I’ve been trying to understand one of the biggest problems we face today:

In a world where over 2 billion people are connected on social platforms, why do we feel more socially disconnected and isolated than ever? Why are millennials and Gen-Z facing record high rates of mental health issues including loneliness, anxiety, depression, and suicide? Should people quit social networks altogether?

It’s hard not to feel helpless — like there’s a dark cloud looming over all of us. It feels like something is wrong, even if we can’t articulate why.

I’m optimistic that this will change within the next few years.

Here’s what new solutions might look like.

While laws and regulation will help societies address some of these issues, I think it will be up to us to create and adopt new social platforms that help us build more meaningful relationships and improve mental wellness.

Here are 5 things new social networks will have to address in order to succeed: Mental Health, Expressiveness, Incentives, Platform, and Privacy.

For full disclosure, these are exactly the problems I’m trying to solve with Thread, an alternative social network I started earlier this year.

Mental Health

We saw fast food and smoking cause a decline in physical health over the past century. We’re now seeing the same thing happen with social networking and mental health. New social networks need to treat mental health as priority number one.

When people’s social needs aren’t being met, a lot of terrible things start to happen. Here’s what next generation social networks will do differently:

They will not be public. People are tribal by nature. They form social groups and communities. They need private spaces to communicate with their friends, family, and loved ones. Networks like Facebook and Instagram have reduced everyone to a “friend” or “follower” — and most people have hundreds, if not thousands. When this happens, it becomes obvious why content on these networks is superficial. New social platforms will avoid this by focusing on private groups.

These groups will be small, but tight-knit. Next generation social networks will help us strengthen relationships with the most important people in our lives — for some, this may just be one or two people and that’s perfectly OK. You can have a thousand Facebook friends and still be lonely. It’s purposefully deceptive.

Expressiveness

There’s an overwhelming consensus that people on social media aren’t showing their true selves. No one is as perfect, positive, happy, successful, or fulfilled as they might seem on Instagram. It’s misleading at best, and depressing at worst. How can new social networks encourage people to express themselves more honestly?

There are a whole range of human emotions that current social networks suppress. Stickers and snaps can only go so far in capturing the complexities of people’s lives. They’re fun tools, but it’s dangerous to conflate that with genuine interactivity. New social networks will refocus on writing, conversations, and face-to-face interactions to allow for much needed human vulnerability. They’ll provide tools for people to reach out to others for both support and celebration.

We live in an era of fake news, click-bait media, and extreme political partisanship. Much of it is perpetuated on social networks where people are rewarded for having popular opinions and influencing others. Counter-intuitively, I believe keeping these discussions private can improve our ability to think critically — and maybe even realize we’re not all so different! A culture of engaged, patient conversation is something we’re losing and need to revitalize.

Incentives

Most social media platforms make money by showing you ads. They’ve figured out a great way of showing you more ads. A lot of very smart people dedicate their careers to this. It goes something like this:

  1. Let’s keep you engaged at all times by sending you notifications anytime something happens. The buzz gives your brain gets a hit of dopamine. Someone liked your content! Someone posted new content! Someone responded to you!
  2. Once you’ve opened the app, we’ll present you with a never ending feed of content. Pretty pictures and life updates, sprinkled with targeted ads that know exactly who you are and what you like.
  3. ????
  4. Profit!

Nothing in this process encourages building and maintaining real relationships! As long as you’re scrolling through your feed, the money keeps rolling in. The real winners on social platforms are advertisers and shareholders, not consumers.

A next generation social platform will not make money through advertising. Users should pay directly for the service they’re getting. When you vote with your wallet, companies are forced to build what you want, not what advertisers want.

Platform

As power in technology is consolidated into a few mega-corporations, it’s vital for a next generation social network to also be a social platform. Here’s what I mean.

People should be able to easily build social apps that can compete with the likes of Facebook and Instagram. Because social networks are so hard to build from the ground up, it’s virtually impossible for people to develop new social tools that compete with the giants.

New social networks should make it easy for developers to enhance the ways people can connect with apps and plugins. It’ll pave new ways for people to express themselves, converse, buy things, play games, etc. There’s an opportunity here to build a new generation of socially interactive applications.

Privacy

I’ll keep it short, since a lot has been said on this topic. New social platforms should be private by default. When data is shared with third parties, it should be expressed to you in plain and clear terms. Going back to incentives, I think it’s critical that new social networks abandon the practice of targeted advertising. The use of your demographic and purchasing data to allow for better advertising just isn’t worth the cost.


I’m hugely optimistic about the future of social networking and the ways in which it can be made better.

How about you?