Test Drive: The 6 Stages of Social Media Madness

I’ve come down with a case of blogger’s remorse. It’s not that I regret something I blogged or the decision to start a blog. What’s bothering me is my failure to take full advantage of the medium.

A blog should be a zone of spontaneity — a place for the visceral response, the casual pronouncement or the whimsical proposal. I’ve been thinking too hard and posting too little. That, at any rate, is the premise of my new feature, Test Drive. It’s for big ideas with an uncertain shelf life. So here goes my six-stage theory of the development of the social media platform.

First stage: You create something neat and useful. It helps people do good stuff, like reconnect with old friends, watch humans and animals behave cutely, or sow democracy across the Arab world.

Second stage: Your platform gets crowded. Wall Street takes notice.

Third stage: You invest in a fancy proprietary algorithm to grow your user base, keep people engaged longer, suck in advertisers, and set yourself up for an initial public offering or a big-bucks buyout.

Fourth stage: You make heaps of money and find yourself atop a global business colossus.

Fifth stage: You hear from people who think your algorithm encourages nonsensical, ugly and dangerous content. You dismiss them as fuddy-duddies.

Sixth stage: Your platform becomes an agent of terror, hatred, mass murder and tyranny around the world. Since the criticism is now impossible to ignore, you express concern and announce counter-measures that sound serious but are designed to fail, because success would undermine the business model and possibly strip you of a few of your gazillions.

For a fine illustration of the syndrome, check out the “Theory of Everything” podcast episode on YouTube’s paranoia engine. ToE’s Andrew Callaway maps the experience curated by YouTube for the young male followers of the pop psychologist Jordan Peterson (“Twelve Rules for Life”). You start out with Peterson’s moderately crazed lectures on the importance of cleaning your room and the perils of getting involved with designing women. Then – before you can say “hypergamy!” – you’re down the rabbit hole, with no exit in sight, listening to mysoginistic rants against man-hating feminists (“It’s not just your girl or your wife. It’s all women out there…. I don’t know how else to put it: we are the expendable gender.”) and Proud-Boyish tips on how to restore your alpha malehood and be extra horny and extra-aggressive with the girls you meet at the bar. Thank you, YouTube.

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