The social media apocalypse

“In the new world slowly emerging by the end of 2018, people begin to read long 18th-century English novels, go to the symphony, and watch 12 to 14 hours of terrestrial television a day. They also play board games as a family.”

2018 will be the year social media ends.

Bold! But no more foolish, in retrospect, than my 2010 prediction that The New York Times would abandon its paywall after a mere few more months of public outrage and financial pressure. Unlike that dour piece of speculation, this is a prediction I would actually like to see come true. 2017 has been a depressing year. Here’s to hope. 

Twitter first. In April 2018, following the release of the Mueller report and Trump’s blanket pardon of not only his entire family but himself, Twitter management will finally suspend @realDonaldTrump. But it’s too late — the political backlash and upheaval from the decision send Twitter’s stock price tumbling. The company finally sells itself to Circa for pennies on the dollar, but the entire userbase and profile information is set on fire by a departing engineer. Circa is left with nothing. 

Facebook, surprisingly, ends sooner. Well, not really ends. In February, the company will be forcibly nationalized following more revelations about the extent of Russian hacking and espionage carried out by a clever manipulation of website algorithms. Mark Zuckerberg tries to shut the News Feed down completely, but not before Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz make common cause in the Senate to appropriate Facebook’s liquid assets, its digital data, and its property. Both the GOP and the newly rebranded National Farmer-Labor-Democratic Party have a very different understanding of what it means for “Facebook to serve the state”…but crisis makes for strange bedfellows.   

Instagram goes the way of Facebook, its corporate parent. In the space left free by the transformation of the photo-sharing  platform, Marissa Mayer tries to revitalize the recently spun-off Flickr. She fails. 

Weibo, finally, stakes everything on its forcible acquisition of Bitcoin, but the global energy crisis caused by the 37th hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane season in November 2018 blocks Bitcoin from the world’s grid. Bitcoin’s ensuing bankruptcy drags down the Chinese social media behemoth.

In the new world slowly emerging by the end of 2018, people begin to read long 18th-century English novels, go to the symphony, and watch 12 to 14 hours of terrestrial television a day. They also play board games as a family. Columnists for the nation’s “little magazines” reconsider the typewriter, and tell us about it at length. Newspapers begin to regain advertising market share. And, slowly but surely, people begin to know less and less about how many times Donald Trump has golfed, the most recent campus free-speech controversy, and North Korea’s latest missile launch. Everyone grows a little bit more ignorant, but also a lot more relaxed. It’s unclear whether to count 2018’s great social media die-off as a triumph, or a tragedy — or both. Pundits point to the looming 2020 American election as the moment when we’ll finally figure it out.

C.W. Anderson is a professor of media and communication at the University of Leeds.

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