TikTok and the Fall of the Social-Media Giants
Facebook is trying to copy TikTok, but this strategy may well signal the end of these legacy platforms.
ast month, Blake Chandlee, TikTok’s president of global business solutions, was asked if he was concerned about competition from existing social-media networks like Facebook. Chandlee, who spent more than twelve years at Mark Zuckerberg’s company before moving to TikTok, dismissed the idea. “Facebook is a social platform. They’ve built all their algorithms based on the social graph,” he said, referring to the network of links to friends, family, and casual acquaintances that Facebook users painstakingly assemble over time. “We are an entertainment platform. The difference is significant.” Chandlee appeared to be responding to recent moves made by Facebook. Last year, the company integrated a TikTok-style short-video format called Reels directly into its main app. Then, in an internal memo sent this spring, Tom Alison, a senior executive at the social-media giant, announced a plan to modify the platform’s news feed to focus more on these short videos, tweaking the algorithm to display the most engaging content, even if these selections are “unconnected” to accounts that a user has friended or followed. Facebook, it seems, is moving away from its traditional focus on text and images, spread among people who know one another, to instead adopt TikTok’s emphasis on pure distraction. This shift is not surprising given TikTok’s phenomenal popularity, but it’s also shortsighted: platforms like Facebook could be doomed if they fail to maintain the social graphs upon which they built their kingdoms.
To understand Facebook’s current danger, it helps to better understand its original success. In the spring of 2004, when my college friends signed up for TheFacebook.com, as it was then called, they did so because other people they knew were signing up as well. (One of the platform’s early killer features was the ability to check the “relationship status” of classmates.) By the end of 2006, the year in which Facebook opened to the general public, the service had already gathered twelve million active users. At that point, network-effect advantages made it hard for a competitor to emerge; two years later, when Facebook hit a hundred million active users, competition became all but impossible. Why would you join a new network dedicated to connection with people you know if everyone you knew was already on Facebook?
The next major evolution of this model of leveraging a social graph to create engagement was sparked by Twitter. Though it was launched in 2006, this short-messaging service didn’t achieve broader notice until 2009. This was the year in which Ashton Kutcher discussed Twitter on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” It was also the year in which the news leaked that a U.S. State Department official e-mailed the company, urging it to delay planned server maintenance so as not to interfere with planned pro-democracy protests in Iran. For Twitter, however, arguably the most important event of 2009 was not these publicity bonanzas but the introduction of the retweet button. This tweak, originally intended to simplify the common practice of manually cutting and pasting the text of interesting tweets, ended up transforming Twitter. By eliminating the friction required to forward a message to all of your followers, the retweet button created a fierce viral dynamic in which a single tweet could be amplified to a large audience in a short period of time, its readership expanding exponentially through the power-law topology of the Twitter network. This turned out to be a phenomenally effective method for surfacing the most engaging content floating around the platform at any given moment. This potential for sudden mass exposure also began to draw more influential individuals to the platform, further increasing the value of its content.
As with Facebook, the larger that Twitter’s social graph grew, the more attractive the network became. Pretenders to the short-message throne, such as Parler or Gab, struggled to get traction, as their networks lacked sufficient size and numbers of influential users to compete in a battle for attention. By 2011, Twitter, following in Facebook’s footsteps, passed the milestone of a hundred million users. Facebook, of course, noticed this new competitor’s fast rise and began to make adjustments. Between 2009 and 2011, Facebook increasingly moved its news feed away from chronological sorting and toward an emphasis on popular posts. Then, in 2012, it added a retweet-style Share button on its mobile app, enabling the Twitter-style exponential spread of third-party content through the network.
Both Facebook and Twitter were built on the same general model of leveraging hard-to-replicate, large social graphs to generate a never-ending stream of engaging content, a strategy that proved to be robust in the face of new competition and incredibly lucrative. It’s why, last month, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, had a market cap of five hundred and sixty-two billion dollars, making it the world’s seventh most valuable corporation. It’s also why Twitter, a smaller and more specialized social-media network, was still worth forty-four billion dollars to Elon Musk (before he changed his mind). Pseudo-monopolies of this type, however, cannot last forever. The past decade has been good for these social-media giants, but the sudden ascent of TikTok might turn out to be the disruption that finally ends their reign.
