The Elephant in the Room

Let’s get straight to the point. You should, as I have, delete at least most of your social media accounts as soon as possible. I have kept LinkedIn, because it has a function and works mostly as a recruitment channel and does not play with the same rules as the rest of the bunch.

So, Why am I writing about this now? I don’t want to comment the events that have happened recently in game development regarding a series of abusive individuals and even companies being brought to light and everything following that. However, I don’t want to be silent about the platforms where these things are happening.

The main keyword here is engagement. It’s a like, a share a click on link and the type of events which build the virality of anything published on a social media platform. Viral means that the publication has spread out like a virus, a disease. An example of a viral social media post might be a video of an animal performing an amazing feat, or just something cute, silly and relatable. A post like this is very unlikely to go viral, though, as there are many who try to do this.

A culture of cruelty

However, the far easiest way to get engagement is anger. We are humans, and thus susceptible of getting riled up about something that touches us personally. It might be someone being cruel to an animal or a child, it might be someone using a position of power for being abusive or it might be something that is shifting an interest of ours to a possibly unwanted direction. Of course this no call for people to be quiet about their abusers or horrible working conditions and reckless people. This is a concern about the scope of it in social media and the culture it’s creating.

When someone is outed, it creates a certain type of free pass on being cruel towards that person. Ridicule at its lightest, death threats and physical harm at its worst. Most users don’t engage in this type of cruelty, but many do. They are generally people with loving relationships, friends and occupations but also a tendency of responding poorly to adversity, which is, well… all of us. Some just have poor impulse control, some are just joking and some have genuinely ill intent.

Everyone is a celebrity and everyone is a paparazzi

This is no call for people to stop outing their abusers. It is a known problem that victims aren’t believed by authorities and social media might seem like the first way for people to seek justice. Unfortunately things usually get blown out of proportion, and bad things happen. You don’t need to be an abuser to get to suffer the full power of social media, though. Sometimes just a minor offense, such as dumping gardening waste and being angry over getting filmed is enough.

Enter the tale of “risumies”. The 71-year-old man who was dumping twigs to the nature got filmed and bullied so badly he wasn’t able to leave his home. He died a year later due to his health rapidly declining over the events. Nobody’s perfect. This could be anyone of us being grumpy, lazy or inconsiderate. This could be a screenshot of a private conversation where we are not showing our best side. This could be a bullied child lashing out and made to look like a bully themself.

We need to abandon these platforms, first personally, then professionally

As game developers, professionals and human beings, there is a need to keep a presence in social media, because the modern culture more or less forces us to. If we aren’t in, we don’t exist. First, you need to give up that notion. The thing is, these platforms aren’t too big to fail. They’re getting to the point of too big to sustain and leaving is a way to bring them down. We need to set an example that it’s okay to leave.

It’s hard, though. We have so many connections there, but there is a way for making it easier. If you communicate with people on Facebook Messenger, you can deactivate your account but keep your messenger peeps around and transition to instant messaging groups. Professionally, it’s a bit trickier.

We still need community managers, now more than ever

If you’re a community manager or working in advertisement or media, you probably can’t delete your account without compromising yourself professionally, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to check out. The best way is to use social media in a solely professional matter. Nothing personal. No photos of your children. No happy birthdays. 9 to 5 posts only.

The thing is, that early adopters are either abandoning the big social media platforms at a rising rate or just going for the new big flavor of the month for a while and abandoning it shortly. The field is very turbulent and it’s a good time to start taking control.

We need to build our own communities

Many of the gaming/game developer community have moved on to Discord, which is a server where anyone can make their own server for people. This is one of the tools which help us in building our own, smaller communities where we can keep things in proportion, and also to get the attention of our own interest groups. There are also forums, free forum/website providers, mailing lists, and *gasp* cafes / other public places where people can get together to engage with their audience in a more controlled and safe way without the risk of toxic virality. Smaller niche subreddits are fine, though, although I see Reddit as a huge part of the problem too.

We can’t leave control to the social media providers, who should be seen as they are – vampires who are gaining profit off of misery

Control is something we need as developers, creators and human beings. The disease is virality and clout, which feeds directly off of toxicity. We need to understand our shortcomings and limitations and be courageous enough to leave the platforms that are slowly destroying us and making us stalk each other in exchange for likes and shares. We can’t leave control to the social media providers, who should be seen as they are – vampires who are gaining profit off of misery. We need to, instead of 32 pixel thumbs and hearts, use our energy in building communities that empower us and safety nets for people who are at the risk of abuse.

Further Reading

  • Lanier, Jaron – Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now – ISBN: 9781250196682
  • Nagle, Angela – Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right – ISBN: 9781785355431