Social Quitting

How social media barons squandered their lock-in and made themselves obsolete.

Cory Doctorow


In “Social Quitting,” my latest Locus Magazine column, I advance a theory to explain the precipitous vibe shift in how many of us view the once-dominant social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter, and how it is that we have so quickly gone asking what we can do to get these services out of our lives to where we should go now that we’re all ready to leave them:

The core of the argument revolves around surpluses — that is, the value that exists in the service. For a user, surpluses are things like “being able to converse with your friends” and “being able to plan activities with your friends.” For advertisers, surpluses are things like “being able to target ads based on the extraction and processing of private user data” and “being able to force users to look at ads before they can talk to one another.”

For the platforms, surpluses are things like, “Being able to force advertisers and business customers to monetize their offerings through the platform, blocking rivals like Onlyfans, Patreon, Netflix, Amazon, etc” and things like “Being able to charge more for ads” and “being able to clone your business customers’ products and then switch your users to the in-house version.”

Platforms control most of the surplus-allocating options. They can tune your feed so that it mostly consists of media and text from people you explicitly chose to follow, or so that it consists of ads, sponsored posts, or posts they think will “boost engagement” by sinking you into a dismal clickhole. They can made ads skippable or unskippable. They can block posts with links to rival sites to force their business customers to transact within their platform, so they can skim fat commissions every time money changes hands and so that they can glean market intelligence about which of their business customers’ products they should clone and displace.

But platforms can’t just allocate surpluses will-ye or nill-ye. No one would join a brand-new platform whose sales-pitch was, “No matter who you follow, we’ll show you other stuff; there will be lots of ads that you can’t skip; we will spy on you a lot.”…