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The Rise of Small-Room Networks: Social Media’s Evolution in 2024


The Rise of Small-Room Networks: Social Media’s Evolution in 2024

As the United States braces for a contentious election in 2024, the landscape of social media is undergoing a significant transformation. Unlike previous years, the social media battlegrounds shaping public opinion and perception will not be dominated by large platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Instead, the focus is shifting towards smaller-scale, more diverse, and less interconnected platforms.

This evolution in the social media world reflects a move away from the “big room” platforms that once reached broad swathes of people interested in public affairs. Notably, former President Donald Trump’s transition from Twitter to the much smaller Truth Social, following his deplatforming after the January 6 insurrection, exemplifies this shift. While Truth Social’s main attraction seems to be Trump’s presence, his move signifies a loss in his ability to communicate with a wider audience and highlights the growing trend of specialized platforms.

The smaller, “small-room” networks emerging as significant players offer a more homogenous audience, often united by shared viewpoints or interests. This is evident in platforms like Truth Social, which cater primarily to audiences who agree with their leading figures. Similarly, Elon Musk’s controversial management of Twitter is gradually transforming it into a smaller and more ideologically homogeneous platform, potentially alienating broader, more diverse audiences.

These small-room networks serve as vital spaces for communities seeking support, solidarity, and camaraderie without confrontation. They facilitate the formation of subcommunities around specific interests or challenges, such as living with diabetes or alcohol-free lifestyles, as seen in certain subreddits or Facebook groups. Special-purpose social networks, like Archive of One’s Own, linking fan-fiction authors and fans, exemplify how these platforms can foster social capital and connections among people who might never meet in the physical world.

However, the proliferation of small-room networks comes with significant downsides. They can be as conducive to extremist groups, such as Nazis, as they are to benign communities like knitters. Insulated from external scrutiny, these platforms can normalize extreme viewpoints and lead individuals deeper into radical ideologies. The closed nature of these networks can exacerbate the fragmentation of the public sphere, potentially making the 2024 election more fractious than previous elections in the social media era.

As the United States approaches the 2024 election, the impact of small-room networks on public discourse, political polarization, and the shaping of opinions will be a critical factor to watch. While these platforms offer new avenues for community building and support, their role in further dividing the public sphere presents a significant challenge to maintaining a cohesive and informed electorate.

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