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CDK Speer, PhD

Breaking Safety Systems

The first time I was told about third-party apps made to reblog photos on instagram, I was just confused. The social network had been designed without that functionality in order to focus on original contributions, so I couldn't understand why people would be think a third-party workaround would be a good thing. On tumblr, reblogging is built in, so doing it is inherently beneficial for both parties. The sharer gets interesting content, while the originator of the content is promoted to new eyes. The instagram third-party reblogging apps have the figleaf of not being outright theft by printing the name of the creator in the corner, but the reality is that the conversion from one account to the originator is going to be tiny when a viewer has to memorize the usename and search them manually. So, the rise of these apps means that bit by bit the platform drifts from original creators showing their work to aggregators of others' content.

Along similar lines, Micro.blog has made the decision to not show lists of followers. This avoids the social networking focus on user counts as a crown of legitimacy, and the subsequent anointment of Influencers on the platform. Instead, you can only see the list of who a person is following, which opens up the breadcrumb trails of people to follow. It's an interesting decision and one that has a nice impact so far.

What I wonder is if M.B were to grow large enough to spark the interest, would some enterprising developer bridge that gap? It would only be a matter of scraping the data of public follow lists and rearranging the results into follower lists, ultimately producing the all-obsessed over follower number. It would probably be easy. It would probably be terrible and toxic.

These two examples highlight a problem of social networking--creating spaces where the format encourages our better nature also means an arms race to block out natural impulses that have negative effects when stretched over millions of people. I love that photo, let me share it. I want to know where I rank, let me see the number. And yet, taken as a whole these impulses corrode the very things we love.


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