The Changing Landscape of Social Media: From Community to Censorship

Is Shadow-banning an appropriate way to handle online discourse?

In a recent episode of “Faithfully Engaged,” host Johnny Sanders sat down with Robert Hawkins, a software engineer living in Taiwan, to delve into the fascinating realm of Reddit. As an unconventional guest, Robert shed light on the distinctive features of Reddit and its significance in the online community. The conversation also touched on Robert’s personal journey to Taiwan and the enriching experiences he encountered along the way. Let’s explore the highlights of this insightful discussion.

Anonymous, Self-Managed, and Hierarchical: Understanding Reddit

Reddit distinguishes itself from mainstream social media platforms in several notable ways. Firstly, users are not obligated to reveal their real names, fostering a sense of anonymity. Secondly, the platform is organized into self-managed groups or subreddits, where users can moderate and shape discussions within those communities. This decentralized approach grants users more control and influence over the content they engage with. Finally, Reddit’s comment sections are structured hierarchically, allowing for organized and in-depth conversations. Users can easily navigate discussions and contribute to specific threads, unlike the limited reply levels on platforms like Twitter or Facebook.

Reddit Logo on mobile phone app

Robert’s Personal Journey to Taiwan: Embracing New Horizons

Robert’s path to Taiwan began when he decided to embark on a travel opportunity to Laos, inspired by a friend who had relocated there. Along the way, he explored various travel experiences in East Asia through Reddit, witnessing firsthand the impact of Christian groups on language acquisition. Robert’s openness to new possibilities led him to meet his wife in Taiwan, where they eventually started a family. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Robert acknowledges the blessings of being in Taiwan during that time while also looking forward to returning to the United States.

Engaging Culture

Appreciating Diverse Perspectives and Cultures

Johnny and Robert reflected on the importance of embracing different perspectives and cultures. They highlighted the value of understanding individual stories and choices, acknowledging that not everyone is called to travel or venture beyond their hometown. Robert emphasized the significance of seeking first to understand, appreciating the diverse paths people take and the richness of experiences that await beyond our immediate surroundings.

The Essence of Reddit: “Dive into Anything”

Johnny and Robert discussed Reddit’s motto, “Dive into Anything,” which encapsulates the platform’s ethos. Reddit encourages users to explore an extensive range of topics, interests, and communities. The platform’s structure and organization make it an ideal space for in-depth conversations, facilitating a sense of community and discovery

cell phone with instagram, facebook and twitter apps open

The Evolution of Social Media

To understand the current state of social media, it’s crucial to consider its evolution. Platforms like Reddit emerged as vibrant spaces where individuals could share stories, discuss interests, and build communities. However, as politics began to infiltrate these platforms, the dynamic shifted. The 2016 presidential election, in particular, seemed to intensify the polarization and divisiveness, leading to an overwhelming focus on political discussions.

The Rise of Political Campaigning

The internet has become a powerful tool for political campaigning, with politicians harnessing its potential to rally supporters and spread their messages. Online platforms played a significant role in the success of candidates like Howard Dean and Barack Obama, who pioneered effective online community organizing. While pinpointing the exact moment when social media became highly political is challenging, it is evident that the progression towards intense political engagement has been ongoing.

The Impact on Social Media Users

For regular social media users, the constant exposure to political content can be exhausting. Platforms like Reddit, in particular, have experienced an influx of politically charged posts, often dominating the front page. This shift has resulted in frustration and weariness among users, regardless of their political affiliations. Many individuals long for the days when social media provided a space for casual interactions, sharing pictures of cats, or discussing non-political topics.


Prioritizing Offline Experiences

In light of these changes, it is crucial for individuals to prioritize their offline experiences. While social media has its benefits, it should not become the sole source of validation or satisfaction in one’s life. By focusing on offline activities, such as spending time with family, engaging in hobbies, or investing in personal growth, individuals can maintain a healthy balance between their online and offline lives.

Creating Independent Content

To counter the risk of censorship and content removal, individuals can consider creating and sharing content on platforms they own or control. Having a personal website or blog provides a space where individuals can express themselves freely without the fear of being shadow banned or having their content taken down. Owning and managing independent platforms gives individuals more control over their online presence.

Engaging in Meaningful Conversations

Another way to improve the online experience is to seek out and engage in conversations with people who hold different perspectives. Rather than using social media as a platform to score points or win arguments, individuals can focus on understanding others’ viewpoints and fostering productive discussions. Disengaging from unproductive conversations at the right moment and promoting healthy online interactions can contribute to a more positive social media environment.


two men talking at a table

Promoting Social Media Literacy

Enhancing social media literacy is vital for everyone. Understanding how algorithms work, being aware of the consequences of one’s actions online, and questioning the motives behind content removal are essential aspects of social media literacy. By educating themselves about these topics, individuals can navigate social media platforms more effectively and make informed decisions about their online presence.

Conclusion

While social media has transformed the way we connect and communicate, it has also undergone significant changes, shifting from a community-driven environment to one dominated by politics and censorship. Prioritizing offline experiences, creating independent content, engaging in meaningful conversations, and promoting social media literacy are some practical steps individuals can take to improve their online experiences