How Facebook Killed the Internet

Facebook killed the internet, and I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of people didn’t even notice.

I can see the look on many of your faces, and hear the thoughts.  Someone’s complaining about Facebook again.  Yes, I know it’s a massive corporation, but it’s the platform we’re all using.  It’s like complaining about Starbucks.  After all the independent cafes have been driven out of town and you’re an espresso addict, what to do?  What do you mean “killed”?  What was killed?

I’ll try to explain.  I’ll start by saying that I don’t know what the solution is.  But I think any solution has to start with solidly identifying the nature of the problem.

First of all, Facebook killed the internet, but if it wasn’t Facebook, it would have been something else.  The evolution of social media was probably as inevitable as the development of cell phones that could surf the internet.  It was the natural direction for the internet to go in.

Which is why it’s so especially disturbing.  Because the solution is not Znet or Ello.  The solution is not better social media, better algorithms, or social media run by a nonprofit rather than a multibillion-dollar corporation.  Just as the solution to the social alienation caused by everybody having their own private car is not more electric vehicles.  Just as the solution to the social alienation caused by everyone having their own cell phone to stare at is not a collectively-owned phone company.

Many people from the grassroots to the elites are thrilled about the social media phenomenon.  Surely some of the few people who will read this are among them.  We throw around phrases like “Facebook revolution” and we hail these new internet platforms that are bringing people together all over the world.  And I’m not suggesting they don’t have their various bright sides.  Nor am I suggesting you should stop using social media platforms, including Facebook.  That would be like telling someone in Texas they should bike to work, when the whole infrastructure of every city in the state is built for sports utility vehicles.

But we should understand the nature of what is happening to us.

From the time that newspapers became commonplace up until the early 1990’s, for the overwhelming majority of the planet’s population, the closest we came to writing in a public forum were the very few of us who ever bothered to write a letter to the editor.  A tiny, tiny fraction of the population were authors or journalists who had a public forum that way on an occasional or a regular basis, depending.  Some people wrote up the pre-internet equivalent of an annual Christmas-time blog post which they photocopied and sent around to a few dozen friends and relatives.

In the 1960s there was a massive flowering of independent, “underground” press in towns and cities across the US and other countries.  There was a vastly increased diversity of views and information that could be easily accessed by anyone who lived near a university and could walk to a news stand and had an extra few cents to spend.

In the 1990s, with the development of the internet – websites, email lists – there was an explosion of communication that made the underground press of the 60’s pale in comparison.  Most people in places like the US virtually stopped using phones (to actually talk on), from my experience.  Many people who never wrote letters or much of anything else started using computers and writing emails to each other, and even to multiple people at once.

Those very few of us who were in the habit in the pre-internet era of sending around regular newsletters featuring our writing, our thoughts, our list of upcoming gigs, products or services we were trying to sell, etc., were thrilled with the advent of email, and the ability to send our newsletters out so easily, without spending a fortune on postage stamps, without spending so much time stuffing envelopes.  For a brief period of time, we had access to the same audience, the same readers we had before, but now we could communicate with them virtually for free.

This, for many of us, was the internet’s golden age – 1995-2005 or so.  There was the increasing problem of spam of various sorts.  Like junk mail, only more of it.  Spam filters started getting better, and largely eliminated that problem for most of us.

The listservs that most of us bothered to read were moderated announcements lists.  The websites we used the most were interactive, but moderated, such as Indymedia.  In cities throughout the world, big and small, there were local Indymedia collectives.  Anyone could post stuff, but there were actual people deciding whether it should get published, and if so, where.  As with any collective decision-making process, this was challenging, but many of us felt it was a challenge that was worth the effort.  As a result of these moderated listservs and moderated Indymedia sites, we all had an unprecedented ability to find out about and discuss ideas and events that were taking place in our cities, our countries, our world.

