Social media

We don’t hate social media – we hate businesses

“I just don’t use Facebook. Like clockwork, this is the predictable and sometimes infuriating response I get from readers whenever I criticize social media.

I say “infuriating” because of the contempt for the reaction. While individual reasons for not using social media are of course understandable, opting out of Facebook and Instagram et al is a bit like trying to eat only sustainably sourced foods or buying products from sustainable sources. ‘ethical business: you certainly can, but in some ways you inevitably lose out.

The idea that you should either stop complaining and leave these sites is so pervasive that recently, when I announced my engagement on Facebook, a company executive posted in a mocking tone that he was “happy to” see it here ”.

The implication, of course, was that as a vocal critic of Facebook, posting personal news there made me a hypocrite – and the truth, maybe, was Facebook isn’t that bad after all.

The idea that you should either delete your account or shut up has been called into question recently, however, when it was revealed that when given a choice, people would continue to use the apps but choose not to be tracked. by them.

This revelation came to light because of Apple. In April of this year, the iPhone maker introduced a change in which apps had to ask permission to track certain behaviors of their users. The Financial Times reports that the change resulted in advertisers shifting their budgets from social media apps to iPhones. This move was so big that it totaled $ 10 billion in lost revenue for apps like YouTube, Facebook, etc.

To be clear, this wasn’t just Apple’s policy stance in the defense of privacy. While that may be the public line, when advertisers moved their inventory, they moved it to Android devices and Apple’s own ad service.

The news is nevertheless important. Many have suggested that this was just an Apple tactic – a mix of public relations and competitive action that rocked the company’s big tech peers.

But in reality, it was a change in consumer behavior, enabled by Apple. When people opened an app and asked whether or not to let an app follow them, enough people said no, that $ 10 billion in ad inventory was moved.

This suggests that what bothers people about social media is not the services themselves, but what underlies them and is carried with the business model. When given a choice, they will continue to use social media, but withstand at least some of its downsides.

It makes sense. While naysayers make the usual arguments that social media is a waste of time, in truth, there is a lot of use in it.

Facebook is used by many to plan events or stay in touch with those many people that you are not necessarily close to, but still feel affection for. Twitter can be a mess at times, but those who spend their days there can be much more informed and connected than those who don’t.

Yes, Facebook and Twitter have huge drawbacks. But social media can reduce distance, foster community, provide creative outlet, and also be a hotbed of social change and activism.

So, to say that you have to get rid of it or not to complain about it is to miss the point.

Social media represents a vast social and technological evolution which has brought about profound and widespread changes in society and in individual behavior. Essentially, it’s about the digitization of the public sphere – the movement of public discourse and certain social interactions to the online world.

The problem with social media isn’t the concept itself: the notion of a web of social connections, or a place to post thoughts or photographs, or come together in a community. Rather, it is the domination of a new social form by a handful of companies, each of which has built a company on exploitative, invasive or harmful practices that produce as many inconveniences as advantages.

Presented with the slightest sense of agency, people choose something else. This suggests that we don’t want to be free from social media, but to be free from this version of it – the centralized, ad-based cacophonous version that so completely dominates today.

You don’t use Facebook? Good for you. But it seems clear that what people want is an alternative, or at least something deep on social media to change. After all, the choice between cutting yourself off from the contemporary and being stalked, vituperated or worse hardly seems like a choice.

Navneet Alang is a Toronto-based freelance tech columnist for The Star. Follow him on Twitter: @navalang