Social Media Suckers Us Again

The year 2020 has been defined by uncertainty. One thing remains timeless, though—there’s always room for social media to get dumber.

On Tuesday, Twitter introduced “Fleets”—tweets that appear on your profile and disappear after 24 hours. A better description, though, would be Instagram stories. Twitter’s newest feature is basically a direct copy of the photo sharing platform’s story feature, complete with Fleet bubbles above one’s timeline shown in order based on how frequently you interact with a given profile. Apparently, though, people can only reply to a Fleet with a direct message to the user—a major potential problem for harassment on the platform.

Twitter’s update is a fitting response to the criticism Instagram has received for its own refurbishing. The photo sharing platform added an entire tab for Reels, the video feature it uses to compete with TikTok, as well as another tab for shopping. Those tabs replaced the notifications and new post tabs, which, y’know, were what Instagram was originally for. Its new search tab now prompts users to enter phrases to find what they’re looking for, which is clearly designed to lead people to adverts and more shopping. None of this should come as a shock, since Instagram is owned by Facebook, the first social media site to dive head-first into virtual marketplaces. Still, in the course of a single update, Instagram managed to turn itself into an outlet mall while upending its user-friendly layout.

Social media companies are always trying to stay on the cutting edge, anticipating user wants and needs to keep their experience fresh (and profitable). But neither Instagram nor Twitter’s updates are revolutionary—they’re direct reactions to their main competitors. The former altered its layout to compete with TikTok and move units, while the latter simply replicated a favorite feature of the former. And let’s not forget that Instagram’s story feature was created to directly compete with Snapchat’s feature that went by the exact same name. So that essentially means Twitter is copying a copy several years later. If it seems like an endless cycle of nonsense, that’s probably because it is.

Still, social media updates provide a fresh reminder that these platforms, no matter how much they’ve defined parts of your life in recent years, are not perpetual. Even if you get comfortable with a specific feature or layout or aspect that might make your life easier or even—gasp!—bring you joy, they’re liable to change it up the minute they see dollar signs in another direction. The objective isn’t to make things better for the user—it’s to dominate more of their attention spans while greasing them for every dollar they possibly can.