Then came blogging, and social media.  Every individual with a blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, etc., became their own individual broadcaster.  It’s intoxicating, isn’t it?  Knowing that you have a global audience of dozens or hundreds, maybe thousands of people (if you’re famous to begin with, or something goes viral) every time you post something.  Being able to have conversations in the comments sections with people from around the world who will never physically meet each other.  Amazing, really.

But then most people stopped listening.  Most people stopped visiting Indymedia.  Indymedia died, globally, for the most part.  Newspapers – right, left and center – closed, and are closing, whether offline or online ones.  Listservs stopped existing.  Algorithms replaced moderators.  People generally began to think of librarians as an antiquated phenomenon.

Now, in Portland, Oregon, one of the most politically plugged-in cities in the US, there is no listserv or website you can go to that will tell you what is happening in the city in any kind of readable, understandable format.  There are different groups with different websites, Facebook pages, listservs, etc., but nothing for the progressive community as a whole.  Nothing functional, anyway.  Nothing that approaches the functionality of the announcements lists that existed in cities and states throughout the country 15 years ago.

Because of the technical limitations of the internet for a brief period of time, there was for a few years a happy medium found between a small elite providing most of the written content that most people in the world read, and the situation we now find ourselves in, drowning in Too Much Information, most of it meaningless drivel, white noise, fog that prevents you from seeing anywhere further than the low beams can illuminate at a given time.

It was a golden age, but for the most part an accidental one, and a very brief one.  As it became easy for people to start up a website, a blog, a Myspace or Facebook page, to post updates, etc., the new age of noise began, inevitably, the natural evolution of the technology.

And most people didn’t notice that it happened.

Why do I say that?  First of all, I didn’t just come up with this shit.  I’ve been talking to a lot of people for many years, and a lot of people think social media is the best thing since sliced bread.  And why shouldn’t they?

The bottom line is, there’s no reason most people would have had occasion to notice that the internet died, because they weren’t content providers (as we call authors, artists, musicians, journalists, organizers, public speakers, teachers, etc. these days) in the pre-internet age or during the first decade or so of the internet as a popular phenomenon.  And if you weren’t a content provider back then, why would you know that anything changed?

I and others like me know – because the people who used to read and respond to stuff I sent out on my email list aren’t there anymore.  They don’t open the emails anymore, and if they do, they don’t read them.  And it doesn’t matter what medium I use – blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Of course some people do, but most people are now doing other things.

What are they doing?  I spent most of last week in Tokyo, going all over town, spending hours each day on the trains.  Most people sitting in the trains back during my first visit to Japan in 2007 were sleeping, as they are now.  But those who weren’t sleeping, seven years ago, were almost all reading books.  Now, there’s hardly a book to be seen.  Most people are looking at their phones.  And they’re not reading books on their phones.  (Yes, I peeked.  A lot.)  They’re playing games or, more often, looking at their Facebook “news feeds.”  And it’s the same in the US and everywhere else that I have occasion to travel to.

Is it worth it to replace moderators with algorithms?  Editors with white noise?  Investigative journalists with pictures of your cat?  Independent record labels and community radio stations with a multitude of badly-recorded podcasts?  Independent Media Center collectives with a million Facebook updates and Twitter feeds?

I think not.  But that’s where we’re at.  How do we get out of this situation, and clear the fog, and use our brains again?  I wish I knew.

David Rovics is a singer/songwriter based in Portland, Oregon.



  1. avatar
    Michael Albert December 27, 2014 5:18 pm 


    Since your view, or variants of it, appear often, I thought I would ask about it a bit. To try to understand. And this is from someone who spends a lot more time and energy than most folks trying to create a new sysem.

    First, I assume you are not rejecting work per se, but, instead, work in hierarchical institutions like those around us – corporations, etc. Is that right? But what are you telling a person to do, to get income with which to live, now, if they follow your advice and quit their jobs to, well, not work? To say, don’t work to someone who is supporting self and family with the income earned by working seems quite strange to me, which is why I am asking. Also, it seems not sustainable for long – thus not capable of leading to people spending more time building new institutions.

