It goes without saying that the majority of content and services on the internet are completely free for users: e-mail, social networks, news portals… Yet have you ever thought 'why'? Maybe you pay for free internet content a great deal more than you can imagine?
The illusion of “free”
Facebook, Google, news website – this is a simplified version of most internet users' everyday itinerary. This route is completely free and absolutely safe: you move from one destination to another almost automatically. But what would happen if one day you visited your favorite (free!) news portal and found out that you were could not read a single article. Instead, you would be asked to pay if you want to access the materials.
Your nice walk would definitely be spoiled. “Why, for God’s sake, do I have to pay for it?” – many users would exclaim. “Why can I use Google or Facebook completely free? Who do the editors think they are, asking me for money?” A lot of people think that those who work in such large corporations, like Google or Facebook, are passionately dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers, who everyday sacrifice themselves in the name of “the user-oriented internet”. Well, numbers speak louder than words: in 2014 the annual Facebook’s profit was 12 billion dollars, Google – even more, 66 billion dollars. Do you still believe in the “the user-oriented internet” mission?
Our news portals can barely imagine such sums. “Not my problems, sorry” – a typical, brought up by the miracles of the free internet user would state. “The fact that there are people who read their portal is already a big achievement for them”. Such logic proves that users do not realize that they are involved in the process of capital accummulation – and in this “game” their role is truly unenviable. The internet, as a matter of fact, is not a place where everyone is equal, but a hierarchical pyramid governed by those at the top.
The Internet Pyramid
The examples of Google and Facebook (there are much more of them) are the examples of “those at the top”. They create the illusion of “free”. “So, what’s wrong with it?” – one more possible question. Paradoxically may it be, but the root of the problem is nothing but the fact that everything is (at first sight) free.
To prove yourself that “everything is free” is a mere illusions you may wonder how come these “free” services get so much money. The rule is simple: if you do not pay, somebody else does. This somebody is not a generous daddy, ready to pay his last cent so that you could scroll through your news feed on Facebook or find where to spend your evening on Google. This somebody is… advertising.
To clear it up, if the websites dictate the rules from the top of the pyramid, advertising is its owner, who create these rules. Were you looking for the place to have dinner? Awesome! Google will offer you a bunch of romantic venues so you would for sure find what you had been looking for. Is that all? Sure it is not: the next time you will be scrolling through your news feed, you will (surprise-surprise!) stumble into the pictures of the place you have visited, sending you quite a linear message: visit us again! Alternatively, you can see the pictures of other places, implying that it is high time you went somewhere out. It is the first trap of “the illusion of free” – you are tracked and your personal information is used without your permission.
The second trap is even more dangerous – probably you do not even know that but you are a means to produce capital for websites placed at the top of the pyramid. Yes, nobody pays your for that. The stolen information is used to steal your attention – and it is advertising that does it. Ads are everywhere: on your personal page, in your news feed, in search engines, even in your e-mail – nobody warned you about it and nobody asked whether you allow to use your personal details for such purposes. Google and Facebook made this decision on your behalf and on behalf of millions of other people: well, guys, we provide our services for free, we neglect your attention and get our billions for that. As simple as ABC.
Just use the services Google, Facebook and others offer you for free. But is it fair?
How the audience is transformed into traffic
The mechanism of exploitation on news websites is even more uncanny. If before the internet was a promise of the platform where everyone is equal, everyone can express their opinion (and would definitely be heard), where local and global problems are solved cooperatively, and accessible to all people media foster civil society, today, as so much time has passed, this only puts a sad smile on our faces. All of the mentioned goals could be achieved only on condition that a human being would be respected. From the very moment you open the news portal, you are not a human being anymore – you become a part of traffic.
“But is it so? I can comment, argue with others, finally, I can stop visiting this site!” – one might argue. It is true, but, unfortunately, your opinion and arguments you provide are no big deal: in the existing system you are either 1, or 0 – either you are, or you are not. This is one more trap of “the illusion of free” – the illusion of participation. You are nothing but 1 – and there are plenty of such 1s. You are neither a client nor a user, you are never right nor are you wrong, you are just a figure, a part of traffic. And yes, you got it right: your favorite news portal everyday sells you to advertisers stealing your attention.
Should we blame the owners of news portals for it? No. In such a system they have no choice. Should we blame journalists for a low-quality, ill-prepared and sometimes even silly content? No, they do their job as long as the results satisfy their employer – advertising. You visit the site – you become 1, you read the material – once more time, you become 1, you like or do not like what you have read and you have decided to share your thoughts – yes, you become 1. The quality means nothing in the pyramid, what really matters is quantity, your attention, you as 1, which can be easily converted into bucks.
The outcome is that journalism as the fourth power does not perform its main social function – to inform the society and form its self-consciousness. Instead, it offers the illusion of participation which is, as we know, a traffic generation tactic to attract advertisers. So, do you agree to hand over power to unfair advertising?
The system must be reformed
As we can see, a safe walk on the internet can be potentially dangerous: advertising steals your personal data as well as your attention, corrupts quality journalism, transforming it into one of its manipulation tools. Yet we can change this. We need to get rid of “the illusion of free”.
First and foremost, paid subscription has to be brought back (as it was with newspapers). We need to understand that, as long as somebody else pays for us, somebody else decides who you are and what you will read. To bring back paid subscription means to rehabilitate quality analytic journalist and to give back journalism its legitimate power. Paying for the content, you become one of the responsible for the news portal. While journalists will be motivated to meet high standards, you will get only high-quality content.
Second, we need to change how advertising works and is perceived by others. APM Agentur (www.adpays.me) has already been doing that, trying to change the existing advertising system.
We provide everyone who joins us the APM Board – Own Advertising Board, where users see only those advertisements they personally are interested in, and only when they wish to. Most importantly, we believe that every user is a human being, for this reason advertisers, who have chosen our website, will pay you 90% of the cost of the ad you will see.
We are against pyramids and labels put on us by the owners of the pyramid. Advertising is not by nature evil, it is a helpful tool for you to find what you need. Journalism is not a traffic generator, it is an essential social institution, which has to be financed by those for whom it works. Trust us: to create the user-oriented internet, the internet where you respect others and others respect you is still not too late.