People complain social media is “anti-social.” They are partially right; popular social media platforms optimize for “engagement.” There are many ways to create engagement without being social, and that is what happens. You become a tool that creates engagement for social media rather than using it for your own good.
Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok show us the most engaging content, which keeps us scrolling endlessly. It also makes us forget our purpose for being there. Is the point of our time on these platforms really to look at content (and ads) from random accounts? We forget that the original purpose for users of social media was “to be social.” As an individual, you can take this purpose back.
Everyone can be more social on social media. Just because a platform is optimized to keep you scrolling, doesn’t mean you can’t use it another way. Your social media experience is in your control.
You can force social platforms to be more social. Unfollow, unlike, block, and mute every non-human account you see. Use the messaging feature more (Instagram Threads is underrated). Use social platforms that don’t optimize for engagement (Discord, Clubhouse, Telegram, Snapchat, Signal). Remove every platform with a feed. Don’t feel any loyalty to one platform over another, whatever lets you be more social is better.
To battle against social media’s engagement optimization, you must have a purpose of your own. One I’ve found useful is the idea of developing “modern friends.” The internet can be a primary way you make friends and be social with people. Many people who are active online would be happy to become friends with someone they share interests with.
Modern friends are those relationships that primarily originate and develop through digital channels (forums, email, reddit, twitter, etc).
Modern friends typically discover one another via shared personal interests, “professional” (personal development) collaboration or friend-of-friend introductions.Ryan Dawidjan
If you’re acting like an engagement tool of social media, developing modern friends requires change. Once you escape the engagement trap, opportunities to connect open up to you. Instead of liking someone’s content, you can message them. Instead of waiting for someone’s opinion, you can ask them. Instead of approving content with a like, you can tell them why you approve. Social media becomes a way to create connections with people rather than consume content.
Use social media as a tool that works for you, rather than you working for it. New ways to interact and create relationships with people online are constantly being created. Escaping the engagement trap requires new ways of thinking about these platforms, but it is entirely up to you. So do it.
Thanks to Dani Trusca, Chiara Cokieng, Stew Fortier, Dan Hunt, Christine Cauthen, and Amber Williams from Foster for the feedback.
Let me know what you think on Twitter.