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What the Tech: Bebo might not be the solution, but social media is definitely the problem

Bebo will relaunch this month to take on Facebook and Twitter. Whether or not it wins, it feels like we’re all losing right now.

Earlier this week, Recombu reported on the return of Bebo. For many of us, this prompted floods of nostalgia for a time when the internet seemed relatively new and untamed, and when social media homepages resembled endearing, poorly formatted websites rather than endless reams of corporate content or misspelled rants.

The last few years have seen social media accused of crimes on every imaginable scale, from being a tool for sowing misinformation and conspiracy theories that has left democracy itself under threat, to being a threat to our attention spans, self-image, and mental acuity. All of this of course pales in comparison to the tedium of millions of monotonous memes that flood Facebook only once they’re long past their sell-by dates. Like sugary drinks, these apps are often addictive without being healthy, and the fun has long been sucked out of it.

It’s nice to think of the new Bebo venture as a David vs Goliath encounter, as co-founder Michael Birch claims to be the only person writing the code for the site in a task that takes him 100 hours per week. The idea to foster more genuine “real-time” connections between friends is refreshing, but does it stand much of a chance? And is it even too late?

It’s worth noting that the public at large doesn’t seem to be actively searching for a new form of social media, despite their problems with the current iterations. Lately, the only determined push for a new social media channel has come not from the wide online community, but from one of its most toxic elements; the alt-right tribe of malcontents who sought to migrate to Parler following the ban on Donald Trump’s Twitter account.

That the ban prompted retrenchment rather than reflection is perhaps an indication that social media has profoundly changed our attitudes; it’s more reassuring to sit in echo chambers where your own opinions and prejudices are reinforced, rather than facing the evidence even when it is inconvenient to your world view.

It’s a depressing thought, but after so many years of “likes” telling us how to think and what to look like, would we even take the chance of a fresh start if it was offered to us? As social media companies perfect their addictive algorithms, making it ever harder to quit them with our every click and swipe, we might just all be living with self-inflicted Stockholm syndrome.


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