Social media platforms have become an integral part of our daily lives, connecting people worldwide and fostering communities based on shared interests. However, some of these platforms have experienced a decline in recent years, reminiscent of the twilight days of once-vibrant communities like LiveJournal and Tumblr. In this article, we will explore the decline of these platforms and draw parallels to the current state of Twitter under Elon Musk’s ownership.
The rise and fall of LiveJournal
LiveJournal, founded in 1999 as an online diary service, quickly grew to become the central hub for fandom communities. Fans of popular media properties like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings flocked to LiveJournal to share their enthusiasm and creative endeavours. The site fostered a sense of community, with “big name fans” gaining followers and mini-fandoms forming around them. However, the platform’s decline began in 2007 when blogs across various fandom communities started to be suspended without warning. LiveJournal cited the need to protect minors, but community members felt unfairly targeted and grouped with inappropriate content. This incident marked the beginning of LiveJournal’s downfall.
Over time, LiveJournal became more unstable and littered with ads, causing users to abandon the platform. The new owner, Russian company SUP, showed little interest in the fandom aspect of the site and failed to address users’ concerns. Creators and users migrated to other platforms, like Tumblr, in search of greener pastures. LiveJournal’s once-vibrant community became a ghost town, losing its vibrant conversations and creative endeavours. The decline of LiveJournal serves as a cautionary tale for social media platforms that neglect their user base.
Tumblr’s decline and the impact of Yahoo
Like LiveJournal, Tumblr started as a vibrant platform for creativity and community building. It became a hub for fandom communities, especially for those who enjoyed “shipping” characters within their favourite shows or books. However, Tumblr’s decline began after its acquisition by Yahoo in 2013. Under Yahoo’s ownership, adult content, including much of the content from fandom communities, came under scrutiny. In 2018, a year after Verizon acquired Yahoo, a ban on all adult content and nudity was implemented. This ban not only affected explicit content but also restricted artistic depictions of romantic or sexual tension, stifling creative expression.
The algorithm used to enforce this ban was flawed, often misidentifying innocent content as explicit. Tumblr’s once-thriving community of artists and creators lost their ability to grow and connect, leading to an exodus from the platform. Tumblr’s decline mirrored LiveJournal’s in many ways, with unstable performance, excessive ads, and general dissatisfaction among users. The platform lost its vibrant and diverse community, leaving behind a less vibrant space.
Twitter’s troubles under Elon Musk
Turning our attention to Twitter, we see a similar pattern emerging. Following its acquisition by Elon Musk, the platform has undergone changes that have been met with mixed reception. Musk’s unpopular decisions, such as briefly banning links to other social media platforms, have raised concerns about the platform’s future. These changes, including features like showing the number of tweet views and allowing longer tweets, have fundamentally altered the nature of Twitter, making it less user-friendly.
Under Musk’s leadership, Twitter has also become less stable, with users reporting frequent downtime and errors. The proliferation of random ads, reminiscent of Tumblr’s decline, has further contributed to a sense of decay. The site’s slow load times and malfunctioning privacy features have frustrated users. Musk’s presence on Twitter, often engaging in contentious interactions with individual users, has created a divisive and uncomfortable atmosphere. His influence on the platform’s tone makes it difficult for users to feel confident in posting on a site owned by someone with controversial views.
The user’s role in platform viability
In all these cases, the users themselves play a crucial role in determining the viability of social media platforms. As users migrate to new platforms in search of safer and more vibrant communities, the decline of platforms like Twitter becomes evident. While alternatives like Mastodon have seen an influx of users, they lack the same level of centralisation and influence as Twitter. The unique combination of news, celebrity presence, and user interaction makes Twitter a challenging platform to replicate elsewhere.
However, the future of social media platforms remains uncertain. As advertisers leave Twitter and users continue to seek alternatives, the site faces challenges that may impact its long-term viability. Elon Musk’s initial ban on links to competing platforms highlights his concern about the potential threat of a mass exodus. Even though a site may remain online, it can still wither away if it fails to meet its users’ evolving needs and expectations.
The unravelling of social media platforms like LiveJournal, Tumblr and Twitter highlights the delicate balance between user engagement, platform management, and leadership influence. The decline of these platforms can be attributed to a variety of factors, including changes in ownership, restrictive content policies, technical issues, and toxic community cultures.
As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of social media, platform owners and users must recognise the importance of fostering vibrant and inclusive communities. Platforms must adapt to the changing needs and expectations of their users, while users must actively participate and voice their concerns to shape the direction of these platforms.
Only time will tell how the story of social media will unfold. One thing is clear: platforms that fail to prioritise the user experience and maintain a healthy sense of community are at risk of fading into obscurity.