Crypto, Elon Musk, TikTok… The Bottom of the Social Networks Big Bang

Elon Musk played the choirboys to explain his desire to buy back Twitter. “Defending freedom of expression”, “protecting democracy”,… his arguments were (surprisingly) polished. But there’s one important thing he’s kept to himself: the fact that the industry is in the process of completely reconfiguring itself. The Twitter takeover has not yet been finalized (certain key variables of the network are still being studied), but “there is a place to take over social networks”, Jean-Christophe Liaubet, partner at Fabernovel, assures .

What drives this plate tectonics? First, the fact that social networks are based on two major misunderstandings. The first, source of all evil, is the idea that social networks are free. At the time of their creation, it must be said that Internet users have illegally copied movies and music to their heart’s content. The idea of ​​paying for a social network is unthinkable and very “old world”. Except, of course, everything gets paid for in life, and if the networks aren’t paid for by Internet users, their data is worth gold to advertisers.

Like other platforms, Meta, ex-Facebook, has chosen to build its business model around targeted advertising. The teams therefore have to crack their brains to promote the most addictive content. Cute little cats go strong, messages that make people even more angry. A business model which will lead to the abuses we know and which today show some signs of running out.

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For the very first time in its history, Meta saw its user base drop in late 2021. The indicator has since started rising again, but the state of alertness, especially on the young user segment, remains so precious to social networks, which Meta is struggling to maintain. Fabernovel’s latest Gafanomics report also warned of a sharp slowdown in the group’s ad revenue, which is “likely to continue in the coming quarters”.

The Twitch UFO is pushing a new business model

Conversely, new models for social networks are emerging, especially the path of the “creative economy” opened by the UFO Twitch. This platform where anyone can film themselves live and interact with their audience has had the flair of providing internet users with fun tools to fund the people they like. They can subscribe to their streamers favorites or buy them “virtual applause”. A model that is not perfect (part of the streamers find Twitch’s quests too tough), but which has the merit of opening up new horizons.

The ancestral subscription concept is also making a strong comeback. “This is what Elon Musk has in mind for Twitter,” said Jérôme Colin, associate director of the consulting firm Fifty-Five. If the acquisition comes to an end, he wants to halve the weight of advertising in the company’s revenues and compensate for this decrease by, among other things, increasing paid subscriptions to premium options. A risky but smart bet, because the public, tired of the abuse, is undoubtedly more inclined today to pay for a quality offer.

“The business models industry is becoming fragmented,” confirms Neil Mawston, executive director of Strategy Analytics. And that’s not the only revolution in this area. Another “founder” has broken through: the idea that platforms are only hosts, not responsible for the content that circulates ( hate messages, defamation, etc.) The networks have long camped out on this very practical but deceptive position because, as underlined by Deputy Bruno Studer, former rapporteur of the 2018 bill against false information, “not all content is presented in the the same way through social networks, their algorithms emphasize some more than others. It’s clearly an editor that doesn’t say its name.”

And that has a huge influence on the global discussion. An example ? The misinformation about Covid that has flooded the web is actually coming from a ridiculously small number of people (in the US, 65% came from 12 accounts, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate). Faced with the seriousness of the stakes, social networks are finally starting to take responsibility. Politicians leave them, it is true, less and less choice. Europeans agreed in April on a landmark text, the Digital Service Act, which will significantly clean up platforms. Still, this could be beneficial for them: Internet users who are too often confronted with harassment on a service tend – logically – to distance themselves from it.

The terrible puzzle of moderation

The subject is nevertheless a terrible headache for social networks, whose decisions, which are poorly understood, often provoke the ire of Internet users. “All my friends on the left ‘woke’ up convinced that social media is protecting a white supremacist and misogynistic patriarchy, and have plenty of examples of where the platforms have erroneously removed their posts […]† All my friends on the right are convinced that social networks are being sold to an awakened agenda – Black Lives Matter – Marxist – LGBTQ,” Yishan Wong, the former CEO of the popular social network Reddit joked last April.

A tense climate favoring the rise of services like Gettr, which proudly claim to let their users say anything, much to the delight of far-right America. The historical players, for their part, no doubt regret not having looked seriously at these Cornelia issues sooner. They will now have to tackle it with more vigor, while at the same time focusing on two major technological breakthroughs emerging in the sector.

The first is the blockchain, which has made a sensational entry into the financial sphere. Even if the industry is currently going through a rough patch, cryptocurrencies and NFTs open up the prospect of new, more decentralized social networks where internet users can monetize their content (videos, photos, etc.), each with a small piece of ownership of the service. and jointly decide on the operating rules. “The main contribution of decentralized social networks is the removal of opaque user profiling techniques that target advertisers,” summarizes Hugo Bordet of Adan, the Association for the Development of Digital Assets.

Historical players watch this bubbling of ideas with as much interest as concern, because what is called Web3 actually questions their entire model. They are therefore timidly experimenting with it (Instagram is testing NFTs in the United States) to see how they can take advantage of it without cutting off the branch on which they are comfortable. The other shift taking shape in the industry is that of the metaverse which will “go from a flat 2D experience to a much richer 3D world,” explains Neil Mawston. Mark Zuckerberg’s group invests fortunes in it and bolstered its equipment in 2014 by buying Oculus. However, the metaverse war is far from won for him.

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Social media, of course, has always been quicksand (China’s TikTok surprised everyone by breaking the virtual monopoly of US networks around the world). But in the metaverse, the competition will come from completely new fronts: the sphere of tech builders and the world of video games. Indeed, to succeed in the metaverse it takes three levers: a large community of users, helmets and goggles that enable successful immersion, and the ability to create compelling virtual environments. A hardware professional like Microsoft getting their hands on the community of an Activision Blizzard and the expertise of its developers in artificial worlds is therefore enough to make Zuckerberg sweat. Not forgetting Apple that is ambushed and will soon be donning its virtual reality helmet. The game of turning everything upside down in social networks has only just begun.


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A man in protective clothing in front of a barrier erected in Shanghai, where containment has been declared to fight the Covid-19 epidemic, on March 31, 2022David Baverez

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Emmanuel Macron at a conference on the future of Europe in Strasbourg.By Cécile Maisonneuve, Senior Fellow of Institut Montaigne and Advisor to IFRI’s Energy-Climate Center

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The Punakha Dzong, Administrative Historic Center, on August 24, 2018 in Thimphu, Bhutan.By Christophe Donner

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