In 2006, Jack Dorsey and his peers put their heads together to create what we now know as Twitter. Dorsey, years later, shared why the name made perfect sense for their product:
[W]e came across the word ‘twitter’, and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential [read: insignificant] information,’ and ‘chirps from birds’. And that’s exactly what the product was.1
When I saw the company’s CEO refer to Twitter’s original intentions with this kind of nonchalance, I was floored. I certainly don’t think Dorsey expected Twitter to become what it is today, not only in terms of size and popularity. I think even the purpose of Twitter has done an about-face. Everyone is on Twitter with a mission to be affirmed for what they’re saying or selling. Everyone has significant information for the masses to hear. Even the “Follow” and “Retweet” actions are often viewed/used as a vote of support or endorsement, which only furthers users into the mindset that what they have to say is of extreme importance.
Facebook follows a similar line. The etymology stems from its simple purpose: connecting people. It was designed primarily as a connecting tool, helping university students see who is in their class, who shares mutual friends, and so forth. Though they have become the most widely visited social networking site in the world, I would argue that our purpose for Facebook has shifted. Oftentimes the goal of Facebook is no longer to connect, but to exhibit the disconnect between people, groups, sects, and parties. Long gone are the days when family pictures and literal “status updates” were the majority of Facebook feeds. “Status Updates” are now “Opinion Updates,” where we clue in our friends how we feel about a current event. Most of the pictures shared on the site are shared precisely because of their divisive message in nature. Oftentimes satirical or sarcastic, oftentimes offensive, oftentimes not the kind of pictures Facebook was designed to share.
What is the end result of these two streams of thinking? “Listen to me. I am againstthis.” This causes a fault-sized divide day in and day out. Pick your topic: Syrian refugees, #BlackLivesMatter, Planned Parenthood, child vaccinations.
In today’s culture, social media is a Coliseum of sorts. Like the famous Rome amphitheater, social media sites have become architecturally designed to create gladiator-like battles between opponents, all while the masses cheer on from the stands. Not only do we want to wage war with our enemies and slaughter them in the public square, but we want the crowd to roar in approval all the while.