The Free Content Economy deserves to die

Facebook does not pay its authors. Neither does Twitter. Neither does Google. But that also means they cannot fire them when they produce shitty content. And that is a huge problem.

In a previous post, I outlined some of the issues with the original model of the free and open internet. Today I want to talk about some of the side effects of those early choices and how the business built on the back of it are showing some very predictable problems.

Problem 1: You can’t fire people who don’t work for you.

Chef at a street food market preparing a taco

Let’s start with a story from back in the day. When I went to college there was a Taco Bell near campus and someone told me that a dude who worked there was mixing his actual poop into the beef mix. Now I am a skeptical guy normally and was in this scenario as well. I assumed this was an urban legend, I didn’t eat at that Taco Bell anyway. But my opinion changed a few days later when my friend Sharon showed me the arrest notification in the police blotter section of the paper. HOLY SHIT. The guy was arrested for “unhygienic food preparation, specifically involving human feces” or something like that. I tried to find and link to the story/blotter but this was pre-internet days, and I could not find the source material. Now, of course, they fired him immediately.

How does this apply to Facebook and Twitter? They run on content. And unlike newspapers Facebook and Twitter do not pay the people who write content, they do not pay people who edit the content, they do not pay people to review the content, and they cannot enforce any sort of editorial standards.

And unlike newspapers Facebook and Twitter do not pay the people who write content, they do not pay people who edit the content, they do not pay people to review the content, and they cannot enforce any sort of editorial standards.

So since they are not employees, and are not paid by Facebook or Twitter, their goals when creating content by definition are not aligned with the social media giants’ goals. They may want to sell a hoodie, or some essential oils, or skin cream, or a political point of view, or a random lie, or traffic to a website that sells ray-bans. But whatever they want to create it is only chance that their self-directed content is something Facebook wants.

So when some fringe political hack wants to start taking a dump in our collective newsfeeds, they don’t have a good way to prevent that from happening.

So when some fringe political hack wants to start taking a dump in our collective newsfeeds, they don’t have a good way to prevent that from happening.

And let’s be clear that is exactly what these partisan hacks are doing. You are trying to enjoy your newsfeed, and see family and friends, their kids, their cats, their dogs. and one or two friends never check Snopes and they proceed to dump a seemingly endless stream of crap into your feed. It is no different than the guy at Taco Bell taking a dump in the beef. And if you have ever tried to clean up your newsfeed, you know it is basically impossible to flip a “I don’t want political crap in my feed” switch.

And the global approaches that Facebook and Twitter use are also totally ineffective.

Their solution of “report this post” is too late. Nevermind that has been turned into a way to attack people that a coordinated minority doesn’t like.

Their solution to use content moderators is hilariously understaffed. See the video embedded below.

Their solution to tweak the feed algorithm is too late and actively gamed. Like the SEO battle Google always is fighting. Granted that can be effective. When was the last time you saw a farmville post? Or a “you won’t believe what happens next” video. It is effective only broad categories and usually well after the fact.

Problem 2: Tweaking the algorithms is a poor substitute for doing the hard work of reviewing and editing content

As I mentioned above, reporting the content and tweaking the algorithms is a poor substitute for human review. And currently, the human review element is grossly understaffed. Algorithmic filtering is only chosen because it is cheaper.

The clip below highlights some of the shortcomings if this approach.

Again, the lesson here is good content costs money to produce and edit. the current business model that relies on free volunteer created content does not scale. A dedicated close-knit community can keep something like a wiki on Magic the Gathering pretty well policed, or a forum on BMW repairs on topic. But a billion person social media platform without adequate moderation and review and editing and rules that are community enforced is a recipe for disaster.

Problem 3: People are adding value and you are cashing in, without paying them

The last argument here is that you have people doing valuable work. Creating content, memes, video, blogs etc. that should be paid. Some people are making money doing just that, but they by and large are making their money off other channels. If you have a huge social media following, you can only cash that out if you offer something like clothing (like Foamie here) or an album (Like Cardi B, or Bhad Bhabie) or A book and shoes like Gary V or some other non-social media goods. You can also partner with brands for sponsored content and posts.

But that *SHOULD* be additional income for these performers and creators. They are adding value to people’s lives, they are the lifeblood of these social media channels, and other than some revenue sharing pioneered by youtube, they do not get paid for their legitimate contributions. That is wrong.

In the early days of the NFL player were not paid, or paid very poorly, but as they became established and mainstream they do get paid. We are past the point where people who are social media professionals should be paid.

Summary:

People who create social media content should be paid, social media companies should be held responsible for the content they promote, and there is no shortcut to creating good content. Pay editors, Pay Reviewers.

AND

If we had a social media content system that was professional and high quality, we would not need to have “shadow ban”, Algorithm tweaks, or other lame and too late approach to cleaning up our collective newsfeeds.

The world would be a better place, and social media would be a reason it is better, not something that is approaching a modern evil.

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