As more information archeologists dig into the web, content creators have been getting the short end of the pickax. Dependent on services to host our treasures, we’re finding them hidden, buried behind copyright claims, closed off to adventurers who once sought to share them. The internet is still their dig site of choice, but it feels like we’re being shut out of it.
Last year, YouTube launched an Auto Content ID system to seek out copyrighted material from videos. It matched waveforms to a sound library. It protected YouTube from litigation, but it had an adverse impact on content creation.
These measures were to stop users from uploading entire albums and films scene by scene. Problems arose when critics needed to show b-roll from theatrical releases, DVDs, and video games to discuss them. Better safe than sorry, the copyright bots gave warnings to videos that used clips within the guidelines of fair use.
In the aftermath of Content ID, YouTuber Angry Joe wondered if game publishers were taking advantage of these changes to quell criticism, claiming infringement to censor bad press. His fear was that these new restrictions would reduce his show to a talking head with no visuals (fortunately, this wasn’t the case).
The panic generated by Content ID is one example of how artists are at the mercy of corporate entities.
Earlier this year, Facebook changed the way posts from Pages appeared in News Feeds. They wouldn’t show up until the Page Manager paid to push them. Authors trying to build a following were destined to be nickeled and dimed. With every link and every book announcement, they’d have to pay a micro-transaction.
These changes limit all the social elements from an author’s platform. Why post an amusing anecdote if you have to pay to promote? Why share a life event if it will reach less than one percent? Why upload a clip of an embarrassing karaoke duet if it’s not within your budget?
Unless your followers are checking your page, commenting and liking on their own, your voice will be reduced to a marketing drone. Your Page will be a graveyard for links to be buried in. I’ve written about Facebook’s changes at length, but I fear they’re part of a broader trend.
The FCC have proposed changes to their net neutrality policy, lifting regulations that make internet service providers neutral on the flow of info. ISPs will have the ability to charge websites more for express traffic. Data with financial backing will get to its destination faster than upstarts can afford to compete with.
I’ve written a satirical short on the subject, but these are my genuine feelings on it.
If Facebook is the only social network that can afford to stay in the fast lane, they’re the last ride we’ll get to see our friends. If YouTube is the only video-sharing service on the motorway, they can control whatever we say. If Netflix is the only streaming service on the Autobahn, we’ll be paying more to ride along. Less entrepreneurs on the expressway means less competition, and higher costs for everyone.
At the turn of the century there were a dozen search engine options. This ruling will make sure that Google will always be the only game in town.
Think about it like this: if BuzzFeed is the Walmart of the internet, your blog is the mom and pop shop in its shadow. If UpWorthy is the big chain restaurant your site is the hole in the wall struggling to make a name for itself. If ViralNova is Fox News your blog is late night public access television. They’ve got readers, sharers, and advertisers. They can afford to give service that you can not.
These changes to net neutrality will make it even harder for the little person to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
I have an irrational fear that the Internet will devolve into the worst parts of television: news feeds becoming cesspools of advertisements, ad walls blocking entry into every site, commercials running before every captcha.
Our participation will be limited to voting on talent competitions. Meaningful content will hide behind subscription costs. Unique perspectives will shrink. Unique voices will be drowned out. The tone of the conversation will shift from sharing ideas to buying and selling. Content creators will be reduced to consumers.
There’s a lot of money in making us feel ugly, lonely, and incomplete. Advertisers give us these problems so they can sell us the solutions. The more bandwagons we’re exposed to the more isolated we feel. The more attractive figures we’re shown, the more our mirrors distort. The higher our expectation for happiness, the more depressed we get.
The formula for advertisements has had a toxic effect on how we see ourselves. The net is one of the last refuges from it. Sure, ads are prevalent, but there’s a counterbalance. In this marketplace of ideas we’ve found more positive ways to promote ourselves.
Authors might send me annoying auto-DMs on Twitter, but they’re never going to make me feel like shit to sell a book (unless they’re in the self-help business).
We’ve had a free press for some time, the trouble was none of us owned one. The internet gave us free expression we had never known. Now that we’ve tasted it, we’re never going to spit it out.
There’s a reason I called my fears “Irrational.” I’m not panicking about these proposed changes to net neutrality, because I know I’m not the only one with something at stake. I’m not the only blogger, video-logger, or podcaster whose livelihood is on the line.
Content creators won’t be written out of the code, lost in the tag clouds, or blacked out of the search terms. We’re the draw that gets users to come. We’re the stream of ideas the world gets its revenue from. We’re the sugar that lets people stomach your advertisements.
We won’t bite our tongues, hold our criticism, or muzzle our dissent. We’ve grown accustomed to the sound of our own voices. You can buy all the microphones, all the loudspeakers, and all the stages in the world, and you’ll still be a whisper in the crowd. In here, your lobbies are meek, spam our email accounts automatically sort into the junk bin. Your agenda is lost in the choir, your pundits are outnumbered, your interests bore us. Your slant has been flattened, your closed communications are open to interpretation, your opacity is an emperor with no clothes on.
Shut us out at your own risk. We won’t come to your party if you make it too exclusive. We won’t think it’s cool if you leave us to talk to ourselves. We won’t buy anything if you price us out of the bar.
The internet is the closest we’ve come to equal representation inside the system. We’re not giving up our seats at the table. We like life outside of the bottle, we’re not going back in. We know our place, it’s everywhere. Our vines stretch past your walled off gardens. You can cut us off at the knees, but it won’t limit our reach.
We ARE the internet.