Monday, 22 January 2018

Why Social Media Companies Are Becoming Too Powerful

Lewis Wells explains how major Social Media Companies are leading to the demise of start-up creativity, whilst simultaneously becoming all-powerful. 

Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
It’s with certainty that I argue these companies are more powerful than both you and I could possibly imagine. Their creators are celebrities, and the organisations themselves are political advocates and players in global matters. In their respective early years, all were capable of their basic selling points: communicating with others, sending small messages, sending vanishing photos, all-accessible videos. All were so simple and concise in their respective creations, one could perhaps explain their uses 
quickly and effectively. Nowadays, they all “pretty much” do what the other does. By paraphrasing “pretty much”, I remind myself that I would have to spend hours differentiating between them all and clarifying my point as such an explanation would require precise analysis. Moreover, all are now in control of so much more, from their sphere of influence to how capable they are in strangling creativity in the modern era.

You may not ‘need’ them all anymore, as was formerly the case. Should you have to choose only one application among seven, it wouldn’t be such an emotional and perplexing task as it may have been several years ago. Now, via one app, I can pretty much do all I really need and want to do, said the average person in a recent survey. But why? Surely it can’t all be down to technical and creative superiority and that they all originated around the same time, in the same country. 

Well, it’s not as easy as that. 

With commanding on average hundreds of millions of compulsive users each comes great responsibility. I mean, governmental involvement, advertising opportunity, global influence, systematic bias. Each application is worth billions, should one wish to purchase, and each company enjoys valuable turnovers and successes on a regular basis. "To whose dissatisfaction?" I hear you ask. I mean, not everyone can be happy, can they? And how have they kept this up for so long, without valiant challenge? 

Introducing Hyper. A couple of years ago I downloaded this app via my iPad, as it so beamingly made itself available in the App Store. Its primary use: to provide a daily selection of around 6–10 videos (which I stress were “premium”) that we were told we “wouldn’t find in YouTube via searching”. Quite simply, a handy, efficient alternative to searching through YouTube for videos you may want to watch. But it wasn’t just that. Having tried it myself, I came across a family who made their own house from recycled bottles, the world’s largest drone race, behind the scenes film cinematography, extreme sports you haven’t even heard of. Need I add more? These seven videos not only expanded my cultural, social and global knowledge, but challenged stereotypes, provided smaller channels and groups with a “platform” and reinforced my preconceptions about individual topics. I came off having learnt something, as well as having felt an array of different emotions and, having been persuaded to do so via the app, disseminate the content to others. It felt so much more time-conservative and useful in comparison with what one might do searching via YouTube.

On some days, the content was lacklustre and unfunny, uninteresting and stale. On others, it was action-packed, diverse and modern. You may have learnt something you didn’t know you wanted to. Cue new interests and passions, folks. The User Interface was a work of art, simultaneously. It was often through watching a 5-second clip that I was attracted to interact with this video and devote my time in trying it out. It worked so perfectly, and I was content with having downloaded it.

Having started out in August 2015, Hyper shut down indefinitely in May 2017. I hadn’t even noticed until, perhaps, August. And that, is exactly, why the app closed down. I used the app very frequently, since it became available, and that was perhaps, 3 times a week, but when doing so, my consumption was consistently perhaps 30 minutes or more. That decreased to perhaps once or twice a fortnight, given how it lacked an equivalent app on my iPhone, and that I knew myself: once I started using it, I wouldn’t leave quickly. Hyper wrote to their audience upon closing. The primary reason cited was its consumer-retention woes; people weren’t visiting often enough. They were more interested in what the more powerful, all-encompassing apps had to offer. I explained earlier, perhaps I used the app once or twice a fortnight, but did so for a considerable period of time. For Hyper’s demographic, that was often the case. Perhaps, people spent hours on the app, but that was not often enough. They were trying to target those who compulsively devote their hours to existing, “original”, social media apps.

They weren’t successful in that, or in altering consumer habits. They failed to survive in a growing climate where Facebook and YouTube dominate. Small, start-up companies, are in need of a growing edge. Hyper confessed they could not access that. Our social media companies of today have so much power, that small incentives are just unable to find a level playing field; they cannot voice their suggestions, or share their unique propositions. For me that is a concern. Facebook just announced two major things which I am likely to oppose. 

Firstly, they will hire people to label and file content they believe is considered fake news or hate speech. I am all in favour of the people doing what they do on existing social sites, like Reddit, placing their “thumbs up or down” on whatever content they disagree with, or would encourage others to be wary off. That’s fine, because that consists of anyone, regardless of background, nationality, or politics; it all counts in the numbers. Under Facebook's new rules, employees of the company would have to make, as laid out, personal and non-partial decisions, something which worries me.

Secondly, Facebook are developing an idea that would allow users to rate organisations by their “trust”. If there’s anything I tell people, it’s to refrain from saying things like “CNN is fake news”. Sure, CNN has staged protests before, has manipulated content in unfair ways, and even fabricated sub-stories, but the whole workforce should not be subject to your petulant and unintelligent platitudes. Such behaviour is always leading to the demise of careers and reputations, for simply being part of a company. 

These are prominent examples of how social media companies are declaring themselves self-righteous and responsible for controlling peoples’ viewing habits, trusts and opinions. Secondarily, governments and politicians are scapegoating social media companies as those really at fault for allowing ISIS videos of beheadings or ANTIFA videos of elderly people being assaulted being disseminated. Right or wrong, it’s clear that it’s highly difficult “just being” your average Joe social media company. There are rules, regulations and problems your average start-up can no longer afford to ignore. But we should also be afraid of the power they have to influence our lives, as well as how much these companies are being influenced by third-party players.

So, Hyper remains a goner, as do various other companies and start-ups that are systematically disadvantaged in progressing or challenging in the market. As we decrease in diversity, we limit our freedom to exploring new opinions and creations as we succumb to the content of a couple of companies. Sure, YouTube might pick up on Hyper’s USP one day, and a lot of people might not care any more. But that’s not the point. We are yet again losing access to such a creative and untapped market which has so much theoretical room for ideas that will help to voice the fact that the positives of technology can outweigh the negatives. Hyper’s Team, by the look of things, refuse to give up. They are rumoured to be shifting office location, yet retaining the same team, in pursuit of another idea. Good luck to them, and good luck to us, for providing them another opportunity.

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