Sunday, February 26, 2023

How "Tom" Killed MySpace (and How "Elon" Will Kill Twitter)

I closed my MySpace account when they made "Tom" a mandatory friend.

Long before there was Facebook, there was MySpace.  And at first, it seemed pretty cool and novel.  But over time, it got weird.   They tried to monetize the platform too much and too soon, and it was SPAMmed with ads.  But the straw that broke the camel's back, for me, anyway, was the founder, Tom.

I kind of was losing interest in MySpace early on, and stopped logging in regularly.  There was a new kid in town called "Facebook" and my interest in that would be even shorter.  Anyway, I logged into MySpace after a few months and found they had changed the interface - both the layout and how it worked.  Suddenly, I had a new "Friend" named "Tom" who was recommending all these grunge garage bands to me.  I tried to "unfriend" him but it wouldn't let me.

I contacted customer service with the issue and they said it wasn't a bug, but a feature!  Tom would recommend kewl new kicky bands to me and I should check it out!  I decided to check out, instead.  I closed my account and never looked back.  Apparently they saw the writing on the wall with Facebook and tried to "re-imagine" MySpace as a music forum, but I'm not sure that ever worked out.

MySpace is still around, but a shadow of its former self.  It did make money for a while - when they saturated it with ads.  But the word is today they are not making much, if in fact they are not losing money. Some blame Facebook for the decline, but I am not so sure.  I think the problem was multifold.  To begin with, too many owners (including Newscorp, Viant, Justin Timberlake (!?!), Time, and something called "Meredith").  I think each owner wanted to maximize profits, and when they weren't materializing, dumped the service on the next sucker.

In addition, the change in focus from generic social networking to music-centered social networking only insured a narrow, limited audience.  And when that never really materialized (thanks to music streaming services and moreover, YouTube) its fate was sealed.  Some claim that Facebook and Twitter were more aggressive about upgrading and changing the platform. I am not sure about that - Facebook's constant changing of the interface and the algorithms was one reason I left - just as I got "my page" set up on Facebook, they changed it so everything was scrambled.  I didn't feel the time I would have to invest to unscramble it was worth itSo I closed my accountOr tried to, anyway.

It could also be that social media sites all have a story arc - a beginning, a middle, and then an end, or at least a tapering off.  Some stories are longer than others.  And maybe Zuckerberg is right - move on to the Metaverse as Facebook has already turned into an old-folks-home where grandma shares her alarming memes about demmy-crats and transgender liberals.

On the other hand, someone sent me a photo of a kid in a restaurant wearing an "Oculus" type headset, even more removed from reality than his cell phone ever could.  I can see that VR might be the new television - something parents park their kids in front of, just so they don't have to deal with them - and their behavior.

But I digress.

During the Superbowl, both Elon Musk and President Biden tweeted something about the Philadelphia Eagles, and apparently, Biden's message got retweeted twice as much as Musk's - or something like that.  Musk apparently had a meltdown and once again threatened to fire everyone (does anyone still work there other than his cousin?) unless his tweets always got seen first!  So they changed the algorithm to make him a "super-user" and the next day, people logged on and all they saw were Musk Tweets.

Meet the new Tom - the friend you cannot unfriend.  Hello, Elon.

In addition to being an utterly narcissistic move, it is one bound to backfire.  I resented having a mandatory "friend" on MySpace and I am sure many will also resent Elon elbowing his way into their lives.  People who have specifically blocked Musk from their "feed" are now finding multiple Tweets from him on the front page after they log in.   Talk about making your site toxic!

This goes right back to this "Free Speech Absolutist" and "Cancel Culture" nonsense that the far-right is pushing.  Not only do they claim to have the right to "free speech" - they can tell other people to shut up.  Moreover, everyone is obligated to hear what they have to say, sponsors are obligated to pay for it, and we have to buy the products and go to the shows put on by these right-wing nutjobs.

It is an interesting turn of events, to be sure.  The one problem with Social Media was the silo effect - once you started "liking" and upvoting or whatever, on a social media site, you end up getting nothing but that content and anything contrary is filtered out.  I am still getting knitting videos on my YouTube "home" page nearly six years later!

So, in a way, Musk has a point (so does a pencil, for that matter). People are silo'ed into echo chambers, and the worst aspect of this is that many far-right people have been lead down the road to Nazism and fascism - and even calls for violence as a result.  In the liberal silos, they are calling for national health care.  I wonder which is more dangerous?

Of course, echo chambers are only echo chambers if you let them become one.  If you go on a social media site and any contrary opinion is voted down or worst yet - deleted - then maybe you are not getting a full picture of what is going on.  On Reddit r/conservative, for example, any contrary opinion is deleted by the moderators and the user banned.

On the other hand, Twitter and Facebook have (or had) taken steps to squelch things like death threats, child porn, graphic gore videos, racism, calls to violence, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theories, and other harmful content.  And they have hardly been successful in this effort - noxious content still permeates most of social media.  Moderating content is expensive and cuts into profits.

People on the right call such content "free speech" but would delete content calling for, say, unionizing a Tesla factory. Pretty funny how that works - free speech for me, but not for thee!

Of course, the irony of the whole Twitter saga is that many on the Left are still on Twitter and spending countless hours on it complaining about Twitter and Musk and saying, "This is it!  This is the last straw!  If they keep this up I may seriously start to consider closing my account or maybe cutting back my Twitter engagement to only four hours a day!  That will make them sit up and take notice for sure!"

Social media is like an addictive drug, it seems - and some folks just can't give it up, no matter how toxic it is to their own lives or society in general.  Hey, that's just like drugs, gambling, or alcohol!