A Dystopian Social Media Functionality

I don’t know about you, but I always felt unease rather when seeing graphic posts for good social media causes. Quite confusing and not really sure how to proceed, I must admit.

For example, National Geographic is trying to raise awareness of social media (particularly on Instagram). They are running a campaign showcasing the PRC government’s decision to lift the ban on importing animal parts used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Yesterday, they published a rather graphic picture of a tiger trapped under burning firewood. Today, they opted for showing the carcasses after the fire has done its job. On both occasions, the number of likes showed me – well above 250 000.

Personally, I feel really uncomfortable deciding how to show my support for bringing this practice into a halt. I always thought that Likes have a favourable intent. Liking a graphic picture like the above mentioned does not fall into this category. But I see many of the people I follow, putting likes on these photographs.

By all means, this practice is not limited only to Instagram. I have seen people sharing disturbing news, bad experiences or another negative moment of their lives, and many likes appearing under the post. And I am not sure what to make out of it.

However, puzzling these practices are still trying to figure out a better way to conform to my personal worldview. And if we look at the major social networks (those with large enough reach, that is), we will see that compassion is not really built-in their functionalities.

Instagram and Twitter have only Likes (and a Like can mean everything). YouTube has thumbs up and thumbs down buttons, but there isn’t really a way to segment the dislikes based on intention. Facebook has the “Wow” one, but this could be easily taken for a surprise… Re-sharing content with a self-crafted message attached to it can do the job, but not on Instagram.

The thing is probably the biggest shortcoming of social media that every social network was built on a positive attitude and minimum confrontation. In the same time, societies are far from being joyful and very competitive. If you don’t believe me, you should take a look around.

In the age of algorithms, machine learning and personal data hoarding, social media functionalities don’t particularly look up. Good causes are no different from the bad ones (fake news, propaganda, vote meddling, etc.). At least not functionality wise. And the reporting functionality counts only for a minor part – those very obvious or extremely offensive cases.

Social media has indeed changed the world. But given the lack of mirroring the multifaceted human interactions, I am just not sure it does reflect really face-to-face or analogue communication. What some are trying to label as a mirror image is simply a distorted one. And that distortion springs from the constructed functionality framework.

One cannot expect to freely support a good cause showcasing ugly images of the reality when one is not given the functionality to do so. Yes, one can use a third app to repost an Instagram image, but this is not a builtin feature, and many don’t know about it or just cannot be bothered to install it.

One can retweet with a comment, but this tweet on its own move away from the thread and remains visible only to people who follow the retweeter or the Twitter’s timeline algorithm. Same goes for Facebook, especially given that most users’ gate content is limited to Friends and Friends of Friends visibility.

By the way, have you noticed that the viral fake news posts spring from a few sources which made their respective posts open to everyone?

I wish I had a recipe on how to fix the functionality problem. So far, I have not found a solution. And until this framework is in place, I have decided to remain on the positive side and putting alike only to posts bringing joy.

Photo credit: Pablo by Buffer

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