OXFORD MEDIA SOCIETY
For this week’s newsletter, I thought I’d write today about digital media and the platforms that govern it.
This feeling of uncertainty as to where digital media is headed started when I decided to have a look at Facebook’s ‘watch’ tab. More than anything, it turns out that the feed consists of weird prank videos, bizarre hacks, and tv clips, all with a level of suggestiveness (and of course, misogyny) reminiscent of 2010s-era algorithmically generated content. In part, it demonstrates the fact that Facebook’s user base has steeply plateaued in recent years, and any platform that no longer attracts new users tends to quickly become algorithms talking to each other.
More importantly, this seems to be the sentiment across the legacy digital media industry, where established platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter all seem to be struggling to maintain relevance when the social environment has significantly shifted since the 2010s. Financially as well, the traditional model of digital advertising is proving much less reliable — Facebook recently blamed its $10 billion loss on a simple update to iOS which now allows users to block platforms from tracking them across apps. Both legislators and users are now becoming more attuned to privacy issues, and essentially, if these platforms can’t track you, they can’t sell your information either.
What’s worrying, however, is that all of these companies are no longer just private entities, they are critical pieces of infrastructure that maintain the internet, and by extension, the information landscape we live in. Because of this, increasingly it feels the internet simply doesn’t work as well as it used to. Netflix used to be where all the movies were; now I’m always struggling to find anything to watch. Google used to be where you could find out about anything; now the top results are increasingly ads or irrelevant recommendations. And I think many of the seemingly bizarre decisions made by digital media platforms — the Metaverse, ads on Netflix, everything Elon Musk is doing on Twitter — are a result of desparate companies wthatho aren’t really sure how to adapt to changing social trends.
Perhaps this feels a bit inconclusive, but at the same time this could end up being a promising period, where corporate decisions and user demands are not yet settled. Perhaps this is an opportunity to demand that digital media be fixed for our new decade, and hopefully be less exploitative and inhumane.
Two articles on digital media:
…and something more optimistic: