When Four Corners aired its latest episode, Cracking The Code, Facebook streams lit up with the buzz question: "Did you see Four Corners on Monday night?"
In an evenly played analysis of both the bleeding veins and the love potions that keep us connected to our screens, the heart of Joe Public's love-hate relationship with the bits and bytes that dominate the world of 16 million Australians, and a staggering 1.86 billion monthly active users across the globe, was wrenched open and displayed for all to see.
And what we saw was a new breed of people who are willing to connect at all costs. We serve up our data, we serve up images of ourselves, our highs and our lows, what we bought, what we sold, under the illusion that we share it only with our 'friends'. Behind the illusion is the cost that we all pay, yet choose to ignore -- that we are really 'sharing' with a machine. A machine that knows us, a machine that will own us. A machine that reminds us where we are to go, how to connect with our contacts, what everyone we are interested in is listening to, thinking about, saying and doing.
There is a more meaningful benefit to social media than simply remaining abreast of the births, deaths and marriages of your tribe.
The downside is the rights to our privacy that citizens are giving away to one of the most successful corporations in history. The upside -- where users clearly gravitate, or else they would simply stop using the platform -- is the ability to share knowledge like never before in human history. We know more about the small group of humans we've always known than we could ever possibly know by merely living our lives.
I am more connected, I am more deeply involved, I am even more interested. Adversaries argue that the reverse is true, that the 'knowing' of so much erodes a deeper knowing. But I certainly know who went where, with whom, how it went, what they thought, will they go again... in a way I could never have known before. Yet there is a more meaningful benefit to social media than simply remaining abreast of the births, deaths and marriages of your tribe.
Link sharing has always been for me the deepest reason for using social media. I no longer need to wait for The Atlantic or The New Yorker to travel across the seven seas, straddling a range of pivotal gates and mountains to reach my door. The stories published transmigrate in seconds, and links are shared, measurably, as certain themes take hold and create a mass surge of immediate interest. The benefits are an expansion of knowledge as never seen before. The detriments, of course, as we have seen are the ability to manipulate on a global scale, as we are told occurred with the recent US elections.
Never before have newspapers received such phenomenal readership. And then the paradox -- never before has the media suffered so poorly in terms of profit. Four Corners showed footage of mainstream newsrooms -- formerly barns of human writers -- now dwindling to empty pews as the writers are cleared out.
The success of link sharing would have to be every writer's dream -- to have your work published in one publication then instantly transmitted and re-shared all across the world.
The success of link sharing would have to be every writer's dream -- to have your work published in one publication then instantly transmitted and re-shared all across the world. Yet the papers and mainstream media have fallen prey to the very means of their success.
Facebook is the platform responsible for increasing their readership. Its business accouterments have paved that particular golden brick road for the newfound audiences of great media to follow. Yet the bricks are all owned by Facebook. Facebook owns the data, Facebook owns the advertising revenue arising from the data. Facebook owns the dance and completely calls the tune.
And this little media magnate gets none.
And so we see the demise of the papers, the content creators, the great writers and their great stories. All going, going, gone, in the greatest collapse of media of all time. If this keeps up, when Facebook's bubble eventually bursts, then there will be no media left to tell the story.
The papers have tried various tactics to corner online revenue. Read one article this month for free. Subscribe to see the full story. Yet still their revenue declines. Why? Because readers don't want to pay for the content. We have paid enough. We have paid with our data, our faces, our family connections, our workplaces, our outings, our brand preferences. And that is price enough.
Australian audiences in recent months have received pitches from The New Yorker to subscribe -- to pay a fee to keep the privilege of reading the articles. Yet Australians aren't going to pay to keep afloat their own papers, let alone off-shore publications.
Similarly, Wikipedia regularly explains its penniless plight and asks readers for mercy -- for less than the cost of this or that per week we could continue our open-sourced, reader-contributed content, if readers would simply oblige. But readers click on, and ever on, to the next article, rarely valuing what they read enough to want to pay.
Perhaps the content providers -- which is essentially what the newspapers are -- have their model all wrong. Perhaps the truest and most free writing is yet to come, if the newspapers break entirely from advertising, and instead move to a model where their revenue is derived from links.
To preserve the future of the mass media as we know it, let the newspapers generate their income by charging Facebook for the link sharing and content displayed on Facebook.
For this to work, the papers would need to get on with the business of writing and leave Facebook to do what it does best, which is distributing the writing to readers and refining the machine that understands how to maintain human engagement and make money out of it.
Facebook creates NO content whatsoever and is a content delivery vehicle which generates its revenue from targeted advertising. To preserve the future of the mass media as we know it, let the newspapers generate their income by charging Facebook for the link sharing and content displayed on Facebook. The result could lead to a freedom of the press never before known. If Facebook flips to the opposite argument, asking why they should pay for content they currently receive for free, pitch the question of what kind of detriment would there be if Facebook experienced a media blackout which blocked all commercially published content -- even for just a week.
It is time for the media to flex its muscle -- without content there is no Facebook. User-generated content is a large part of the mix, but as the papers have observed, they are now experiencing a greater readership than ever before, and the infusion of well written and researched stories is essential to the blend. If the media moved to a model of charging Facebook a tiny payment per link share, then arguably both the medium and the message would flourish.
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