Why The Future Of Social Media Might Be About Thinking Smaller 

young woman with smartphone

The world of social media can be a rough sea to sail in. There are plenty of pleasant corners of course — filled with family vacation photos, cats, how-to videos, some top-shelf dad jokes, fashion advice and opportunities to purchase all kinds of useful and interesting things.

Those are the nice neighborhoods on social media — but it doesn’t take very much to accidentally be knocked over into one of the not-so-nice areas full scammers, trolls, nasty comments, nonsensical memes and angry mobs of all stripes. It’s unpleasant for many and genuinely menacing to some, particularly young women who often find themselves sampling from the miserable buffet of things the worst parts of social media have to offer.

According to one study, 41 percent of women report being harassed online; another found that 40 percent of female online gamers had been harassed for their gender while playing.

“Large-scale commercial games have these aspects of their platform that are totally unmoderated spaces,” said Daniel Kelley, the associate director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Center for Technology and Society. “We know from places like 4chan or 8chan that unmoderated spaces become toxic.”

And it is that pervasive toxicity that has tended to creep in to the first wave of massive social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter that has allowed an up-and-coming player like Squad to start to get a foothold in a market that as recently as two years ago most experts were declaring closed to new entrants.

Billing itself as “a better way to get together,” Squad quickly built a base of highly engaged young female users on a broad geographic scale united by a single need. It is a social media platform built from the ground up with a foundational concern for their safety and privacy when interacting online.

“Completely accidentally we’ve developed this global audience of users and it’s girls all over the world,” Squad Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Esther Crawford said in an interview with TechCrunch. “In India, it’s girls. In Saudi Arabia, it’s girls. In the U.S., it’s girls. Even without us localizing it, girls all over the world are finding it.”

Because, Crawford said, girls all over the world need a hub like Squad — one that makes it easy to connect with people they want at distance digitally, without having to hang an “open for business” sign out for the wider web to access. With almost no marketing, Squad since its launch earlier this year has picked up 450,000 users, 70 percent of whom are teenage girls who have collectively logged 1 million hours within the site.

Squad is, at base, a video chat app that allows users to share screens with each other by invite. Its features are similar to Twitch, WhatsApp or Snap insofar as they also offer video group chats. The difference, Crawford said, is in the focus on the audience, and the safety protections built in so that girls can actually feel safe using — and staying on — the app.

“Girls have been completely pushed off of Twitch,” she said. “The Twitch community didn’t want them there and they weren’t friendly to them. For boys, there are places you can go to consume content with other people, like Fortnite, but for girls there hasn’t been a place that’s really broken out. We want to be a place where girls can come and hang out.”

Those safety features include things that it took other platform a lot time to add, and an even longer time to run well. Squad makes it easy to block unwanted company and report inappropriate behavior.  Members can only be searched by exact username.

The app, she said, is built for friends who want to shop online together, or plan an Airbnb trip, or mutually pursue a photo album — things that require digital sharing, but not necessarily on a public square platform.

The future of social media, and social commerce as well, she said, is making it easier for people to connect online in as many ways as possible.

“People can use this digital tech to hang out together instead of it being so performative,” Crawford said.