How did netizens get so stuck up on social media?

It’s a testament to the power of the biggest social platforms that many common complaints about them sound contradictory. They’re accelerators for extremism that simultaneously uphold suffocating consensus.
How did netizens get so stuck up on social media?

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They’re wastes of attention and should play a smaller role in people’s lives; however, they also need to be improved, refined and purged of bad actors, whoever you think they might be. They’re advanced surveillance machines, but they also routinely serve irrelevant recommendations and ads. They’re cutting-edge behaviour modification tools, but they’re also overtly spammy, seeking engagement through clumsy and often misleading notifications.
And for, or despite, all those reasons, people can’t seem to leave them — a point bolstered by financial statements. Facebook, as a company, is doing extraordinarily well, and Twitter saw its revenue grow last quarter. Still, within the disparate critiques of social media, there is a shared experience for many — a loss of patience with “this site,” or a withering assessment of how people behave “on here.” An urge to type “this hellsite” into the hellsite itself, to like that post about how much the poster hates posting. They’re aware of the irony; still, they can’t stop. They might even suggest it’s their own fault, which it isn’t, at least not entirely. They’re just stuck. Maybe you are too. What does it mean to be stuck, in platform terms? It’s not the same as being trapped; you’re as free to leave Instagram as you were to join it in the first place. Neither is being stuck a mere habit, or pattern of personal behaviour over which you’ve lost some amount of conscious control.
Stuckness, instead, is a largely unforeseen consequence of the manner in which modern social networks became popular and powerful in the first place. Social networks, even the very biggest, are virtually worthless without people — not just as customers, but as sources of value for other customers. The term of art for this phenomenon is the “network effect,” a concept predating social media and the internet in general. A telephone system, for instance, gets better as more people use it, and is at its best when everyone has a number; likewise, a social network needs multiple users to function at all, but tends to become more compelling the more it connects. Today’s biggest social networks were founded by people and supported by investors for whom network effects were both a gospel and a plan: build a network, reach a critical mass, watch it grow, then accelerate, creating an insurmountable advantage over anyone else attempting to connect people in similar ways.
Over time, these networks became more strange, leading some users to consider, as network effect theorists had in the past, the possibility of a network that becomes worse as it continues to grow. Late joiners enjoy the benefit of fresher connections and no baggage. Others are plainly miserable. Stuck users are subjected to indefinite experimentation. Through their chosen networks within the larger network, users also experience subordinate forms of stuckness, pulled into intense group social dynamics rooted in hasty friend requests made years ago. This sort of stuckness isn’t permanent or entirely unexpected, but it is characterised by lasting longer than anyone anticipated. And though recognising one’s stuckness might not make it easier to leave a social media platform, it has other benefits. If nothing else, it’s a more genuine form of connection to our fellow user than any platform-generated mechanic can provide: a shared feeling that this — whatever it is — isn’t what we signed up for.
John Herrman is a tech reporter for NYT©2021
The New York Times

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