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How times and attitudes change.

Today marks 13 years since what I have previously described as my most successful ever blog post: The 5 C's of Social Media. Not because of the number of hits or comments but because of what it started.

In recent years, however, I have been more likely to champion the one Q — quit.

Looking back, I can't help but feel a degree of sympathy for the Twitters and Facebooks of this world; they are accused of being too positive, of embracing and extolling the good while ignoring the bad but, in those heady early days, we were all like that, back when Twitter still had a public timeline and you could literally see everything that happened.

The new wave of social networks were like a brave new world, a wild West just waiting to be conquered. We got so sucked in by the promises of global conversation, of openness and collaboration across simple platforms that promised we could all have an equal voice. Yet the utopian ideal started to crack and show its, or maybe our, truer nature.

Maybe, just like the real wild West, there was an undercurrent of lawlessness, gunfights at the OK Corral in less than 140 characters, it they were more individual arguments and soon disappeared down the stream, forgotten as quickly as they arose, minor occupational hazards on the road to staking your claim. There were no algorithms to extend and amplify, no default culture of shock and fear and hate, just a genuine sense of connection, exploration and discovery.

As much as the networks are lambasted for not seeing the risks so should we. We got so caught up in the gold rush that we failed to see the damage it could do. Just as the networks are criticised for not doing enough to stop the spread of hate speech so we became amplifiers — liking and re-sharing along ever more partisan lines, revelling in abuse and conflict and, more importantly, engaging with it so that the algorithms believed it was what we wanted.

"Inside of me there are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is good and they fight each other all the time. When asked which one wins I answer, the one I feed the most." — Sitting Bull

We abandoned the old sense of community, of friendship, of reaching out across the world and the web. We rejected the notion that, together, we could make things better in favour of isolationism, at war with those who think differently rather than entering into genuine open dialogue.

We cannot lay the blame for the current state of affairs solely at the feet of the networks, we have to take a good chunk of the responsibility ourselves. Yes, the networks could have, and still could, change things for the better, rebuild their business practices and even the platforms themselves, but they react to what we feed them. If we fill them full of fear, hate and anger then that is all we will have reflected back to us.

Maybe it's too late. Maybe we have passed the point of no return, individually and collectively. Maybe the networks are so deeply entrenched in their business models that there is no way to turn the ship without it sinking — maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing. Would we even be able to start again? Are we too far down our current path that we are unable to find another way?

We have to believe that we can change this, perhaps the one Q is the only way to do so.

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COLOPHON
Colin Walker Colin Walker colin@colinwalker.blog