No doubt

I've been a proponent of social media for over a decade. Broadly distributing the tools for sharing one's thoughts just seemed like it would lead to better communication, more understanding - and would improve the culture.

When apps like Secret and Whisper appeared, I dismissed them as a aberrations; deliberately incomplete tools that provided some brief novelty but were fundamentally unserious. These apps seemed to be built around gossip, and provided no actionable information to users. No links to useful resources. No identity. It's as if someone took Twitter's biggest problems - difficulties with authenticity, a preponderance of trivia - and branded them as features.

But it doesn't take more than a few minutes reading user comments on any news (or recipe) site to see that authenticity, and discussing serious issues, is not working out as well as hoped. Years ago I wondered if tying online comments to one's identity would improve discourse - it's clear now that's not the case.

Instead of enabling broader understanding, social media tools have led to polarization and closed-mindedness. Social networks serve as an echo-chamber, reinforcing existing beliefs and promoting orthodoxy. No amount of evidence convinces people of anything, anymore, because someone in the network will always offer comforting, alternative interpretations of new facts, and no one wants to show weakness amongst their peer group.

But apps - 'networks' - like Secret can counter the self-assuredness and conformity that exists now in social networks. Because when I spend a few minutes on Secret, I come away questioning some assumptions, and reflecting on the writers' perspectives. It's regrettable that this questioning, this doubt, is something that has gradually disappeared from my other feeds. I only wish there was a way to re-integrate this humility back into non-anonyous social networks; Secret and its ilk exist entirely apart from the web, without standard tools for archiving or research.

I think we can all agree, though, that the Yo app is dumb.