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Bad News Can Be Good News
Social media's collapsing stocks could be good for society
Some very good news was misinterpreted yesterday.
It came from Snap, in the form of a very bad quarter. Growth slowed and losses jumped. The stock crashed, down by 25%.
This was good because Snap is a social media company. It’s known for Snapchat, and its CEO, tech bro Evan Spiegel, is a younger version of Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg.
The numbers indicate that Madison Avenue, at least, is turning away from “social media,” and that users are starting to follow. The problem is “the algorithm’s” natural tendency to lead people down rabbit holes. You’re suspicious of government, we’ll make you paranoid. Then we’ll make you violent. Russia used this to install Trump, and Trump used it to create January 6.
The problem is that this is a feature, not a bug. If you watch mysteries on Netflix, then Netflix will offer you more mysteries. If you follow liberals on Twitter, it will offer you more liberals to follow. If you like medieval drama on Kindle Unlimited, you’ll be offered another medieval drama.
You’re likely to take the recommendation without thought, because if you bought a blue suit at Nordstrom the salesman will next show you a blue suit. We all have habits, and it’s the nature of salesmanship to feed them. But on the Internet, this tendency can lead to very dark places.
The Snap back was followed by similar news from Twitter, although the original Wall Street Journal headlines on the article showed a gain, not a loss. This indicates surprise in Murdoch-land.
If advertisers, and then people, are learning of this hazard of self-reinforcing escalation in our online lives, it’s possible some are also learning it in news and politics. It’s fine to love a baseball or soccer team, and to soak up everything you can on them. It’s another thing to attach that love to a politician, or a movement. That leads to dictatorship. It led to dictatorship.
Maybe we’ve turned a corner. We will know more when Meta Platforms, the artists formerly known as Facebook, reports next week. On Friday the stock was down nearly 6%.