Social Media Must Evolve. Here’s How That Will Happen

If there’s one thing the war in Ukraine has taught us recently, it’s that unfiltered access to critical information is helpful and even life-altering.

Like many of you, I’ve watched videos showing missile drops and other atrocities. I’ve also read countless posts, most of them using the hashtag #ukraine, that provide a much-needed perspective about the devastation.

These are real people living in underground shelters, not nameless and faceless victims. There are little kids huddled in bus terminals, and refugees pouring into neighboring countries.

You might even say, after this exposure to the destruction and mayhem we’ve seen on Twitter and other platforms, there’s no going back.

Social media has changed yet again, and now it’s time to start applying some of the lessons we’re learning in real-time to the platforms as a whole.

As the war continues, we know this unfiltered access is critical to understanding what is happening on the ground, and it is helping all of us see that the Russian invasion is impacting the Ukrainian people in ways we’ve never seen in recent memory.

Just to review the last 10 years or so. We know apps like Twitter started out without much fanfare. We shared what we were having for lunch and what we planned to do for the day. Somehow, that evolved into a public discourse that was healthy for a while.

I remember a few friendly debates maybe five or six years ago. Sadly, the platforms took a nose-dive a few years ago when trolls started berating users right and left, arguing constantly, and criticizing people for minor differences of opinion.

There’s no time for any of that now. These days, when I use Twitter and Facebook, I usually start by looking for a hashtag like #ukraine and try to bring myself up to speed.

I’m not as interested in the glossy reports and summaries, or the endless debates, but I typically try to find real people posting about what life is like during the invasion, how people around the world can help, and also what the citizen journalists have to say about the actual military advancements and battles.

Realizing this kind of authentic social media has been part of everyday life for years (since this is just the latest act of Russian aggression), it has also become much more vivid lately. This is a massive military movement, the biggest one of my lifetime or at least in the current troll-infested age of social media.

Strangely, my social media feeds just look different these days, more civil.

I realize there is still an incredible amount of misinformation out there. One video I noticed recently was posted to Twitter but after some investigation I realized it was not even from this year. What seems to be happening is that the outright vitriol and hate directed at each other and usually about politics or religion has now shifted. The real “hate” and aggression is not online at all; it’s at the hands of the Russian military operation.

At least in my searches and in my feeds, most of the posts are about helping the people in Ukraine and less about personal attacks against each other, which all seems quite trivial now. You can’t ignore the current arc of social media, since it has taken a decided turn toward exposing the conflict for what it is, providing a platform for the victims. If only “helping people” became the norm.

My question, of course, is how we can maintain this type of civility. It won’t be easy, but the trolls are now in hiding. I wonder if those who are using social media for noble purposes and in ways that make the platforms much more viable will stick around?