In other words, we'll be left with officially generated and sanctioned fake news and "approved" dissent.
We've all heard that the problem with the web is fake news, i.e. unsubstantiated or erroneous content that's designed to mislead or sow confusion.
The problem isn't just fake news--it's the homogenization of the web, that is, the elimination or marginalization of independent voices of skepticism and dissent.
There are four drivers of this homogenization:
1. The suppression of dissent under the guise of ridding the web of propaganda and fake news--in other words, dissent is labeled fake news as a cover for silencing critics and skeptics.
2. The sharp decline of advertising revenues flowing to web publishers,
both major outlets and small independent publishers like Of Two Minds.
3. The majority of advert revenues now flow into the coffers of the quasi-monopolies Facebook and Google.
4. Publishers are increasingly dependent on these quasi-monopolies for
readers and visibility: any publisher who runs afoul of Facebook and
Google and is sent to Digital Siberia effectively vanishes.
The reason why publishers' advert incomes are plummeting are four-fold:
1. Most of the advert revenues in the digital market are being skimmed by Facebook and Google, as the chart below illustrates.
2. Ad blockers have become ubiquitous.
3. Few people click on the display ads that are the standard in desktop
web publishing; in other words, these ads simply don't work very well,
and much of the revenue being generated is click-fraud, i.e. bots not
real people clicking on adverts because they're interested in the
product/service. As a result, advertisers are pulling away from these
type of ads as they search for advert models that aren't so vulnerable
4. The web is increasingly shifting to mobile, which has fewer advert
spots due to the small size of the display. In addition, major
third-party advert services such as Google Adsense place restrictions on
the number and size of ads being displayed on publishers' sites.
publisher BuzzFeed is on track to miss its revenue target this year by a
significant amount, the latest sign that troubles in the online-ad
business are making it tough for new-media upstarts to live up to lofty
a result of these two dynamics--the censorship of dissenting views
under the excuse of limiting fake news, and the erosion of advert
income--independent publishers are losing ground. While those
posting on Facebook and other social media sites have little expectation
of monetizing their content, many web publishers made enough income off
adverts or affiliated income (from YouTube channels, for example) to
justify the enormous time and effort they expended keeping their
advert income has dwindled, there are only two other revenue models
available to publishers: a subscription service or Patreon, i.e. the
direct financial support of users/readers/viewers. Major publishers
are struggling to build a subscription base large enough to fund their
operations, a task made more difficult by the expectation that all
content is free or should be free.
Patreon has been a boon for thousands of independent writers,
journalists, cartoonists, filmmakers and other creators of content. The
Patreon model (as I understand it, and yes I have a Patreon campaign) is
not based on content that's behind a paywall available to subscribers
only, but on providing incentives in the form of content or other
rewards to those who choose to contribute.
The Patreon model only works if enough users/readers/viewers step up to support content creators they value. I
think the success of Patreon suggests that many people are willing to
support the content creators they value. But like all voluntary revenue
models, there's the free-rider issue:
people who may have the income to pay a bit for content choose not to,
and in essence free-ride on those few who do contribute/pay for content.
Some people have advanced the model of micropayments as
the solution to the problem of compensating content creators fairly.
While this model has some obvious benefits--pennies charged for access
to content might add up to a living for content creators if their
audience was large enough--it would still be a voluntary system, and
thus it would have the same free-rider issue as every other voluntary
Posting "free" content on social media ends up driving advert revenues
to the social media and search monopolies, leaving nothing for the
content creators. There is only so much serious content that can be
created for free.
If what we're left with is "free" content (i.e. the creator gets no
income for creating and posting content), Facebook, Google and
click-bait link farms of sensationalist headlines, we'll end up with a
thoroughly homogenized web of "approved content" underwritten by
lobbyists, the entertainment industry and elitist foundations/think
tanks, and little in the way of real dissent or diversity of independent
In other words, we'll be left with officially generated and sanctioned fake news and "approved" dissent: unemployment
is at record lows, inflation is near zero, the "recovery" is alive and
well, Russia is the enemy and any suggestion to the contrary is
propaganda that must be eradicated as fake news, etc.
Simply put, the web is becoming Orwellian. There's
plenty of approved "diversity of opinion," but dissent is being
sidelined to the fringes as a risk to the perfection of managed content.
By Charles Hugh Smith