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Make Social Media Great Again

… Or at least tolerable

By Thomas Chatterton Williams | January 30, 2019

I held out longer than a lot of my friends, but sometime last year, I could no longer deny that social media had grown unbearable. Instagram, which had always been the most enjoyable of the big three, began to feel monotonous, every picture redundant. I began to make fewer permanent, beautified posts and only used the fleeting “stories” feature as a means of dropping visual updates to whoever might care to glance at them. To do anything beyond that, with occasional exceptions, felt more obligatory than inspired.

Facebook on the other hand—and I pin this largely but not entirely on Trump and the algorithmic changes his propagandistic campaign necessitated, as well as the acrimoniousness of the exchanges his very presence instigated—went from merely boring to flat-out oppressive. For years, I’ve shifted my professional life from my Facebook author page to Twitter, as the former came to resemble a tenacious panhandler, always trying to squeeze a dime no matter how many times No was the answer. The personal page is even creepier, with its little red notifications incessantly screaming for attention like the neediest boyfriend or girlfriend, sensing—rightly—that its days are likely numbered.

Twitter felt almost normal by comparison. That is until last weekend, when the mass hysteria around the MAGA-hat-wearing Covington Catholic teenagers and the thousands of polemics their behavior and that of their Native American and Black Hebrew Israelite interlocutors inspired, proved beyond any doubt that this platform, too, is broken.

I’m not sure yet of the solution. I depend to a degree on all of these spaces to keep in touch, to share and consume work, and sadly, to stimulate my dopamine receptors, like everyone else in this brave new era. But the thrill is gone, and I don’t see how the experience can ever again be made innocent.

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