Crypto, Elon Musk, TikTok … The underside of the big bang of social networking

Elon Musk played the chord boys to explain his desire to buy Twitter back. “Defense of freedom of speech”, “protection of democracy”, … his arguments were (surprisingly) polished. But there’s one big thing he’s kept to himself: the fact that the sector is in the process of reconfiguring itself. The takeover of Twitter is not yet complete (certain key variables in the network are still under investigation), but “there is a place to go on social networks”, assures Jean-Christophe Liaubet, partner at Fabernovel,.

What drives this plate tectonics? First, the fact that social networks are built on two major misconceptions. The first, the source of all evil, is the idea that social networking is free. At the time of their creation, it must be said that internet users pirated movies and music to their hearts. The idea of ​​paying for a social network is unthinkable and very “old world”. Except, of course, that everything is paid for in life, and if the networks are not paid for by Internet users, their data is worth gold to advertisers.

Like other platforms, Meta, formerly Facebook, has chosen to build its business model around targeted advertising. Its teams must therefore put brains to promote the most addictive content possible. Cute little cats go strong, posts that make people even more angry. ONE business model which will lead to the abuses we know and which today show some signs of running out.

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For the very first time in its history, Meta saw its number of users drop at the end of 2021. The indicator has since started to rise again, but the alarm condition remains, especially on the segment of young users, as valuable for social networks as Meta has all sorts of trouble keeping. Fabernovel’s latest Gafanomics report also warned of a sharp slowdown in the group’s advertising revenue, which “is likely to continue in the next few quarters”.

The Twitch UFO is pushing a new business model

Conversely, new models of social networking are emerging, particularly the path to the “creative economy” opened by UFO Twitch. This platform where everyone can film themselves live and interact with their audience has had the flair of offering fun tools to internet users to fund the people they like. They can subscribe to theirs streamers favorites or buy them “virtual applause”. A model that is not perfect (part of streamers considers the commissions that Twitch has taken too heavy) but which have the benefit of opening new horizons.

The ancestral subscription concept is also making a strong comeback. “This is what Elon Musk envisions for Twitter,” said Jérôme Colin, associate director of consulting firm Fifty-Five. If the acquisition ends, he intends to halve the advertising weight in the company’s revenue and compensate for this decline by, among other things, increasing paid subscriptions to premium options. A risky but smart bet because the public, tired of abuse, is undoubtedly more likely today to pay for a quality offer.

“That business models industry is being fragmented, “confirms Neil Mawston, CEO of Strategy Analytics. And that’s not the only upheaval in this sphere. Another” fundamental myth “has been shattered: the idea that platforms are only hosts, not responsible for that content. , circulating (hate messages, slander, etc.) The networks have long camped on this very practical but erroneous position, because as emphasized by Deputy Bruno Studer, former rapporteur for the 2018 bill against false information, “not all content is presented in On same way of social networking their algorithms highlight some more than others. It’s obviously an editorial office that does not say its name. ”

And it has a huge impact on the global discussion. An example ? The Covid misinformation that has flooded the web actually comes from a ridiculously small number of people (in the US, 65% came from 12 accounts, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate). Faced with the seriousness of the efforts, social networks are finally beginning to take on their responsibilities. Politicians leave them, it is true, smaller and smaller elections. In April, Europeans agreed on a historic text, the Digital Service Act, which will impose a serious cleaning on the platforms. This could nevertheless benefit them: Internet users who are all too often confronted with harassment on a service tend – logically enough – to tend to move away from it.

The terrible puzzle of moderation

The topic is nonetheless a terrible headache for social networks, whose decisions, poorly understood, often trigger the anger of Internet users. “All my friends on the left ‘woke up’ are convinced that social media protects a white supremacy and misogynistic patriarchy, and have plenty of examples of where the platforms have unfairly deleted their posts […]. All my friends on the right are convinced that social networks are being sold for an awakened agenda – Black Lives Matter – Marxist – LGBTQ “, joked Yishan Wong, the former CEO of the popular social network Reddit in April last year.

A tense climate that favors the emergence of services, such as Gettr, which proudly claims to let its users say it all, for the benefit of the American far right. The historic players on their side undoubtedly regret not having taken these Cornelia issues seriously before. They will now have to tackle it more energetically, while focusing on two major technological breakthroughs that are emerging in the sector.

The first is blockchain, which has made a sensational entry into the financial sphere. Although the sector is currently experiencing a difficult time, cryptocurrencies and NFTs are opening up new, more decentralized social networks where internet users can monetize their content (videos, photos, etc.), each having a small piece of ownership of the service and jointly decide on its operating rules. “The most important contribution from decentralized social networks is the removal of opaque user profiling techniques aimed at advertisers,” concludes Hugo Bordet of Adan, Association for the Development of Digital Assets.

Historical players see this bubbling of ideas with as much interest as concern, for what is called Web3 actually questions their entire model. They therefore experiment carefully with it (Instagram tests NFTs in the US) to see how to exploit it without sawing off the branch on which they sit comfortably. The second shift taking shape in the sector is the meta-verse, which “will move from a flat 2D experience to a much richer 3D world,” explains Neil Mawston. Mark Zuckerberg’s group is investing fortunes in it and strengthened its equipment in 2014 by buying Oculus. The metaverse war, however, is far from won for him.

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Of course, social media has always been quicksand (China’s TikTok surprised everyone by abolishing the virtual monopoly on American networks around the world). But in the metaverse, the competition will come from entirely new fronts: the sphere of technology builders and the world of video games. To succeed in the metaverse, it will actually require three handles: a large community of users, helmets and goggles that allow for successful immersion, and the ability to create captivating virtual environments. A hardware pro like Microsoft, who gets his fingers in the community of an Activision Blizzard and its developers’ expertise in artificial worlds, is therefore enough to give Zuckerberg cold sweat. Not to mention Apple, which is in ambush and will soon be drawing its virtual reality headset. The game of turning everything upside down in social networks has only just begun.


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