Social media and the end of nuance

I spend a lot of time on social media for someone so irritated by social media. Here are a few observations:

-The default tone of social media isn’t so much outrage as it is hyperbole. People tend to communicate from the extreme poles of emotion. We’re likely to be either very angry about things most of the time or relentlessly gushing about the sheer wonderfulness of everything. Measured perspectives are less common, in large part because they don’t attract as much attention or get as many likes/favourites/comments.

-Social media has made the boundaries between our public and our private lives very porous, because it is both private/voluntary and a constant public performance of our identities, thoughts, and emotions. As a result, fewer and fewer things are truly public or private. We aren’t witnessing the “privatization of public space” so much as we’re observing the relentless publicization and politicization of private space.

-Social media has become a powerful tool for political and social organization, but it has simultaneously debased both. We are much more likely to assert our moral perspectives as a given, without feeling the need to substantiate or found them upon anything beyond our own presumed rectitude. The communal spaces we exist in – which historically have been shaped by the overlap of material and social forces like class, religion, race, gender, etc. – are increasingly becoming spaces of our own choosing and creation. This may be welcome, but one consequence is that our horizons are constantly shrinking, and that we exist in smaller and smaller spaces of greater and greater agreement.

-Because much of social media, Twitter especially, is completely public and global we are losing any sense of locality or context. A remark made in one context is increasingly treated as a kind of world-historic event which is taken to represent anything and everything about a particular issue, conflict, or incident.

-And because social medias like Facebook and Twitter allow for extremely precise micro-targeting and segmentation, we now find ourselves in a paradoxical situation in which we’re simultaneously addressing smaller and smaller audiences whilst also speaking to everyone in the world at once. The result, at least as far as politics is concerned, is a kind of pickled moral and ethical lexicon that tries to strain itself of any specificity or ideology. Yet, at the same time, both corporate bodies and political parties are using social media as a tool to quantify and communicate preference-specific messaging to smaller and smaller sections of the electorate/market audience (same thing now, really).

-The end result is either a smarmy zealotry about X or Y that tells consumers/voters/tweeters/audiences/etc. that their individual preferences, tastes, identities, and perspectives are supremely important and valuable OR a completely homogeneous language strained of any clear commitments or proclivities. In either case, the end product contains zero nuance and makes a virtue of doing so.


One thought on “Social media and the end of nuance

  1. Calls for nuance on social media are often wielded like a sledgehammer to knock opponents down and simultaneously end discussion by lamenting that the venue does not allow for nuance. Only the rabble can use 140 characters; loftier thoughts need room to expound? I’m tired of nuance being held up as a virtue unto itself.

    I know that’s not what you are doing here: you wrote a blog post, thoughtfully, as you tend to do.

    Your second last point (about micro-targeting and segmentation) seems to actually demonstrate the presence of nuance in social media: when small segments speak to each other about common issues, they use nuanced terms as shorthand for larger ideas (when discussing feminism and attacks on it, use of “dudebro” or “SJW” becomes shorthand for what side people are on and where their views stem or are vomited up from). Nuance abounds.

    Numbered Twitter essays have been growing in popularity (even in communities unfamiliar with Jeer Heet) and are a common way of bolstering group discussion while laying out complicated thoughts.

    Even making a statement and then mocking it with a hashtag has a kind of subtlety that people need to be in on the joke to understand.

    Nuance abounds, and when it collides with a community not versed in the metaphors, shorthand and history, links to an explainer or longread are only a tap away.


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