People aren't meant to talk this much

The capacity to reach an audience some of the time became contorted into the right to reach every audience all of the time. The rhetoric about social media started to assume an absolute liberty always to be heard; any effort to constrain or limit users’ ability to spread ideas devolving into nothing less than censorship. But there is no reason to believe that everyone should have immediate and constant access to everyone else in the world at all times.

My colleague Adrienne LaFrance has named the fundamental assumption, and danger, of social media megascale: “not just a very large user base, but a tremendous one, unprecedented in size.” Technology platforms such as Facebook assume that they deserve a user base measured in the billions of people—and then excuse their misdeeds by noting that effectively controlling such an unthinkably large population is impossible. But technology users, including Donald Trump and your neighbors, also assume that they can and should taste the spoils of megascale. The more posts, the more followers, the more likes, the more reach, the better. This is how bad information spreads, degrading engagement into calamity the more attention it accrues. This isn’t a side effect of social media’s misuse, but the expected outcome of its use. As the media scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan puts it, the problem with Facebook is Facebook…

Regulatory intervention, if it ever comes, also won’t solve the problem. No proposal for breaking up Facebook would address the scale issue; the most likely scenario would just split Instagram and WhatsApp off from their parent. These entities are already global, managing billions of users via a single service. You wouldn’t get WhatsApp Pakistan, baby-Bell style. And even if you did, the scale of access people have to one another’s attention within those larger communities would still remain massive. Infinite free posts, messages, and calls have made communication easier but also changed its nature—connecting people to larger and larger audiences more and more often.