Pattern Matching

What a Better Social Network Would Look Like

An offhand tweet sparked an outpouring of ideas to fix what’s broken about Facebook and Twitter

Will Oremus
OneZero
Published in
9 min readJul 3, 2020

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Photo by Tayler Smith. Prop styling by Caroline Dorn.

Welcome back to Pattern Matching, OneZero’s weekly newsletter that puts the week’s most compelling tech stories in context.

The advertiser boycott of Facebook and other social networks, which I examined in last week’s Pattern Matching, continues to grow. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly has no plans to budge on the Stop Hate for Profit campaign’s calls for the company to take a tougher line on hate speech. “My guess is that these advertisers will be back soon enough,” Zuckerberg reassured his employees, according to The Information, even as the platform continues to be dominated by reactionary pages such as Breitbart, Franklin Graham, and Blue Lives Matter. His confidence hints at a recognition that Facebook’s dominance of both user attention and data leaves even its largest customers little alternative or leverage. Stop hate for profit? No thanks, says Facebook: We’ll keep both.

The dispiriting stalemate, coming at a moment of broader social unrest and political ferment, makes freshly appealing the old question of what a better, healthier social media landscape might look like — if we could imagine such a thing. Tuesday evening, New York Times writer Charlie Warzel casually tweeted a version of this question to his followers, not expecting much of a response. “Odd question but: what are your most far-fetched utopian ideas for fixing social media platforms?” he asked. “The stuff that’s likely never ever gonna happen.”

More than 1,000 replies later, the thread was packed with provocative proposals, which together show that there is not only a tremendous appetite for change but a constellation of bright ideas for what that change could be.

The Pattern

Imagining a path forward for social media.

Some of the ideas really were far-fetched and utopian; others were more firmly in the realm of the pragmatic. Some were clearly the result of years’ worth of intensive study and thought; others were a few short moments’ reflection or a quick bolt of inspiration. Some were funny; some…

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