It's Recommendations From Now On

23 Jan 2023

In “The End of Social Media and the Rise of Recommendation Media,” Michael Mignano describes the transformation of many so-called social media platforms into recommendation media platforms (Mignano 2022). He also argues that this is for the better: it will give users a better experience. Many responses to his essay point out that Mignano, like a lot of tech wonks, misunderstands what ordinary people saw in social media: they were interested in the social dimension, with the media piece being interesting because it made it easier to share a variety of forms of information.

There are a couple of things to add to this discussion, I think, the first of which is that one wonders what social media might have looked like if it wasn’t based on the usual American media model of being funded by advertising. What if Facebook had been a subscription service like Netflix? The need to generate revenue by being able to sell users to advertisers meant that businesses had to make “sticky” content. To compete in a media landscape that can only be described as over-saturated, almost all those businesses found that fear and anger worked … or at least provide easy on-ramps, after which they could use a myriad of technologies developed by decades of market-focused psychological research to create addictive experiences.

All of this in an effort to turn social users into media consumers, which means that people like Mignano are really just in the same old business, it’s just got a lot more levers to pull, uses a lot more data, and has as much interest in making us better people or a better nation of people as bad old industries like big oil and big tobacco.

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