In Defence of Commonalty: On the Future of Social Media
Image: Andrei Lacatusu
Elon Musk’s recent ownership of Twitter has reigned chaos among its users. Promises of weakened moderation, large-scale staff cuts and significant changes to the platform have turned many toward Mastodon, its decentralised alternative, with founder Eugen Rochko announcing some 800,000 new accounts created in the past few weeks.
Whilst Twitter users scramble for alternatives, many remain pessimistic about existing platforms. Writer and community member of Twitter’s transgender community, Cassie LaBelle, explains to Wired that “Discord isn’t going to be Twitter. It will be me grabbing all the people I have in my circle right now and running in the other direction as fast as possible because fascists are chasing us.”
It’s worth noting that these platforms of communal refuge, specifically Discord, have a deep and ever-growing relationship with Web3. That’s why the word ‘community’ and this endeavour to ‘create’ it litter Web3 discourse. This terminology has a chokehold on purpose statements and, like all words overused, is increasingly losing all meaning.
A differentiation must be made to bring fidelity back to this movement, and it starts with the parasocial relationship that is online influencing. It’s fair to say that the average Instagram user is aware of the algorithm that guides their attention (see Government Agent Watching Me meme) and that the influencer influx, now needing a scale from micro to macro, has deteriorated their mystique.
Despite the crack in this black mirror, social media since the early-2010s has attempted to control the parasocial relationship between ‘followers’ and ‘influencers’ (or ‘creators’) through tech updates. We can see this in how influencers have made public their need for followers to adjust settings to be shown their content.
Remember Australia’s own influencer Mikaela Testa, scoring her first fifteen minutes of fame for publicly decrying the loss of numbered likes on Instagram. Or your mutual friends, as they continue to take to Instagram stories to complain about repetitive posts and non-stop ads. This pessimism toward the meddling of major Web2 social media platforms has worsened since the pandemic, with many wanting to jump ship but no one knowing where to go.
It’s here where we sit at an interesting crossroads. At the core of Web3’s cry for ‘creating community’ is tech decentralisation, meaning, the disruption of Web2’s meddling ways. Unfortunately, the lifecycle for this disruption still sits firmly in ‘early adopter,’ thanks to a particular community of crypto-hungry NFT investors peddling exclusivity.
Regardless, the disenfranchisement of Twitter users, like LaBelle, is seeing sights scurry toward Web3 adjacent platforms like Discord. Many have leapt to Mastodon, but its struggle to update tech under the weight of new members isn’t solving this problem quickly enough.
Whilst I can empathise, it’s here where the pessimistic attitude must stop if we’re ready to push forward a better future for social media. Updates and developments require tangible support from a group of individual users. Decentralisation often means the true price (that need not be monetary) of the free platforms you use becomes flagrantly apparent. If you want updates that align with your needs and the convenience of having them now, you must contribute meaningfully to the platform.
In saying this, what is our real ‘problem’ with Web2 social media? Inauthenticity and isolation are not the problems cultural discourse once perceived them to be, and this obsession further led the individual down a path of personal shame. The problem, more broadly, is the disenfranchisement I mentioned previously. We, the people, want to regain control over the technologies that have become an inextricable part of our life and work, thanks to Facebook’s monopoly.
What we’re asking for through the disavowal of Web2 social media’s parasocial meddling is the adoption of a socialist relational exchange (the wish to shift our society from private ownership to social ownership). And, perhaps, that’s why the majority remain resistant. It’s hard to imagine an online world where you have a hand in its creation, and it’s harder to understand how to play your hand when it’s been tied behind your back for so long.
Pioneering the adoption of this new exchange is Jia Ling Yang, Founder and CEO of Playground, a Web3 platform that facilities the organic discovery and creation of modern communities. Doing away with the cynicism of social media by inviting users to build and play collaboratively, the project is the first of its kind to bring fidelity back to the word ‘community.’
Playground answers the fragmented, siloed and algorithmic issues many Web2 social media users have experienced in the last decade. It also provides builders of Web3 communities with streamlined, interoperable tools that allow its’ management to stay in one, decentralised place, away from the grasp of Web2.
Its’ Play Point ecosystem works to incentivise meaningful participation within these communities. Functioning emotionally as ‘likes’, this system grants access to events, discounts, and rewards. Put simply, what you reap is what you sow, as with any relationship. And, whilst some tech pessimists might see this as furthering social media’s inauthentic and isolated exchange, it proves the opposite.
Suppose this mass exodus from Web2 social media reveals anything. In that case, a large group of people (millennials, particularly those who had no choice but to participate in the acceleration of Web2) are trying to learn, or re-learn, how to tangibly contribute to a community of their choosing.
So, what does the future of social media hold if not what most of Web3 believes is a ‘real’ community? Commonality. The word commonality is defined as the state of sharing features or attributes. This speaks directly to the enfranchisement we’re looking for, the opportunity to exchange freely and find each other easily through our own attributes, not algorithms.
Commonality can also be used in place of the historical term commanlty, which means ‘the common people’. Web3’s decentralisation, or this movement away from centralised control by the world’s elite, is ultimately a plight of the common people. The people without rank or stature who wish to reclaim their involvement in a society they work tirelessly to be a part of. In defence of commonality are projects like Playground that enfranchise their users, and it is here where a brighter future for social media lies.
Strategic Copywriter | Arthaos