The Death of Context

Or Why Reposting isn't Curation

Virality is the jet fuel that powers Facebook and Twitter’s media business.

To engage on Twitter or Facebook as a person or a brand is mostly shaped by a desire to have more reach and the chance to be broadcast outside your normal network. You have to mold the content you share to maximize the potential that it is re-broadcast.

The ‘Post’ is the Product

The tailoring of your message is where context begins to be stripped away both consciously and unconsciously. However the original poster often edits the context with the maximum possible amount of information available. For example: as the social media editor for publication you have the opportunity for 100% context. Once you have condensed the video, or article down into a headline, thumbnail, link description, and copy then 80-90% of the context is already lost.

Its important to remember that the post the editor crafts is the product and the click through to the link, sometimes just the retweet or share, are the outcomes that editor is responsible for.

Their job is not to disseminate the information in the article. It is to drive traffic.

The article may have been about the impact of student loans on family size for a millennial, but the headline ‘How Millennials Are Killing The Nuclear Family’ isn’t written in service of the thesis of the article. In many ways the content of the article is third in importance by the time it has been synthesized into a tweet.

Sharing ≠ Curation

When you follow someone on social media you are acting as a curator. You have decided you want to see what content this person posts and have explicitly opted in to their content. Social sharing breaks that curation completely.

With zero friction a person can bring content into the feeds of their followers. A post can then take advantage of curated networks without their consent and a person who shares the post can amplify a message without being held directly responsible for its contents.

Do you hold a person responsible for sharing a provocative post with thousands of retweets? How much more responsibility would you hold them to if they restated that post in their own words? Why is there a delta between those two answers?

A share or a retweet is a form of idea laundering. Through multiple network hops a post begins to build its own credibility from the dozens, hundreds, thousands of shares. At the same time each share reduces the credibility risk for the person sharing the post.

Having passed through enough feeds a post gains enough ‘credibility’ that the risk of sharing a post and experiencing blow back drops to practically zero.

A share or a retweet break user curation and launder their credibility almost effortlessly. They were designed this way. A network with effective curation is useful to an individual who crafts it, but less useful to Facebook and Twitter as companies that sell reach and engagement.

Your Feed = Their Feed

Your feed must simultaneously meet your needs for the curated content you care about and provide the platform real estate for content you have explicitly not opted into. A sharing or retweeting system means they can offer your feed up to all of its other users whether or not their post says ‘promoted'.

The next time you retweet something… ask yourself if you’d post the same content to your feed in your own words.

But hey listen… If you liked this post, please share and retweet.

More soon,

Jóhann

Something New, Coming Soon.

About systems and inevitably... people.

We’re living in a world dominated by the externalities of the systems we’ve built for ourselves.

  • Suburban towns go bankrupt and cities grow expensive because we subsidized highways and legally enforced a car driven development model in the 60s.

  • Our national diabetes epidemic can partially be traced to federal subsidies intended to protect America’s food growers.

  • News organizations are being gutted today because ads and not subscriptions became the dominant way to fund content on the internet in the 90s.

Our systems fail and succeed in unexpected ways and we often fail to attribute the outcomes we see to the systems that birthed them.

Alongside systems are the mental models we use to understand the world around us. These are are worth exploring too because often those models are totally divorced from the system its describing. This can lead to some interesting misunderstandings.

Some Systems Go is going to spend time exploring different systems, their externalities, some of the mental models around them and sometimes suggest some new models for how to think about them.

Let’s see what kind of trouble we can get into.

More soon,

Jòhann

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