What @Facebook, @twitter, and the Like Could do to Make a Positive Impact

Scarcely a day goes by, it seems, when a social media company isn’t called out for doing something horrible. And it’s largely justified: the way most people use social media, and the way the platforms themselves are built, facilitates negativity. But there’s something they could all do to change that, and it’d be easy.

I have a lady in my building who gets a weekly crime report from our police department. It basically does nothing but make her anxious to go outside, because it plays into confirmation bias: if you think someplace is unsafe, reading a crime report will confirm that for you.

I ran across another person who said he’d quit Twitter because it was “always toxic.” I said, “but you choose who you follow and whose tweets you see, so if it’s toxic, isn’t it your fault?” My feed consists of little more than Disney Parks news, these days, and so it’s not very useful, perhaps, but it’s hardly toxic.

So I started thinking about it, and looking closely at my (anemic) Facebook feed and my (Disney-centric) Twitter feed. It’d be easy for those to become negative, to simply reinforce my own echo-chamber world view, and so on. We all know that; social media platforms are almost continuously criticized for it.

But what if they could do something simple to help negate some of the negativity?

I’v always felt that, in the US at least, people focus way too much on national politics and news. Yes, it’s sad when someone across the continent is killed in a plane crash, but that has nothing to do with you or your daily life. Yes, it’s annoying when some state on the other side of the country passes some ordinance that you don’t like, but it has nothing to do with YOU. I feel that if people had a more “local” focus, something focused on “friends and family,” they’d get more done in their locality, and focus more on the things that actually matter to them. Things that would change how they go about their day-to-day.

So what if Facebook, Twitter, and their ilk instituted a Daily Check-In?

Each morning, you’d be prompted to check-in. You’d click simple buttons like, “I’m healthy,” “I’m happy,” and “I got this day.” Let’s say each button is worth 1 point.

In return, you’d see a simple “progress bar” indicating how many points your friends, or those you follow, clicked-in. If you had 100 friends and they were all happy, healthy, and feeling in control, your morning bar would show 300 – that’s 100% “OK.”

That’s giving you the opposite of a police report. It’s giving you a quick look at how OK everything is, rather than how crappy it all is. Waking up in the morning and seeing, “hey, the world is 90% fine” can change your attitude just a bit.

And for those friends who aren’t a full 3-point OK, maybe you’d get a list so you could check in on them and do something constructive. Send a pick-me up message, or ask if they need chicken soup. Something local, so to speak, and focused on what actually matters to you, and on what you can actually impact.

The platforms would benefit: check-ins would encourage daily active use, or users would have their friends checking in on them asking “what’s up?” It would encourage more person-to-person contact, which was allegedly the whole point of the damn platforms, and it would perhaps move some of the focus away from liking and sharing bad news. After all, if you’re the one spewing bad news and making me not want to click “I got this day” in the morning, maybe I’d drop you, or have a talk to you about it. If you’re bringing me down, wouldn’t you want to ratchet it back a bit?

I do realize that news in general, and thus social platforms, benefit when people are wound up, because people like, apparently, to be anxious about faraway things, and they like to be angry about what other people are doing. Social platforms can keep doing that, right? But maybe they could, in addition, just offer a way for everyone to, on a daily basis, say, “guys, I’m fine today. How’re you all?”