Gongol.com Archives: August 2023

Brian Gongol

August 6, 2023

Computers and the Internet When symbiosis breaks down

Conventional media outlets and social-media outlets have been locked in an unstable symbiotic relationship for a while. As consumer attention (and advertising dollars) have shifted towards the social-media outlets, the conventional sources have been driven to use those newer channels as tools to attract what audience attention remains. Social-media outlets, meanwhile, have been dependent on others to create the sort of content that people want to share and talk about. ■ The evidence has grown fairly hard to dispute that new channels of communication, in all their forms, have hurt the basic bottom line for mass media. Whether it's Craigslist (and other forces) decimating the market for newspaper classified ads or Facebook touting the powerful targeting capacities of their advertising platform, there's less money available for anything that depends on words like "broad" or "mass". ■ But what isn't clear is how to reconcile these divergent interests inside the symbiotic relationship. The Canadian government has attempted to patch it by telling social-media outlets to pay for news content they serve up. Facebook has responded by removing that news content altogether so they won't have to pay. ■ Canadian news outlets have responded with predictable hostility. It might not mean so much if not for the fact that a third of Americans (and, presumably, a comparable share of Canadians) regularly get their news exposure from Facebook. It might not be their only platform for interaction, but it's a significant one. ■ This particular fight, though ugly, could be very useful for revealing just who benefits the most from the relationship. On one hand, it does appear as if Facebook has an especially large share of market power; if it weren't a significant toll collector on the way to reaching many consumers, how could it make so much money (more than $7 billion last quarter)? ■ On the other hand, how long can an outlet like Facebook remain relevant as a destination for people to discuss what's happening if it expressly rejects any credible, mainstream sources of news in the first place? The outcome of the dispute may actually tell us quite a lot -- which side breaks down first and how hard each side works to meet in the middle will reveal much that isn't readily apparent from surveys about consumer behavior. It's a nasty experiment, but it could end up being a very telling one.

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