The Attention Economy
Who are you paying your attention to?
Pay attention, to whom you are paying attention! Because that phrase is very literal nowadays.
Facebook’s servers don’t pay for themselves. Their campus in Fort Worth is estimated to be worth $1.5 billion once completed. And since you or I don’t pay for the use of their service, shouldn’t you be asking how they make so much money?
“Advertising, of course,” one might say, but there’s more to it than that, isn’t there? Facebook and Google controlled nearly 60% of the online advertising market in 2018, and sources report nearly 70% and still growing in 2019, so how are they able to capture so much of the market? What makes their product so much more valuable to advertisers than the newspaper, television or billboards available?
Because they aren’t selling advertising time or space, they’re selling you and me.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal is what most people think when they consider the ills of Facebook’s model, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. That scandal started because politicians got caught doing what Facebook does every day. They gathered information surreptitiously about users of an application, which they then used to target marketing material at people they believed would be receptive to it.
This on its own might simply be clever marketing, but as Facebook and Google have grown, they’ve adopted other policies. Their penchant for buying out their competition has led to a long-overdue federal antitrust lawsuit. Inside the U.S., falsehoods shared on its platform have begun to lead to civil strife, but this has been happening in other countries for years. Mark Zuckerberg has shown a willingness to avoid fact checking some leaders in the name of free speech while crushing the voices of activists in the name of moderation.
And worst of all, this is all fueled by photos of your loved ones.
That’s why we go to Facebook, right? We didn’t sign up on Facebook for the political strife, marketing and hate. We signed up to share our photos with family and funny jokes with our friends. A few of us may have signed up while being tempted with the idea of having an audience like a celebrity, too.
I’d like to point out that there are other ways to do those things. Ways that don’t support dictatorships and conspiracies. Websites that avoid causing their employees to quit in shame over the damage the company does, when they aren’t fired for doing the right thing first.
Sure, emails, video and phone calls don’t reach as many people as quickly, but is the point of human interaction the speed?
I won’t be paying attention to Facebook, or others using their model, any longer. Facebook has shown me that my attention has real value, and that they do not deserve it. It belongs to my friends and my family, and I’ll be paying it directly to them from now on.
(PS-If you didn’t read all the links, I highly recommend the last one, “quit in shame”, from Buzzfeed. I’ve scoffed at Buzzfeed in the past, but they hired some good people and have produced some stunning journalism.)