RIP, “town square.” Hello, “living room.” In case you missed it, in a single blog post last month Mark Zuckerberg quietly upended the world of social media. Gone (or nearly so) is the quaint idea of social media as a public broadcast channel or “town square” — a way for anyone to reach a mass audience, start a dialogue and change the world. It was an inspiring vision, to be sure, but one undone by trolls and data mining, invasive ads, Russian interference and addictive algorithms.
In its place, Zuckerberg proposed a very different conception of social media as a largely private communication tool: a place for people to message one-on-one or within small, closed groups. In this scenario, updates either disappear shortly after sending or else are encrypted — effectively putting them out of reach of advertisers and other prying eyes. Facebook’s related decision to unite its messaging kingdom, enabling interoperability between Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, only highlights the primacy of messaging in the new social paradigm.