The History of CSMFHT - Part 3
Some thoughts about the future of Social Media
In Part 2 of this series, I noted how CSMFHT grew from a Facebook page about memes into a runaway train of a Twitter account, while also struggling on other platforms for various reasons. This perhaps leads neatly into the final chapter of this saga (so far) which is about the ups and downs of the role I have found myself in.
Whenever asked what running this page is like, I often think of that line from the Simpsons Monorail episode: it’s very much like a mule with a spinning wheel.
As I’ve already detailed, I never particularly set out to ‘make it big’ and had no delusions of grandeur. In my younger days, I had caught the early ‘internet fame’ bug that gripped Millennials. My favourite blog was Hyperbole and a Half, and so I had started my own one in the hope of making it big. Obviously that never happened! So young me would probably be very frustrated to know that I managed to achieve that and more without really trying, and here I am writing a blog about it. Life has an interesting way of coming full circle.
Anyway, one of the things I often contemplate is the aftermath of viral fame. I often catch myself thinking about a viral video from 10+ years ago and then checking to see what they have been doing since. In many ways, it can be a poisoned chalice - people liked you doing one specific thing, but if you just keep doing that you might seem repetitive, and if you do something new, they might not like it. Back to the Simpsons, it is reminiscent of the ‘I Didn’t Do It Kid,’ proving that this phenomenon isn’t limited to the internet. Even the famously misattributed phrase ‘15 minutes of fame’ explored the idea in the past - although with today’s war for attention online, it’s probably more like 15 seconds…
So since these accounts have become so big that I can’t actually conceive of the number of people following them - they do just seem like a number now - it has raised this complex question for me. What do I do with it? Obviously, I can just keep doing what I’ve been doing, posting jokes and memes until… I give up? I’m no longer funny? The internet dies? On the other hand, the huge temptation is always to do something with a platform of this size. That of course becomes a very tricky proposition - not only are followers less receptive to new styles of content or non-humourous stuff, but social media algorithms are actually deadly to it. I’ll explain in more detail.
Say you want to explain a complex topic so people gain a better understanding. First, you are limited by the size constraints. Sure you could make a Twitter thread but those can become unwieldy, difficult to pace and don’t generate the usual engagement, so they get buried. So then you could write it elsewhere and link to it - and boy do these sites hate you doing that. Many times I have posted links to fundraisers, explainers, blogs and even this newsletter - and they get destroyed by the algorithm. So you have to work in ways to get around it - post an image and link in the comments? Attach it to a popular meme like a politician sneaking an amendment into a Bill? It’s not ideal. I’m very grateful for everyone who has subscribed here and I hope that will be a way to engage people outside of my usual medium.
Then the other problem becomes the time and the cost. I work a full time job teaching, and have been running this account on top of that for its entire existence. I would not recommend it! Fortunately for me, I am an introvert who already spent most of my time online, so it hasn’t taken over that much of my life. But it often raises the thorny question - is there a way to make any of the time I spend profitable? Social Media of course generates huge amounts of revenue from content that it does not produce, an intriguing business model. For all the traffic or interest I might create in anything, I don’t reap any of the rewards. So over time, my mind has turned to other ways to continue doing what I do while also getting something out of it. This has ranged from Patreon, to Redbubble and here on Substack. Of course, once money is involved it goes from being a fun little hobby to something much more serious. If you read my recent post on one of my other hobbies (sewing) the same thing happened when I tried to turn that into a job - the fun disappears and it becomes a struggle. That’s the last thing I want on top of my job.
Look, some days I think wouldn’t it be great to become rich off making memes, and then I immediately tell myself it has no real value and I don’t deserve anything. I’m sure the real answer is somewhere between two extremes. I know that many people enjoy the content I have shared over the years, though it is not like it is a genuine public service. Then again, there are people out there making a lot more money for posting pictures of their feet……… No, definitely not!!
All of this leads into the reasons why in 2022 I decided to give up the page completely, and then as you can probably tell, I suddenly returned. I did write about why I left at the time, and I think it is still around to read - the long and the short of it was that it had become like a chore, I wasn’t enjoying it, the negative aspects were far outweighing the positives and it was bad for my mental health. I will be very serious here for a moment and say that, if it wasn’t already clear from this jumble of thoughts, I have had my difficulties in my life with mental health and in particular anxiety. So at the time this was a very healthy thing for me to do, to preserve my mental health and take time away from the pressure that (mainly I myself) had built up around this. I would strongly recommend everyone remember that your health is always a priority and you are always worth taking time to get well.
It was quite a tough experience - when I announced I was leaving, I received so many messages of support and thanks, for which I am forever grateful. I was absolutely overwhelmed by what people relayed to me and it allowed me a greater perspective on the effect I had made - outside of analytics and post likes etc. On the other hand, the time away I had was useful and allowed me to see the other side. After several months, I realised that my usual jump to extremes was not the best solution, and there was so much of the interaction and humour that I missed. I didn’t sit down and make a calculated decision to come back - it was more of a spur of the moment thing brought on by the feeling that I was missing something. It wasn’t that I missed the ‘high’ of social media popularity, it was very much those friendships, the community and most of all the jokes that I enjoyed. So when I came back, I decided I would do as much or as little as I wanted, and would not be beholden to anyone else’s expectations of even my belief of what those might be. And so far it has been good!
Since then, I have had one of my great highlights of my time running CSMFHT, when I hosted a Classics pub quiz in Wellington last October. I’m so grateful for the organisers who set this up and made the whole thing quite special - it has opened up new ideas and avenues to me. Shout out to Lucy and the team at Elysium! I’m excited now for what will come and happy with what I have - and the idea that I have brought a little light into the lives of quite a few. In the words of Homer Simpson:
Thank you all again for subscribing!