It’s the end of an era as I head to Washington and this year’s “FOSI” – shorthand for the Family Online Safety Institute’s annual gathering of people in the Internet safety field. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone on stage tomorrow isn’t feeling this too. Stay tuned – I’ll let you know.
Americans were pretty distracted this past week, with midterm elections that felt like a referendum on democracy itself. But even that couldn’t completely eclipse the feeling that social media is seeing a tectonic shift – not with the news of Big Tech’s big downsizing (now at 120,000 tech workers displaced so far this year and 20,000 this past week), crypto’s collapse and Twitter chaos in the wake of Elon Musk’s takeover (see the Washington Post or Wall Street Journal for more).
Author Steven Levy wrote that Stripe cut 14% of its workforce, Intel 20%, the Robinhood app 25%, Lyft 13%, Snap 20%, Shopify 1,000 workers, Meta 11,000 (but that’s “only” about 14% of its employees). It’s hard to believe Meta about doubled its workforce during the pandemic to some 87,000. “Apple and Amazon simply announced hiring freezes,” Levy continued.
It’s even harder to imagine what it felt like at Twitter over the past couple of weeks. The company laid off half of its workforce – via email, reportedly – while those not laid off were working crazy hours to implement changes that were not well thought through. Then the company tried to hire some of the laid-off people back. Key executives, such as Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of Trust & Safety resigned, and Musk even said, reportedly, that bankruptcy couldn’t be ruled out.
What on earth are you doing, Mr. Musk? Was this a self-fulfilling prophecy or just overwhelm because you underestimated how complicated it is to enable free speech while protecting people and their data and complying with the Federal Trade Commission’s consent decree? (If it’s overwhelm, TechDirt founder and editor Mike Masnick helped you out with his little letter laying out the steps startups go through, Levels 1 through 20, as they realize what it takes to please advertisers, users on all points of the political spectrum and regulators, worldwide, all at the same time.)
Are you, Mr. Musk, just by demonstrating how chaotic centralized social media can be, making the case for decentralized models such as Twitter-alternative Mastodon? Blogger and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis writes that “there’s hope for a post-Musk Internet” and why there is, suggesting that we’re looking at a “federated future.”
For his part, writer Levy says this is just a great time for startups. They have an amazing pool of tech workers to bring aboard as co-founders and early stage employees. I hope he’s right, but I also hope the startups and their funders will move past the “move fast and break things” mode of tech rebirth. It’s hard to imagine such a culture change in Silicon Valley, but it’s greatly needed.
So what’s next? On the micro level, maybe people will continue to flock to Twitter alternatives such as Mastodon, but certainly not at their 657% growth pace of the past couple of weeks. At the macro level, it looks like there’s a growing fatigue with incivility and cancel culture, which leads to a kind of natural decentralization, a migration away from mass platforms to more intimate communities of like-minded and -hearted peers (for example, a social space in the fediverse network). Media will become more individualized and even more diversified even in individual users’ lives, with a range of media “tools” in their toolkits for very specific uses, such as hanging out with friends, arranging a get-together, texting Mom, playing a game, etc., etc. More of the same for young people, but evolving with them – with adults increasingly adopting what they like in young people’s approaches.
- Twitter timeline: Musk starts firing people Oct. 27
- The view from Snap: Published by The Information way back in September: “A Visionary Afloat: Snap CEO Evan Spiegel Helped Create the Social Web as We Know It. Now He’s Sinking Under It.”
- About the fediverse: “How to make the fediverse your own” – advice from Social.coop
- Oh yeah, the metaverse (or “Future prospects”: “My sad, lonely, expensive adventures in Zuckerberg’s VR” from New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo
- Grammy nominated musician Chloe Bailey: “I have a love hate relationship with social media, because if we think about it, without social media, without YouTube, without covers, my sister and I would not be here. So because of that, I will always, always, always, have a deep appreciation for it.”
- Some prescriptive ideas for making the Internet better for users from Dr. Ranjana Kumari of India’s Center for Social Research and me (see the bulleted section at the bottom)