A decade ago, life without social media seemed unimaginable. Yet today, many people are imagining exactly that.
Many of the people asking is social media finished are doing so after watching the downward spiral of Twitter, or X as it’s currently known.
Following a reluctant takeover by Elon Musk, Twitter has been rebranded, shed most of its staff (including its moderators) and abandoned any pretence of vetting content.
Yet its proliferation of extreme content (pornography, hate speech, personal abuse and trolling) isn’t unique to X.
Social media as a whole is grappling with an existential crisis, as audiences fragment and retreat into confirmation bias huddles.
So is social media finished? Or are we just witnessing the demise of the first-generation giants like Facebook and Twitter?
The ever-increasing speed at which social media platforms fail is reflected in the story of Threads.
Facebook’s intended Twitter-killer was launched less than two months ago at the time of writing, yet it’s already lost 80 per cent of its registered users.
It could be argued that there’s no need to kill Twitter, given the self-destructive path it’s been on since its $44 billion takeover less than a year ago.
Its woes were summed up in the bungled attempts to remove the word Twitter from its US HQ, and the neon X sign that briefly replaced it before resident complaints forced it down.
As for Threads, the amount of time spent on the app (per user per day) has already collapsed from 14 minutes to just over two minutes.
Its parent site is faring no better. Facebook is increasingly regarded as an old person’s platform, with Millennials instead surrendering their personally identifiable information to TikTok instead.
Chinese companies are legally obliged to surrender all user data to the ruling Communist Party at any time, without asking any questions, and – crucially – without telling their customers.
As bans on Chinese technology spread, and TikTok finds itself being restricted everywhere from Afghanistan to Australia, it’s only a matter of time before its own future is called into question.
It’s good to talk
While many social media platforms are grappling with existential woes or a crisis of confidence, humans still need to communicate with each other
Mental health issues have spiked since the ghastly lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, and while online ‘friends’ are usually nothing of the sort, they still provide support networks and conversation.
The increasingly polarised nature of online debate is likely to accelerate the demise of over-arching social media platforms like Facebook.
However, conversations will endure on subreddits, in WhatsApp group chats and through LinkedIn discussions.
These platforms might not be synonymous with social media, yet they reside under its umbrella just the same.
Reddit alone has almost half a billion monthly active users, while YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine behind parent company Google.
There are no signs of Instagram losing its lustre, despite the relentless increase in ‘sponsored’ advertising content and videos that display ‘because you watched’ something entirely different.
In the meantime, new platforms are emerging, such as the invitation-only Bluesky.
Intended as a Twitter/X replacement, the founders’ decision to slowly increase user numbers means it’s short of content (or people you might already know), despite its obvious potential (and stronger moderation).
The genie’s out of the bottle
Until smartphone addiction is taken seriously – even the term for not being connected (nomophobia) feels flippant – social media apps will remain at our fingertips.
Online habits have become deeply entrenched after two decades of encouraging people to share their innermost thoughts, often to the delight of scammers and spammers.
Social media is not finished, then, even if some of its founding platforms are in their death throes.
What we can expect to see is the influence and perceived value of specific social brands diminishing over the coming years, as the market fragments into numerous micro-platforms.