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The core of the web's problems is its business model

August 19, 2019

Things that some networks on the web have been (rightly) blamed for: threats, insults, hate, reduced self-esteem, depression, misinformation, altering elections, even mass shootings.

Since services on the web are free, networks sell ads. To maximize ad revenue, algorithms are designed to maximize views of the content.

There are no barriers to posting content, and there are incentives for driving views of content. Algorithms can be exploited to expand exposure to malicious content, and some platforms don't mind because it increases profits.

The platforms want you to keep posting, since profits are proportional to quantity, not quality, and the costs of whatever problems they cause are externalized.

Networks do not care whether the content is false or inflammatory, or even threatening. They equate doing nothing with being neutral, as if bank guards standing by while only customers get robbed (by crooks, not the banks) would be tolerated.

The networks' business model is enabled by willful participation that can be stopped at any time. People who create content & those who consume it both endorse & reinforce the current business model, primarily out of fear of trying something new.

Content on the web doesn't have to be free, but since a lot of it has been free for a while, there is a belief that it must be free. Did people stop watching movies & shows on TV once they had to pay for it?

Radio was free since its inception, but now people pay for streaming music & satellite radio.

So saying people won't pay is just not true. People pay for content every day. Just because the cost of distribution is less on the web doesn't mean the price needs to be zero.

The government cannot fix this, as legislating algorithms and kindness is not a task they or their lobbyist-legislation writers are qualified to do without making the problem worse.

But you can fix this.