Cascade departures and chaos on Twitter, layoffs and stock market declines for Meta, parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, the future of social networks appears nebulous. is this the beginning of the end? decryption.
There is Facebook. Losing momentum and with an unconvincing metaverse strategy, the blue giant is laying off 11,000 employees. And then there’s Twitter. After laying off half of his 7,500 employees, Elon Musk issued an ultimatum to those left, demanding they “work long hours at high intensity”. The billionaire’s request triggered a cascade of departures.
Is this the beginning of the end for these platforms? In a context of evident decline, the hypothesis is not risky. Because we are already experiencing the end of a certain idea that we have of social networks.
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Two decades of history
Who still remembers Friendster, the ancestor of social networks born in 2002, and its 115 million users? Who still remembers MySpace, born in 2003 and which “killed” Friendster and was then overtaken by Facebook?
In the early 2000s, social media was the primary internet experience for most of us. With a promise: to be connected, build or deepen relationships with friends, family and co-workers.
And Facebook was
But how did Mark Zuckerberg’s network dethrone MySpace?
Facebook had the genius to make better use of the economic concept of the “network effect” (editor’s note: the network effect), which means that the usefulness of a service is measured by the number of users.
To achieve this, Facebook is starting in a niche market, that of students at American universities such as Harvard. It then opened to other universities, before becoming accessible to all in September 2006. The success of Facebook is the use of the local network effect. And then Mark Zuckerberg does not make the mistake of believing that the important thing is the number of users. No, for him it’s the quality of the relationships they have.
MySpace has allowed people from all over the world to connect, but we didn’t know that. The genius of Facebook was to offer us a place to meet our friends, our family, our co-workers.
Facebook has thus managed to challenge the theory of 6 degrees of separation, which states that every person in the world is connected to everyone else by a chain of up to 6 links. With Facebook we are at 3.57, let’s continue reading.
Thanks to Facebook, we know the entire world at 3.57 degrees of separation. [Facebook – DR]
The world of social networks is small. Ever smaller.
And the “Like” button was
Everything changed in 2009. We were somewhere between the appearance of smartphones (2007) and the launch of Instagram (2010).
In 2009, the “Like” button appeared on Facebook and changed our relationships in online life forever. They turn into a numbers competition. Get as many “Likes” as possible. You must have many friends.
>> Also listen to: The excesses of “likes”.
Another change, given the amount of content produced, Facebook’s News Feed defaults to algorithmic rather than chronological sorting. In order to stand out in the uninterrupted flow of information, the machine must be powered. The bigger the crowd, the better the chance of being heard.
The rise of social media
Social networks thus become social media, as Ian Bogost explains in an article published on. “Social media has turned you, me and everyone into broadcasters (albeit wannabes). The results have been disastrous but also great fun, not to mention the huge profitability – a catastrophic combination,” she wrote.
Thus we lose the notion of a network of human relationships, we go to Facebook and Twitter to inform ourselves. Facebook turns its “social graph” of human relationships into a money-making machine for advertisers who target their ads very precisely thanks to our data. It’s the attention economy.
The virtuous circle becomes vicious.
Important mobilization tools during city riots, Twitter and Facebook are gradually becoming a driving force for extremism, disinformation, hate speech and harassment. Social media is in the midst of an existential crisis.
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This trend is reinforced by Instagram and Facebook’s recent decision to copy TikTok and its content recommendation algorithm. We are moving towards mass digital media, which offer videos of users we don’t know, processed by machine learning. A certain idea of Facebook and Twitter is disappearing, that of the 2010s.
>> Also listen: Elon Musk’s project for Twitter
We will not give up creating content and sharing it with others, social media will not disappear but will continue to evolve. Social media is regenerating with the emergence of other players such as Mastodon who are targeting more and more users who left Twitter following the takeover by Elon Musk.
Human nature will not change radically, we will still be social beings and our online behaviors will adapt to new technologies.