In defence of the Internet

An image of a scale that’s weighing a bag of money and a group of people, the bag of money outweighing the group of people.
Seems this is how most of the Internet operates nowadays… OpenClipart-Vectors via Pixabay, manipulated by lee lim

The Internet hasn’t fallen, only evolved

by contributor, cassidy savard

In my first year I took an English 100 course, and it was made clear that we as students were not to create essays covering “society” as a whole or “human nature.” In defense of this decision, these are overly vague terms.  

Unless a particular aspect is expanded upon, they attempt to describe such complex mechanisms and interactions that using these terms alone implies a hollow argument. ‘Master of none,’ as the saying goes.  

The ‘Internet’ has become a similar term, and is usually used in a negative connotation to describe and simplify shortcomings of modern civilization and complain about all these darn kids using TikTok.  

So, when a piece is titled ‘The Fall of the Internet,’ you may emotionally prepare for someone who is yet again attempting to argue that the internet is bad. I find these arguments boring and hollow, just as my instructor presumably felt about topics covering society and human nature.  

This article will attempt to briefly cover the current evolving landscape of the internet, as a result of advertising capabilities. To do this, we have to examine where this landscape evolved from.  

Let’s begin by acknowledging some historical context. Media in the form of print, radio, and television have all carried an influential torch at some time. Print media, specifically in the form of newspapers, were the first to garner a widespread influence.  

As John Vivian writes in the textbook The Media of Mass Communication, the success of the newspaper would be the result of social and technological innovations in the 1830s, which would become known as the Penny Press Period.  

Vivian expands that the newspaper operated on the basis of accessibility: stories, news, and articles capable of being consumed by individuals of various backgrounds and literacy abilities.  

The trait of accessibility would prove itself to be attractive to advertisers. More readers means more potential customers. So, advertisers enticed newspapers to produce generally neutral pieces to ensure access to all audiences. This dependency on advertisers for revenue would become the standard for future mediums, including the internet-based sites we use today.  

In 1988, a time when television had surpassed the newspaper, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman proposed the Propaganda Model in their book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.  

They argued that, over time, media in all forms available will become integrated within the dominant economic and political systems. Over time this develops into a distribution of media owners who operate on the basis of gaining economic and/or political power.   

Chomsky and Herman argued that individuals who engage with the media interact with it through filters of these economic and political motives. Even for the good-natured journalist who has the best intentions for public knowledge. Even you, a casual internet user.  

Today, these filters have progressed in their capabilities as a result of technological innovations in machine learning. Even among platforms that appear to be isolated and user-dependent, there exist filters.  

An article posted on Adweek titled “Social Media Is Dead. Welcome to the Swipe Era” further describe this evolution. Written in July 2023 by John Dempsey and Dom Tunon, they argue that machine learning has allowed brands to communicate with their market audience in a personalized manner, allowing them to be more welcome in spaces where previously, advertisements would not be as welcome.  

Never before has the media changed its substance based on the individual user. Advertisements used to be generalized, and capable of being ignored by those who deemed the ad irrelevant. Now, ads can be more subtle and incorporated into the interest of the user.  

It seems reasonable that advertisers would primarily focus on internet-based platforms. Google alone received 168 billion visits in the month of November, according to YouTube takes second place garnering 112 billion visits. To put this in perspective, Vivian writes that the peak circulation of newspapers was 63.4 million in 1984. 

Even platforms that were once more social and user-driven have evolved. An article published on Business Insider titled “Social media is dead” written by Sydney Bradley and Amanda Perelli on August 30, 2023 argued that social media is no longer social, as people are no longer posting. Instead, it is influencers who are posting and users merely observing, while they withdraw into private discussions via messenger platforms. 

Social filters exist as well with their own implications worthy of examination. On platforms that depend on engagement-based algorithms, what you see is dependent on the dominant user-base.  

For example, a study by Danielle K. Brown, Yee Man Margaret Ng, Martin J. Riedl, and Ivan Lacasa-Mas from 2018, titled “Reddit’s Veil of Anonymity: Predictors of engagement and participation in media environments with hostile reputations” found that women were much less likely to comment, but just as likely to view posts. This would result in the forum-based platform appearing as male-dominated, demonstrating the opinions of primarily men.  

When we take the history of media and the conception of the advertisement-dependent system, it almost seems inevitable that we would end up here. None of this is to argue on the morality of this system.  

To do that would require a much more in-depth analysis of the economic and political implications, I’d recommend reading Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media to find quality information to use in forming your opinions.  

Within the last few years, there seems to be more discussions on the intrusiveness of advertisements. It also just seems like some platforms aren’t trying to disguise their financial incentives anymore. Take YouTube for example, who cracked down on adblocker usage while increasing the number of ads shown.  

An alternative to the advertisement model is subscription-based platforms. Streaming services such as Netflix, for example. However, their changes in subscription and their crackdown of password sharing seem to mirror the advertisements lack of discretion regarding their financial motives.  

Netflix has arguably demonstrated that they don’t need to disguise motives in order to gain revenue increases. On October 18, 2023, a piece on Wired by Angela Watercutter and Will Bedingfield titled “Netflix’s Password-Sharing Crackdown Is Working – for now” explained that the streaming giant even had 9 million new subscribers and an eight percent increase in revenue.  

So, another evolution may be taking place. Subscription-based platforms and advertisement-dependent platforms are no longer hiding their intentions for capital gain, and people are still consuming the media.  

It’s possible that we may be used to and numb towards all the advertisements, anticipating that corporations are going to demand more capital in some form or another. 


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