Why you should stop using social media right now
Why you should stop using social media right now
Why you should stop using social media right now
Opinion

Why you should stop using social media right now

Oliver Herren
Zurich, on 04.12.2020
Translation: Patrik Stainbrook

Barely-President Trump still rules Twitter. Ariana Grande is the Queen on Instagram, and 16-year-old Charli D'Amelio danced her way to 100 million followers on Tiktok. Three profiteers using an innovation you should avoid for good reasons.

For almost ten years now, social media has been on everyone's lips. Not only among younger audiences, but across all age groups. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and co. make up a considerable part of internet usage. Even Radio SRF 2 Klassik mentions content from social networks.

You'll also always find critical background reports on the use of social media. Usage is only recommended in moderation. However, this conceals the fact that the only correct way to deal with it is to avoid it. One is almost bound to come to this conclusion after researching what the business models and customer relationships involved look like.

I deal with technology, business models and marketing professionally. In doing so, I'm always perplexed by how open and blind companies and individuals are in their use of social media. People are virtually persuaded that this is a normal and sensible thing to do. Yet the opposite is true.

To start, here's a definition according to Investopedia:

Social media is computer-based technology that facilitates the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and information through the building of virtual networks and communities. By design, social media is internet-based and gives users quick electronic communication of content. Content includes personal information, documents, videos, and photos. Users engage with social media via computer, tablet or smartphone via web-based software or web application, often utilizing it for messaging.

So far, so good. As defined, social media consists of networks by and for users.

The Facebook and Instagram business model

Let's take a look at the major social networks. Perhaps the term «social network» isn't accurate. «Parasitism» seems more appropriate.

How exactly does the business model of social networks such as Facebook and Instagram work? Wherein lies the economic genius of these companies?

Who exactly works for the platforms?

Content is produced by users. They're constantly producing new material for the platform. Why? The platform uses a psychological trick to avoid paying users to constantly manufacture new content. Without hesitation. Depending on how interesting their content is, users receive supposed social recognition in the form of «likes» and other interactions. However, this social recognition only has a shelf life of a few seconds. By then, the content has already disappeared into the depths of the platforms' data garbage can and is only used to categorise users.

Interestingly, many companies, including media outlets, voluntarily reference Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, promoting the platforms for free. Conversely, however, operators of the platforms lock each post already containing a link to another page behind a paywall.

Who are the customers?

The clients are various companies or organizations, large and small, who pay to have their content seen by users who are as easily influenced as possible. The platform itself uses the voluntarily created content and user behaviour to expertly assess which users are most likely to click on a corresponding advertisement. And political groups can of course also use the platform; this isn't called advertising, but propaganda.

What is the product?

You, your attention, and implicitly, of course, your buying power are being marketed. As a user, you give away more or less of yourself to platforms. With this information, advertisements tailored to you are displayed.

A customer can purchase this service from one of the aforementioned social networks:

  • User stimulation, i.e. the arousal of curiosity and the desire to expose oneself.
  • Initiation of user behaviour, be it buying behaviour or personal opinions.

Who makes the money?

First and foremost, early investors in Facebook and Co. The price gains far outweigh any other deals they could make. As a result, the founders of the platforms are of course among the highest earners.

After that come the customers - companies that place ads, that is, not users. Generally speaking, advertising is done because it makes a difference. I always come across people who claim that they aren't influenced by advertising. I've even thought that myself. But let's face it, that's just sticking your head in the sand. The best solution is just not consuming the media in question.

Then there's the employees and suppliers of the platforms, of course. They also earn a more or less solid income.

How much does Facebook rake in?

Facebook earned a profit of $7.35 billion in 2019. Thanks to supposedly 2.5 billion users.

This leads us to the more descriptive revenue per user statistic:

  • USA: $41.
  • Europe: $13.
  • Worldwide: $8.50.

Who loses in this system?

It's simple: individual users. We lose our time, our attention and our intelligence. We waste our time unnecessarily on these parasitic platforms instead of using it for more productive things. Such as by spending it with friends, learning new things, or just doing paid work. We invest our attention in such fleeting things, after which it disappears into nothingness. You don't remember what you were looking at after just a few minutes. And if someone still wants to find out, it'll be difficult, as new content has already displaced the old. As we often find only the most banal content on these platforms, your intelligence is completely stamped out.

What about YouTube?

On YouTube, creators earn so little that they're open to being corrupted. That's why there are so many influencers willing to advertise in their videos. In journalism, being this open to third parties is unethical. Which isn't to say that all journalists are saints, but at least venality violates the professional ethos in journalism.

Actual good content is often funded by licence fee payers. Take the excellent «Kurzgesagt», for example. They're videos are produced by German television and thus by German fee payers. In essence, taxes are redistributed from the citizen to Alphabet, the corporation behind Google and YouTube.

And YouTube became big through illegal music streaming. YouTube was and is the biggest platform for music streaming. After all, why else does YouTube Premium allow you to stream videos without actual on-screen content?

Side note regarding Facebook and YouTube

Users of these platforms are mercilessly stealing content from each other to leave their mark on the websites. There's an appropriate video on this topic from the aforementioned «Kurzgesagt» channel. Copyright is being ignored. And the actual numbers involved are also very dubious.

Verdict

Not only do you supply platforms with all the content, no, you also get manipulated with ads. You're getting double fleeced, so to speak.

Become the customer! Decide for yourself what something is worth to you before paying for it. In that sense, ad-free platforms such as Netflix and Spotify that make users into customers are to be welcomed. Make sure to read real paper books as well. You won't be bombarded by recommendations, commercial interruptions or messages from acquaintances and strangers.

When something is free, it often tempts you to act irrationally. With this in mind, you can also principally avoid everything that tries to push itself into the foreground. Nothing in life is truly free. The only question is whether you realise how exactly you're paying.

In any case, a redistribution from many parties to a few large corporations is taking place, being further financially encouraged by uncoordinated state actions.

And we're all responsible for that. As consumers and as citizens of a democratic country. You can take the first step by not using any of the parasitic social media services privately. Install an ad blocker too, there are even solid solutions for mobile devices. And if you still can't let go, then help increase the quality by being aware of the responsibility you have when you share content, be it by writing new posts or sharing existing ones.

Where do we go from here?

Should there be a paid «Social Media» platform where users become the customers? An open system, ideally «open source» to allow for transparency. There are a few social networks along those lines, but a real alternative doesn't seem to be emerging yet.

Digitec Galaxus and social media

Naturally, digitec and Galaxus are also present on social networks. For example, we inform you about new interesting articles from our editorial team. Or you see advertisements that point out our diverse range. Is this a contradiction to my tirade against social media? Yes, in part. We cannot completely escape its grasp, but we have a critical attitude and continuously reflect on our own work. Maybe it's a love-hate relationship. In addition, we try to advertise as ironically as possible, which we hope you've noticed by now. And we're proud that the vast majority of our customers come directly to us.

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Cool: Creating interfaces between the real world and the world of pure information. Not cool: Driving by car to the mall to shop. My life happens online, the information age is where I feel at home.


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