The Attention Economy: The Social Media duopoly that sells your Life
Social media giants brainwashed us all to live the lives of others.
Social networks don’t exist to make us happy or to help us connect with friends, but to show us publicity and to illegally collect our personal information and metadata.
Its massive machinery whose role is to show advertisements is what led to compromising episodes such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which showed that biased information was sent to 87 million Americans to pick their heads about the presidential election. But that is just one example.
The dominance of some Internet platforms is not a historical coincidence, rather it is the product of two important structural dynamics: network effects and the predominance of the financing model with advertisements.
These network effects that promote the exponential growth of the platforms are based on the fact that the value of a network goes up as users add up.
Every time a new friend opens a Facebook account, a social network value multiplies; if all your contacts are on WhatsApp, the application collects all their data along with yours.
In this way, the Internet has not become the diverse and decentralized place promised by the tech gurus.
Nowadays, it is a duopoly composed by Facebook and Google. Hence, disconnecting from these platforms is complicated.
The reality of duopoly was already clear to the creators of Google, back in 1998.
The idea that the business model focused on advertising could be problematic was reflected by them in a document that they delivered at a conference in Australia in that year.
They struggled to explain why advertising inevitably corrupted search technology. They offered ethical and practical arguments:
“We believe that the problem of advertising causes cross-incentives, so it is crucial to have a competitive search engine that is transparent.”
The day the Titans of the internet decided to become advertising companies that sold the attention of their users marked a before and after.
The big platforms fight for that attention, and they end up rewarding the extremes.
Twitter alone is responsible for idiotizing the whole world by reducing our attention spans.
Social networks have us where they want us; there, watching. These psychological trick to steal minutes are due to the business model of these platforms, based on the economy of attention.
Social media don’t exist to make us happy or to help us connect with friends, but to show us publicity.
Google and Facebook have formed a duopoly in the online advertising industry: in 2017 they accumulated 73 billion and 40 billion dollars, respectively, according to The Wall Street Journal. They control more than half of the global market.
Their basic modus operandi is “to attract attention with seemingly free things and then resell it” those spans of attention.
What was supposed to be relevant to your wishes and interests turns out to be a studied exploitation of your weaknesses: The need to have everyone else’s attention.
The central problem is that the entire industry is built to reap users’ attention, in addition to their personal data, to sell advertising.
The platforms create very detailed commercial profiles of the users and serve them on a platter to third parties, who can thus launch campaigns of all kinds. Among others, those of political manipulation.
The owners of social media know that the amount of information we share online doubles every year, for the benefit of their platforms.
As each network grew larger, it produced more data, and this information made the companies more “intelligent”, more valuable and more lucrative, which contributed to a better service.
It was a powerful and self-reinforcing cycle that turned an advantage into a domination.
However, social media giants have fallen into a trap they’ve built themselves.
It is the growth trap: they need to grow and grow to maintain their value and the interest of their shareholders, which precipitates counterproductive decisions and abuses by their owners and operators.
They move quickly, grow quickly and will fall quickly.
Developers are not aware of the price that people pay for their decisions, and the current behavior by social media giants are only symptoms of the original sin they committed: focusing their operation solely on publicity.
In the beginning, social media owners argued emphatically that what differentiated their platforms from what already existed was their refusal to use advertising.
It is the reason why Google claimed that its results would remain more honest than those of Yahoo and what according to Facebook would allow its platform to become a true social network.
Therefore, the original sin was the choice to sell users to corporations instead of information or connections to users.
Today, users are the product and the main resource of social media.
The creation and use of algorithms, the mind’s control and the violations of privacy are simply the natural consequences of having a duopoly that sells your life.
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Luis R. Miranda is an award-winning journalist and the founder & editor of The Real Agenda News. His career spans over 23 years in every form of news media. He writes about environmentalism, education, technology, science, health, immigration and other current affairs. Luis has worked as on-air talent, news reporter, television producer, and news writer.