    One other question, do you really think that nothing but your approach – and I note again that I am quite sure what that is, not quite sure what you are suggesting people do, has even ever changed a thing? Really? I assume you mean a thing that matters for people’s lives – yet, even with the clarification, you can’t really mean that, can you.? The civil rights movement, labor movement, women’s movement, and so on…among others, have accomplished nothing?

    What did you intend to say?

    • joe doe December 29, 2014 9:02 pm 

      I don’t get what you’re asking at all since… your comment is more unclear than his and it seems you don’t ever care what he might be saying. Wait, actually, it seems you already know about it.

      The author of this article seems to be implying that FB killed the internet which I don’t think is close to the truth at all. Come on, FB is completly the opposite, it gives life to many per se, and the author have noticed it everywhere. FB’ wall/news-feed give life to those who have a _void_ & completly disconected/separated life to Nature. Otherwise, how do you explain why so many are completly glued to their phone/tab everyday/everywhere?

      Wherever he went, everyone is glued to his/her screen. I’m seeing phone/tablet everywhere, so he’s not the only one who have noticed this. I’m seeing phone/tablet in the hands of many, even when talking, walking, crossing the roads, even when riding bycicles, bikes, cars, SUVs, monstruously big cars(–Porsche/Ferrari/Mercedes/Lamborghini/BMW,–this list is not meaningless because I do bump into those luxuous cars quite regularly where I live, even if the drivers are not _that_ rich. Anyone knows that feeling of being _successful_ in his life by _having_ a _beatifull_ wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfirend, a _big_ car, a _big_ house, a _big_ phone (now synonymous of iObject), a _big_ screen, and the list goes depending on class/cast. And this is pretty clear and readable in my _poor_ neighboorhood/suburb which has this iron rule to have at least a _big_ car when you’re living in awful conditions packed like sheeps into big/awfull towers/buildings.–) trucks and on any worksite engines. Now, I do double check twice before crossing the roads because I’m seeing every drivers glued on phone/tab. I have even closely observed people being overuned by a car on crossroads because the driver was too busy checking out his FB wall/news-feed on a phone/tab.

      So yes, FB is _indeed_ giving life to those… contrary to what the author of this article is saying. Otherwise, how do you explain that many are getting busier and busier with their FB’s page/wall/news-feed, busier and busier to post the new selfies… Indeed, too busy to do others things. Or else, where to get the time to do other things? Maybe, in the after life.

      Nobody ever treated you to be a weirdo because you don’t have a FB account? It happended many times to me… as… I was asked many times to help on FB related things and/or iObject hardware/software maintainance because I know a little how to use my hands/brain on those kind of things, even if “I had never used (so no clue about it)” (which what I respond often) comes right way. I end up by being of… a helper on those cases.

      I guess not, maybe you had enough of being a weido and decided to be _connected_ and use _social_ (euphemism) media to be able to reach those that are glued on those cold screens. And indeed, this is what I’ve seen here on Znet and other _Left_ websites/forums. OFFER AN ALTERNATIVE!!! is a common occurence. See, you’re even asking “what-your-alternative?!” to-have-an-income-to-support-a-family? See, you’re even asking. I guess many asked this burden(-burden) often to you because you are… on the alternative wave.

      As if wasting a lifetime talking about alternative(s) has ever changed a thing. See, you spent your whole life one this side of offering an alternative and see what happened with IOPS for example… Mere talks.

