There is now widespread agreement that social media is a problem. In describing his hiring at The Atlantic and abrupt firing at the behest of a Twitter mob, Kevin Williamson concludes that the problem is how “the rage-fueled tribalism of social media, especially Twitter, has infected the op-ed pages and, to some extent, the rest of journalism.”
That’s a good summary of this dystopian phase of the new media. Despite the promise that the Internet would supercharge the propagation of new ideas, it seems to be having the opposite effect, narrowing people’s minds and crippling their ability to process new ideas and cope with ideological dissent.
But what if the problem with social media isn’t the medium, but the “social” part? Every social media company sells itself to us by talking about how they’re bringing the world together and helping to “build communities.” Mark Zuckerberg talks about this sort of thing endlessly. But what if all this community-building is the problem? What if it is just functioning as an engine of conformity, tribalism, and small-mindedness?
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