During graduate school, I researched online marketing and culture. I was fascinated by what social media was then–a powerful platform to bring people together for conversation and engagement sans marketing, selling, and ads. Facebook and Twitter in 2012 were platforms for people to come together and create communities around a topic, a cause, or an identity. It was a networking tool to meet other professionals in a particular field. There was, for example, the Online Hispanic Marketing Facebook group page where Hispanic Marketers from around the country and the world would come together to engage in industry-related conversations, talk about the news, discuss trends, and so on. There were unspoken rules of courtesy and friendliness around those conversations.
Discussions were substantial. The experience was similar to those great conferences in which the most relevant discussions happened in the hallway with other participants after the workshops. I definitely learned a lot and made great connections. Some led to business collaborations. There was the occasional bullies, but they would be buried in the discussion thread because no one replied to their posts. They would be basically ignored. There was no need to facilitate the discussions. The main reason for people to participate was to create a productive group discussion. There was also a sense of activism among these Latino professionals and a need to come together to speak up to call out what was deemed wrong.
Fast forward to 2016, keywords, algorithms and greed took over. Instead of discussions there were posts, videos and pictures disguised as ads. Most engagement became ads thanks to AI that could track who was doing what or who was posting about what. Many of the group pages became an annoying collection of irrelevant content. The ad posts continued, but the genuine engagement stopped. Who wanted to read spam-like posts?