Information floods the internet. You can’t control it, but it must be controlled for you to absorb it. It is primarily controlled through infinite feeds of content on social media. Because sites control the feed, they control a part of your bubble. Your bubble is the natural and selected sources of information that influence what we think and do.
Businesses with the most control over your bubble can show you the content they want to show you. The feed wants to show you content that keeps you on the platform and makes them money. They cloud what bubble you are in or add content from other bubbles “for engagement.”
If you leave the feed unchecked, your bubble becomes filled with content that maximizes engagement rather than the goals you want. If you are looking to learn or be informed, the feed doesn’t prioritize that for you. Letting the feed control your bubble is good if your goals are to be mildly entertained or outraged at all times.
On top of this, social media sites make it hard for you to understand why you are seeing content, especially with algorithmic feeds. People you follow like or share for many reasons. Clickbait, fake news, low-quality content all arise from the success of low context content. Low context content is often low effort content. It appeals to the broadest audience possible. This is a race to the bottom. What we end with are GIF recipes and political fighting.
High context content requires more effort to create and consume, so it appeals to a smaller audience. Appealing to a smaller audience means less engagement and less money for the feed. Because social media sites make money through ads, they will continue to show you low context, high engagement content forever.
You can take back control of your bubbles. The first step is being aware of the power of the feed and its incentives. The second step is changing where you get information to better align with the goals of learning and informing.
Communities To The Rescue
Communities offer a solution to the context-less, low-quality content of the broader internet. They improve information through context, relevancy, and moderation.
Communities call the bubble by name, they don’t try to blur it. They allow you to understand what bubble you are in. Instead of guessing the context of every post, communities tell you. You gain a focused mindset within the context of community. They provide you a place to think about a certain topic, rather than thinking about all topics at once.
Although content shared is specific, less effort is needed to understand it. Content is better aligned with the context of the community. Each new piece of information in a community builds on past pieces. It gains from the history, trends, references, and recommendations of the community. This creates deeper knowledge that is difficult to get on social media.
The problem with many feeds is the sources in your bubble provide irrelevant information. They share everything interesting to them, rather than what is interesting to you. In communities, someone had to look for relevant content and go through the effort of sharing it for you to see it.
People in communities identify with the content they are seeing. The feeds contain other people’s content. Communities contain “our” content. Because you identify with a group, information shared with that group is likely relevant to you. Community members share interests with you. Communities provide a filter for information to pass through which increases the content’s authority.
Communities aren’t immune to low-quality content, but there is a person behind posts. Members are incentivized to share information the community finds interesting rather than maximizing engagement to sell ads. Someone decided the content should be shared because they think it is relevant to the group, which is better than an algorithm trying to get you to click ads.
There is no one moderating your feeds to keep them on the topic except for yourself. This leads to plenty of off-topic discussions. No one realizes the damage these actions do to the feed’s content quality. It prevents people from engaging who normally would. It prevents information from being shared that might be interesting. It lowers the quality of content.
Communities develop social norms that social media sites don’t. People in communities take moderation seriously. Moderators help improve the community’s information quality. They remove off-topic content, spam, trolling, and more.
Getting banned from a community is a good incentive. Miscreants get shunned from the community. Unfollowing is a bad incentive because few people do it. When you have even a small following, losing a follower or two doesn’t show. Bad behavior continues, while in communities it can’t.
People who complain about social media provide the solution of deleting everything. This is unrealistic because people are information hungry, they’ll always be searching for more. Swapping feeds with communities is a more realistic solution.
Communities aren’t a perfect solution to the flood of information or for avoiding bubbles. Communities are a bubble. People can still be apart of “bad” bubbles. Poor quality content can still ruin communities. The total information you get will be lower. Your bubble might be smaller. I think many people will find these trade-offs appealing.
Swapping feeds for communities creates fewer incentives for engagement and more for learning and informing is good. It might better align with your goals when they take in information. Try it.
Let me know what you think on Twitter.