He had more or less asked where has the social imperative for social media gone.
It hasn't necessarily gone anywhere. But more and more people, it seems, feel that social networks are already too negative in between their servings of silly cat videos. After all, one person's social justice is another person's social poison. And unless you're up for some diatribe, it is best to be a sycophant or perhaps stay silent. Even constructive criticism is a skill set as plenty of people are easily offended.
Recently, one of my friends told me to "read the article" after I left a comment on an article she had shared. The article asked people to pick between two vices. I had said neither, which was later attributed to me thinking like a parent. I could have said I was thinking like a person and outlined my case, but why bother? It was already apparent after two invalidations that discussion wasn't welcome.
And therein lies the crux of the problem. Not all social networks really afford as much two-way communication as one might think. Facebook is especially weak in the dialogue department.
Facebook is a lousy platform for meaningful dialogue and intelligent debate.
This isn't a network criticism. It's a recognition that the platform was designed to help people manage social connections and connect with those who have similar interests and not communication or social discourse. And while sometimes a discussion might lead someone to a revelation, such occurrences are rare. Most debates only make people feel bad at worst, awkward at best. Why?
• Facebook celebrates sycophants. It isn't by accident that Facebook has a 'like' button. The system is meant to deliver positive reinforcement from friends. "Me too" and "good job" add happiness.
• Facebook invites dogma. The wall and comment section of Facebook is much less suited to dialogue than statement making. Most discussions consist of affirmative or negative sentiment.
• Facebook skews for affirmation. Much like more and more people watch news programs that reference their beliefs, they nurture friends in the same way and unfriend those who don't fit.
• Facebook favors majority. As people mass a majority of like-minded friends, they build an army of agreement to support whatever they happen to share and sometimes to shake down dissenters.
• Facebook creates imbalance. Whereas blogs provide an open-ended forum with the potential for thoughtful discussion and Twitter forces dialogue with a 140-character limit, Facebook creates the impression that short comments feel like quips and long comments are akin to hijacking the post.
All in all, the social network is mostly designed to deliver healthy does of "good vibes" so you keep coming back for more. It mostly works that way too. Few people actually sign on to thrive as the one contrarian among friends, on their wall or someone else's spaces. Life is too short to be grumpy.
So most people sign on to share bits and pieces of their lives, with the unstated understanding that their friends will give them support or props as needed, and the unstated assumption that they do the same for their friends. And when you know that is the system by design, it doesn't make much sense to muck it up by floating out too many ideologies, issues, or opinions that people disagree with.
Sure, there are those like Trish Forant (and myself) who are generally more than happy to celebrate our diversity of friendships and willingness to agree to disagree. But nowadays, fewer people seem accustomed to the notion that most topics cannot be boiled down into black and white, red or blue.
Why would they be accustomed to anything else? Facebook is purposefully designed for someone to either "like" something or remain silent. Anything else carries the risk of negative reinforcement. Real discussion, on the other hand, requires a better format and, occasionally, a decent moderator.