Saturday, January 16, 2021

Social Networks as Public Square


Platformer – "What social networks can learn from public spaces"

By Casey Newton

"Public spaces display a number of features that build healthier communities, according to researchers. “Humans have designed spaces for public life for millennia,” they write, “and there are lessons here that can be helpful for digital life.” 

Here’s a list (emphasis theirs). These spaces:

Develop programming – social activities – that draw different groups in, without over-optimizing for any one group

Offer visual cues as to what kinds of behavior are invited in the space

Are designed to be physically accessible and attractive to many different populations

Engage stewards, leaders, and maintainers who can do the labor of community-building

Are designed in partnership with the communities that use them.

Save for the third bullet point on that list, these are not features that I would associate with any of our largest social platforms. And that begins to explain, I think, the rot we find throughout them. Giant, rudderless communities left to imagine for themselves what they ought to do on a platform, or how they ought to behave, often turn on one another.

Imagine if a Facebook, or a Reddit, or a YouTube offered actual programming to these communities — constructive, creative tasks that go beyond individual fundraisers or the creation of content. Would they not wind up with services that they were more proud of?

It’s relatively easy to imagine what this might look like. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been captivated by the story of the TikTok users who took it upon themselves to write a musical inspired by the Pixar film Ratatouille. It happened spontaneously — and raised $1.9 million for the Actors Fund — but there’s no reason other platforms couldn’t similarly goad their users into creativity, philanthropy, or other ends more compelling than the traditional like, comment, and share."

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