Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, July 02, 2024
Dead Internet from theory to reality

The original Dead Internet Theory is a conspiracy theory, which is mostly nonsense. Which now poses a bit of a problem of nomenclature: How do we now call the measurable reality of some parts of the internet being increasingly populated by AI bots? The original theory speculates that either big business or big government is running the bots the populate the internet with some dark manipulative purpose. The reality is a lot more mundane: The economic fundamentals of the social media part of the internet are deeply flawed; they are fed by advertising money, and then distribute that advertising money based on an "attention economy". Create some click-baity content and get lots of "engagement" with it, and you get a lot of money. You will still get that money if you created that content using AI, and even if a lot of the engagement is coming from bots. Creating a bot that a) engages with other people's clickbait while b) linking back to your own clickbait is a win-win operation. Instead of big business or big government, the actors are internet-savvy youngsters who dream of "passive income", or less savvy people who follow some "get rich quick" video instruction.

Getting paid for a fake Facebook or X/Twitter post with fake bot engagement seems like a victimless crime. Of course, nothing ever is. Advertising money isn't free. Companies pay for advertising, as long as they feel that it increases their sales by more than what the advertising costs. If somebody uses AI to create clickbait, but that clickbait results in a lot of real people watching that content and being reached by attached advertising, that is okay for the company. But if they pay "per thousand views", and 900 of those 1000 views are from bots, which never buy anything, the economics of added sales by advertising stop working. So companies will stop advertising on that platform, and look for other pathways of advertising where they reach more real people. The real content creators on the platform that is swarmed by bots first see their income dwindling because money goes to bots, and then see it drying up completely, because advertising goes away.

Different internet platforms are hit by this in different ways, due to the state of AI technology. Creating a Facebook post or tweet on X by AI with text and images is easy, thus they are the most affected. YouTube videos are a bit harder to create by AI, and I don't think any AI already manages to play a game on Twitch while live commenting. But even YouTubers and Twitch streamers are increasingly battling bot comments these days.

Ultimately somebody in advertising will come up with a better measure of advertising efficiency. The "attention economy" of paying per clicks / views isn't sustainable, if you can't prove that the view is coming from an actual human being. And because people follow economic incentives, I am pretty certain that the internet will look very differently ten years from now. We will not get a dead internet in which all content is created by bots and interacted with by bots, because there is no inherent economic benefit to that. Bot economics are based on advertising inefficiencies, and those simply aren't sustainable.

For youtube, a lot big part of Creator sponsorship contract are based on actual money given by the audience to the company, using the 'creator code'. So at least, this part is an actual measure of the real impact of the Creator on the market.
THe bad part is that it incentivize creator to create good ads, because they know the better they sell the product, the more money they make. This can hurt the trust between the viewer and the creator.

My preferred approach is from french youtube JoueurDuGrenier, that somehow get paid for its ads that directly mocked their product. His ads are fun and playful, but do not encourage me to buy the product at all. I guess his viewer numbers are big enough to still be successfull on the Creator/ad market ?
> ads that directly mocked their product

"The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." - Oscar Wilde

"There is no such thing as bad publicity." - P.T. Barnum (maybe)

I'm no advertiser, but provided the product isn't being completely destroyed by an influencer, even a lukewarm review raises awareness, if it's well done to be sticky to the audience. It's a lot better than nothing, presumably.
Generally these days, the more ads I see for something. The more I assume that it either has lots of adds or hidden costs to get the budget for adds and the less likely I am to click through.
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