When you load TikTok, you’re presented with a short video, often well under a minute in length, filling your smartphone screen. When you’re ready to see something different, you swipe up, and a new video, selected specifically for you by the service’s recommendation algorithm, is pulled in to take over the display. If you observe a TikTok session over the shoulder of a practiced user, you’ll encounter a frenetic sequence of swipes, with most videos watched for only a few moments to assess their appeal, before being pushed away to sample what’s next.
Facebook employees are preparing for staff cuts of up to 10%
Hey, maybe you should take it easy. Yes, you. While major industry figures like Elon Musk believe working 80 hours a week is the only way to “change the world,” research suggests working less can actually make you more productive — and happier.
Plus, as we stare down a big week for tech earnings, some Meta employees are bracing for the worst: layoffs.
I’m your host, Jordan Parker Erb. Let’s get to it.
1. Meta employees are bracing for job cuts. Facing new performance requirements and a tougher market, some Meta (formerly known as Facebook) employees believe the company could reduce headcount by as much as 10% this year.
- In an internal memo earlier this month, Meta’s HR chief Lori Goler suggested cutting employees who can’t meet expectations as the company begins to operate with “increased intensity.”
- Some employees said the looming layoffs feel like a “witch hunt” as the company looks to weed out low performers.
- “It hasn’t started yet,” one employee told Insider, “but it’s coming.”
What employees are saying about layoffs at Meta.
2. A man accidentally threw away 8,000 bitcoins. Now he’s on a quest to get them back. After throwing away a hard drive holding $176 million worth of bitcoin nine years ago, James Howells has devised a plan — which includes two robotic dogs — to retrieve it. Here’s how he plans to get it back.
3. How much does Dropbox pay its talent? The cloud-storage firm pays senior talent up to $235,000 — and it’s remote-first. We rounded up salary ranges for engineers, data scientists, managers, and more. See how much you could be making at Dropbox.
4. Twitter has already spent $33 million on its deal with Elon Musk. In its Q2 earnings report, the social-media company said it had already incurred $33 million in costs related to Musk’s “pending acquisition,” and those costs are expected to balloon even further as the two prepare to face off in court. More on Twitter’s mega Musk fees.
5. Maybe you should stop working so hard. Studies have shown the ideal work day is actually around five hours long, and that the most successful — and the happiest — employees are those who work smarter, not harder. The case for not working hard.
6. Elon Musk has denied having an affair with the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin. After The Wall Street Journal reported on the alleged affair, Musk shared photos of him and Brin at a party, and added he hasn’t “even had sex in ages (sigh).”
7. Around 10% of all Big Tech employees have been impacted by the reversal of Roe v. Wade. An Insider analysis found that nearly 10% of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft employees live in a state that implemented laws banning abortions once the case was overturned. These maps show how many employees are in states that are affected.
8. It could be the end of the social-networking era as we know it. As Facebook changes its app to become more like TikTok, it’s prioritizing consumption over connection with friends and family. It comes as Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian also called on Instagram to “stop trying to be TikTok.”
9. You can now download the iOS 16 beta. Though it won’t be officially available for a few months, you can test out its new features — like a reinvented Lock Screen design and the ability to edit or unsend messages — by signing up for Apple’s Beta Software Program. Here’s how to do it.
10. You can take a course to become a social media influencer. A community college in Ohio is offering students the option to earn a Media Influencer Certificate after taking a two-semester course. Get the full rundown here.
Sunset of the social network
Mark last week as the end of the social networking era, which began with the rise of Friendster in 2003, shaped two decades of internet growth, and now closes with Facebook’s rollout of a sweeping TikTok-like redesign.
The big picture: Under the social network model, which piggybacked on the rise of smartphones to mold billions of users’ digital experiences, keeping up with your friends’ posts served as the hub for everything you might aim to do online.
Now Facebook wants to shape your online life around the algorithmically-sorted preferences of millions of strangers around the globe.
- That’s how TikTok sorts the videos it shows users, and that’s largely how Facebook will now organize its home screen.
- The dominant player in social media is transforming itself into a kind of digital mass media, in which the reactions of hordes of anonymous users, processed by machine learning, drive the selection of your content.
