The fragmentation of social media

August 25, 2022

When Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian are starting to revolt, you know Instagram is getting into trouble. Indeed, declining interaction rates and attempts to mimic competitors don’t look good and many internet commenters contend the days of Instagram are numbered. However, this does not mean another platform will simply take over. In fact, Instagram’s problems point to a broader issue in social media: instead of having one dominant platform, driven by powerful scale and network effects, we expect social media to become more fragmented, with different platforms playing different roles and users switching freely between them. 

Social-cultural drivers are causing this unbundling of social media. Commodification of the platform and isolation of the users seem to be the two current bottlenecks of Instagram. Therefore, other platforms such as TikTok and BeReal focus on authenticity and digital togetherness as core values. Many are skeptic the new platforms are up to this task, but each of these platforms appeals to users and their desires in its own way. For instance for Gen Zers who choose anonymity over fame. Among the other platforms, Instagram’s model of  following celebrities and influencers, checking brand offers, and engaging in social commerce will also remain a viable market proposition. Consequently, instead of single dominant one-stop-shop social media platform, a more fragmented and unbundled social media landscape will arise in the years ahead.

Burning questions:
  • What is going to be the equilibrium between network effects and fragmentation? We still prefer to be on a social media network with all of our friends….
  • Which elements of social life all fundamental enough to persist in a stand-alone social media?
  • Is the landscape fragmenting or are we experiencing a withdrawal of massive social media because of the adverse effects on well-being? 

About the author(s)

Economist and philosopher Sebastiaan Crul writes articles on a wide range of topics, including rule of law in digital societies, the virtualization of the lifeworld and internet culture. He is currently working on his doctoral degree on the influence of digitalization on mental health and virtue ethics, having previously published dissertations on the philosophy of play and systemic risks in the finance industry.

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