We love social media for the quick-fire dopamine hits it gives us although we know they are largely worthless.
We just don't want to admit it.
Likes, hearts, +1s, retweets, re-blogs, however we receive these "plaudits", they are the minimum viable social action: completely disposable and, in most cases, reliant on no other interaction to initiate.
When someone shares a link we can like or spread it without clicking, without knowing what it contains or what we are associating ourselves with.
But that is exactly what we are doing.
We are aligning ourselves with the unknown. Let that sink in for a moment.
Although many say in their bios that a retweet or re-share does not constitute agreement or support, unless they explicitly state that for each instance, the assumption is made and they are personally linked to that content.
It amazes me how many do it without considering or even realising the reputational damage it could do.
And, while, as the sharer, it's nice to get the "support" it is hollow.
Need for change
One thing I particularly like about the new Member's homepage on Medium is that there is not a single heart icon to be seen anywhere.
While it might seem like a small thing, and sound like a stats junky's idea of Dante's seventh circle of hell, this is actually quite a major deal.
At least it is for me.
One thing I used to enjoy with Google+ was that there was no automation, no way to cross-post from another network.
Every post or share had to be an explicit, considered action. What you chose to do with it was up to you.
So, why is having no hearts on the Medium homepage such a big deal?
It tries to reassert the notion of value, which is what the whole membership drive is trying to generate.
Items can't be recommended straight from the "feed" without at least being opened. What happens next is, again, up to the individual but the implication is that to recommend an item it has to be worth something.
The time must be invested to determine that worth.
What if other social properties adopted a similar approach? What if Twitter insisted you followed a shared link before allowing you to like it or retweet? What about Facebook?
What if social networks actually made you slow down and think about what you were doing, what you were "agreeing to" and the implications that might have?
I'm not suggesting it would fix the problems we currently have but it could make a difference. The spread of abuse and misinformation could be slowed by the introduction of friction into the process. Bots solely used for trolling could potentially be silenced.
Okay, so people might get fewer likes but those they did get would be more sincere, more meaningful and that is a far better metric than numbers alone.
But it won't happen.
Networks rely on the feed's relentless pace to generate the rush that keeps people coming back.
Sanity always loses in a numbers game.