Facebook and its rivals call this a “discovery engine” because it reliably spits out recommendations of posts from everywhere that might hold your attention.
- But it also looks a lot like a mutant TV with an infinite number of context-free channels that flash in and out of focus at high speed.
- That’s what younger users right now seem to prefer, and it’s where Facebook expects the growth of its business to lie, now that new privacy rules from Apple and regulators’ threats around the world have made its existing ad-targeting model precarious.
Between the lines: For roughly a decade following the 2008 financial crisis, social networks — led by Facebook, with Twitter playing an important secondary role —dominated the internet’s culture and economy.
- Their rise came with high hopes they might unleash waves of democratic empowerment and liberate self-expression around the world.
- But their chief impact emerged in the transformation of the media industry and the digital advertising business.
Facebook bested rival MySpace and absorbed or outmaneuvered challengers like Instagram and Snapchat as it transformed a simple “social graph” of human relationships into a moneymaking machine that helped businesses, particularly smaller outfits, target cheap ads with uncanny precision.
- Rivals tried and failed to beat Facebook at the social network game — most notably Google, with multiple forgotten efforts from Orkut to Google+.
Yes, but: As the profits mounted and vaulted Facebook into the exclusive club of Big Tech giants alongside Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, so did the problems.
- Facebook’s friend counts and “like” buttons turned human relations into a depersonalized metrics competition.
- Keeping up with the volume of posts became a chore, which was why from 2009 on Facebook’s news feed defaulted to an algorithmic, rather than chronological, sort.
- That drove many users, particularly political organizations, to crank up the volume and try to game Facebook’s program.
- Over time, critics charged, this dynamic became a driver for extremism, misinformation, hate speech and harassment.
Be smart: TikTok-style “discovery engine” model shares many of the same problems.
- Posts are even less rooted in a web of social relationship.
- The larger the crowd, the louder the threshold for speech to be heard.
Of note: As it rolls out its changes — quickly on mobile apps, “later this year” for computer/browser users —Facebook will continue to provide old-school friends-and-family networking via a subsidiary tab. Those posts will be chronologically ordered, as some users have long wished for.
- This move also helps Facebook avoid claims of bias in its sorting and keeps the company ahead of regulators who are threatening to restrict its algorithms.
- Twitter never found a reliable business model, which opened it up to an acquisition bid by Elon Musk. Whatever the outcome of the legal fight now underway, Twitter’s future is cloudy at best.
Our thought bubble: The leadership of Meta and Facebook now views the entire machine of Facebook’s social network as a legacy operation.
- They aim to keep cranking it to generate the cash they need to subsidize their decade-long plan to build the metaverse — where, maybe, social networking will be reborn in a 3D interface.
What’s next: Messaging will continue to grow as the central channel for private, one-to-one and small group communications.
- Meta owns a big chunk of that market, too, thanks to Facebook Messenger and its ownership of WhatsApp.
- At the other end of the media spectrum, the “discovery engines” run by TikTok and Meta will duke it out with streaming services to capture billions of eyeballs around the globe and sell that attention to advertisers.
All this leaves a vacuum in the middle — the space of forums, ad-hoc group formation and small communities that first drove excitement around internet adoption in the pre-Facebook era.
- Facebook’s sunsetting of its own social network could open a new space for innovation on this turf, where relative newcomers like Discord are already beginning to thrive.
As mainstream media dies, Truth Group and its platforms expect to rise as alternate independent media and alternate social media is booming. Every billion in market cap Facebook lose is for other censor-free social media companies like Truth Group to gain.
Truthbook.social is the alternative to Facebook with tens of thousands of users already posted over 150,000 posts in its short time since its soft launch, with many becoming available soon.
An array of Truth Group new apps, designed to replace the major social media networks, under one brand the “Truth” Brand created by the Truth Group include TruthTweet (a Twitter alternative), Truthbook.social (alternative to Facebook), TruthTok (a Tiktok alternative), TruthTube (YouTube alternative), TruthLook.com (a censor-free search engine), TruthGram (Telegram alternative) Truthpix (Instagram alternative), TruthMeet (zoom like conferencing), and TruthChat (a messenger alternative), all designed to be censor-free, and with many being designed, so that a post to one, can be sent automatically to many.