Twitter virtues

Social media is void of opportunity for integrity and full of depravity, training our virtues in the wrong direction.

The proliferation of twitter-wars and online harassment have left us unaccountable. The most platforms will do to reprimand users is shut down their (typically anonymous) accounts- hardly a slap on the wrist.

Interacting in perceived isolation, an internet user will callously or consciously act. What dictates a person’s actions when they live in a digital-forrest disguised as a physical echo chamber?

Prolific conservationist and author, Aldo Leopold writes of the solitary sport of hunting in the same light:

Whatever the hunter’s acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than by a mob of onlookers…
Voluntary adherence to an ethical code elevates the self-respect of the sportsmen, but it should not be forgotten that voluntary disregard of the code degenerate and depraves him.

A Sand County Almanac

What if there was accountability in our networks for slander and cruelty? Could we remake social media like a true society with checks and balances?

What if we could have a mental health department devoted to checking public digital spaces to identify users at risk before the damaging effects of social media go to far?

We are behind the curve. The UK holds an appointed office for a political Minister of Loneliness devoted to bringing cross-community services together around those experiencing isolation (created pre-COVID; now especially vital).

Before this, we still must ask how we are training ethics through digital platforms. We’re setting users up for profound failure or neutral complacency about the existence of these choices.

Such deer-hunting is not only without social value, but constitutes actual training for ethical depravity elsewhere.


What did you notice today? ///

what’s costly

Why is manipulative design cheap while permissive design is costly?

We know the tricks- the limbic hijacks to take over a person’s attention circuitry, notifications to evoke curiosity, “Hot Deals” to soothe buyer’s remorse, a smattering of fake-not-fake testimonials to increase authenticity.

These are a dime-a-dozen and effortless to cram onto our site.

What’s hard is not taking shortcuts to build loyalty. Not using clickbait to gain viewers. Not advertising half-truths (or blatant lies, because sadly it needs to be said).

When we give our whole pitch from a place of respect for human attention and dignity, it looks different- and it’s much harder…

But not really. Because long-term trust is built. More opportunities for a strong customer base appear. More opportunities to resist the race to the bottom mentality means elevating our collective ethical restraint and integrity.

You put in the premium for trust, and the work pays for itself.

The best shortcut, in this case, is no shortcut at all.

Seth Godin on Permission Marketting

What did you notice today? ///

design

A friend sent me a photo of his engagement alongside a message about his attempt to get away from social media. It wasn’t going well.


glossary

It’s gone too far and it’s too far gone- writing anything else would be an untruth- It’s too far gone, but you and your attention are not.

What would it look like for a network we call social to be made up of a true picture of society?

Social is not an algorithm built to decide what you see. Social is not giving the keys to advertising companies out for a profit. Social is not the 1% of rich, famous, cool, or hip populating your feed.

I believe there is a version of social media we could create that takes the user into account- we’re just not there yet. Where we are (and a starting point for this conversation) is design.


Marketing students who focus in digital marketing become adept at something called “conversions.” A conversion is a sale or (in a broader sense) movement of a consumer towards an engagement metric measured (subscribe, buy, view).

Conversion can be suggestive, persuasive, or manipulative. Imagine a scale marketers can dial to raise engagement. Low success to high success, but (counter-intuitively) high cost to low cost. Manipulative conversion has high success but very low cost.

Scam sites litter their pages with bright, red “Buy Now” buttons next to auto-playing video advertisements. It’s unhelpfully sorted, unnecessarily sorted, and grotesquely manipulative of our base instincts and neuroscience.



We may view these features as “distracting” or “annoying” but this view is dangerously naive. James Williams (of Time Well Spent) writes, “In the short-term, distractions keep us from doing the things we want to do. In the longer term, however, they can accumulate and keep us from living the lives we want to live…”

This is the heart of conversion-centered design.

Even at the suggestive level, we are influenced to do things we don’t want to do. Look at the chart above. This study was taken from a LinkedIn page (arguably the least attention stealing social media), so just imagine the manipulative design features saturated on platforms like Instagram and Facebook.


This may be a question you’ve had:
Why should I leave social media?

Design is an iceberg tip of polarization, disinformation, mental health problems, online bullying, addictive hooks, false realities, and a greedy attention economy.

I wish this wasn’t true. Connection and life-giving community are essential to our survival, and digital spaces could be a new frontier for so many displaced by toxic culture. I wish that world existed… but social media is inherently built wrong. Manipulative design is a core feature, not a bug in the system.

The question isn’t “why should I leave“… Why would you stay?


///

a marketer’s confession

I wish I could say I didn’t believe in marketing. That would be the easy way out.

No, my confession is that I fully believe in marketing. I believe we have been convinced of everything we believe because of marketing. I believe we have built unique lifestyles because of a marketer’s influence.

Worst of all, I believe we need marketing. But first, we need a Marketing Reformation.

The seeds are slowly being planted-do you see it? Third-party tracking disabled, ethical advertisement design conversations in the Senate, the past decade of alternative systems for business outreach (permission marketing, the 3 P’s, a gift economy not based on market scarcity).

There is more than a corrupted system bent on financial maximization. There is crowdfunding products we support, patron investors in creative work that inspires, ethical goods with a transparent premium to support human dignity…

There is more to unpack, but it needs to be acknowledged-
Marketing (alongside religion) is the most influential tool of culture.

How will we perceive it? How will we use it?


What did you notice today? ///

glossary

Let’s define some terms.

FeedCreated by social media/networking platforms. A feed is a place providing updates whenever new content is available.
Imagine a pig hovering discontentedly over a feeding trough waiting for its master to pour another batch of toxic sludge being passed for food. Just like that.

Infinite Scroll Created by penitent technologist (I’m so sorry, says inventor of endless online scrolling). Refers to content that can be scrolled or swiped through endlessly with a near instantaneous refresh rate.
Doom-scrolling is the anti-intentional act of going through a feed until you reach its end or your brain’s jelly-fication.

User – Someone being used by social media.

NotificationCreated with the invention of cell phones and smartphones. Notifications signal new content visually and audibly on your feeds or messaging apps.
Great for diminishing your focus and jerking your attention away from your lunch date or job. (The mere presence of your smartphone on a table, turned off and face down, drains your attention)

Like Button Created by more technologists fighting against commandeered tech they created. The most convenient engagement mechanism on platforms (one-click) to demonstrate approval without context or thought.

Limbic hijacking – The way technology hacks our lizard emotions and brain to drive time not well spent and behavior. Tech companies engage in a “race to the bottom” of our limbic system that’s base instinct is the flight response we feel every moment we reach for our phones to hide…

GamificationTerm created by psychologists after big-tech’s exploitation of limbic hijacking. The leveraging of game mechanics and addiction to digitally engage and motivate users to achieve their goals.
Actually, not so bad. Fitness, nutrition, work, and mental health goals can be easily met using gamified systems. Gamified attention stealers (social media) make this a double-edged sword.


Manipulative Design – The sum game of the above definitions.
Social Connection was what social media inherently wants to be. Through manipulative design, Social Comparison is the game platforms have begun to play.

Instead of paralleling the constant upgrades iPhones receive, we are downgraded by big-tech’s promotion of shortened attention spans, outrage-fueled dialogue, app addiction, vanity, and a polarized political climate. This is the water we swim in…

We just fail to define it properly.


What did you notice today? ///