      I guess you noticed this when talking to folks anywhere, be it in a _alternative_ place where you can have some beers/talks with friends or those who decided, at last, _to act_ and do something; or in a living movement like Occupy; or anywhere else. It ended up by being mere talks because, often, even those who decided to cut some ties with the consumer/citizen world were just offering by _acts_,–and not by _mere_ talks,–a pale copy of that same world. But I _talked_, I guess you _did_ as well, to no end on various issues polics, economics, ecology, gender, classism, specieism (racism is merly a sub-category of this even it’s not really recongnized as such, well, it’s not exactly the case… but it is in fact the case), ageism, elitism… I happended to have had the occasion to live in autonumous community and, indeed, we talked to no end with or without the help of drinks. Sometimes, it went as far as to talks for days without any actual sleep. There were some form of romantism in it, which makes it so appealing. End result: _mere_ empty talks. Because those who were talking were just… talking and did not act accordingly even if they were living, indeed, in an “atlernative” community.

      I am not saying that _talking_ is not necessary, nor having alternative(s) is useless per se. I’m just merly saying that believing in the offer/talk about alternative(s) _is_ not the right answer which should be _disconnect_ and _act_. Merlly talking never changed a thing. One should cut the shit/ties which is keeping somebody englued on screen/(mere-empty-)talks/(meaningless-)work. Inded, anybody needs an income to live with, but doing the same thing(s) again and again would never change a thing because, after all, one is just doing the _same_ thing. How could anyone expect a change doing the same thing(s)?

      • avatar
        James Wilson January 1, 2015 3:17 pm 

        What is this thing you expect from disconnecting and acting? How exactly should these types of ‘actions’, of ‘disconnecting’, be carried out and to what end? Is there some sort of unifying strategy on offer here or is it just a matter of everyone making their own mind up, willy nilly, whenever they wish or all of a sudden? If, as you suggest, we don’t ignore talk and alternatives per se, does that mean they would/should play a role in how people ‘disconnect’ and ‘act’? Are their actions to be informed in some way or is it ‘merely’ just a matter of quitting work and seeing where that takes one?

        Easy to write, if Joe doe is the same as Joseph Val, that it is ‘ballsy’ to just quit work, disconnect and act, a little more difficult for millions of workers around the world to actually do it and then somehow ‘merely’ create a ‘new system’. If only those millions already unemployed, born into poverty or with nothing to lose just devoted their time to ‘creating a new system’. It really is just that easy.

        If it isn’t that easy, then what is it that would make changing things so hard? What ‘new system’? What ways to avoid hierarchies, authoritarianism, patriarchy, etc., reappearing? What ways, structures, institutional rearrangements to unify people’s actions, social and political relations, production and consumption, would be required to ensure the actions taken up by those who decide to disconnect, create and foster equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management and ecological sanity or any other positive value you can think of and not ‘merely’ repeat the same or make similar mistakes?

        Suppose I should just stop reading the shit people write here and just quit my job, ‘act’ and see where I and things end up, eh? Nothing less has ever changed a thing.

        If what you are suggesting does or should involve finding groups with good alternative ideas in living autonomously, caringly, justly, equitably or some such thing or learning about real or even theoretical alternatives first and the strategical implications, then perhaps you should have mentioned them in your comments so as to be a tad more helpful. What you write does not really help at all, in fact, it comes across arrogant, somewhat smug and, I suggest, may tend to have the very opposite kind of effect you would like to see.

  2. Joseph Val December 26, 2014 6:54 pm 

    the facebook revolution is akin to the reagan revolution…people should not only not drive to work, they should stop working entirely…it’s ridiculous to continue doing the same things day in day out and expect things to change…most social media content is sheer shite…it’s little more than a deeper infantilisation of the species…and one needn’t read freud to figure out that daddy has more power than does baby boy or girl…and daddy uses that power to maintain his position of dominance…and since work is structurally designed as a hierarchical relationship, one of dominance and inequality, no matter how well rewarded a worker may be, every day at work reinforces and reinvigorates the prevailing system…hence: stop work; devote your energies to creating a new system in which one’s survival depends not on one’s subservience and obedience. but simply on one’s being alive as a conscious human being…ballsy…nothing less has ever changed a thing

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