It’s an uncanny bummer to see that Facebook “f” perched hopefully atop an article called “Facebook's stock continues decline after rocky IPO.”
But there it is.
You can read all about the demise of Facebook—and then share that bleak news with your friends ... on Facebook!
Facebook is dead; long live Facebook.
Really, Facebook will survive. It’s dug in. Yes, maybe it’ll shift shapes, metamorphose into something less romantic than a social network. Without explanation, we’ll see it become a roving, hydra-like ad exchange or a mere backend to apps like Spotify and Instagram. But Facebook is a sturdy set of protocols that enjoys, with good reason, a privileged place on the Internet that it won’t soon yield.
At the same time, online media in the aggregate are having a turbulent hour. As the Facebook stock has turned leaden, so has the atmosphere around all social media. It’s an election year, just when the Web should be crackling with news and rumor and “fact-based” analysis, as the acid-toned forensics on political blogs used to be called. The Internet has grown metastatically since 2008. And yet where, this time around, are the viral macaca videos? Where are the “Yes We Can” recuts? Where are the Wonkettes and FiveThirtyEights and Googling monkeys of The Note?
In fact, if you even know what Googling monkeys are, you maybe have been following digital elections for too long. No blogger in 2012 has anywhere near the authority or following of Paul Krugman or David Brooks of The New York Times. The original gangster political bloggers—Mickey Kaus, Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, Josh Marshall—seem like old bluesmen now, playing before small audiences for love if not “hits.” As “love” used to be called.
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The 2009 movie “State of Play” was a buddy movie about a broken-down, ink-stained wretch—Russell Crowe—and a snippy snappy wonkette blogger, Rachel McAdam. Both of them were on the trail of a political scandal (can’t remember details of that at all) but mostly they were repartee’ing along the analog/digital divide, with the Crowe geezer sure that the underreported, girly, voice-heavy blogs were created from the rib of print and he’d do better just to drink at the problem. The McAdam tart made another kind of argument: oh yeah, something about not drinking ...
In any case, it seems absurdly dated now. No one-woman blog can dominate the top Google returns anymore. She’d have to push it through Facebook and Twitter and, by relying on those autocratic templates, she’d inevitable forfeit her “voice.” She just would. No one is more themselves on Twitter. They’re just more Twittery.
And any facts that are ceremoniously uncovered by enterprising reporters on the Web—the blogs used to live to reveal new, highly granular facts that they claimed changed games—are typically crowd-sourced over at Twitter and no one keeps track of authorship. The idea that one reporter (either a lone-wolf old man or a whip-smart lady blogger) is going to bust open a story of malfeasance at high levels: that fantasy is not in play this election season.
What’s been happening, paradoxically, is that Twitter has its catnip and chew toys (Romney’s “Amercia” slip was one of them) that lead to jokes, but no conceptual scoops. Facebook has its odd built-in apoliticality, because all views get the same design and play. Instead, opinion-shaping is done these days in traditional spots like op-ed pages. Or, really, on one op-ed page.
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You never know, right? Ever since Russell Hoban’s 1980 novel “Riddley Walker,” in which a return to the Iron Age came 2,000 years after a nuclear winter, it’s been nearly an article of faith that the future might look more like the past than like the Jetsons. Maybe what’s about to happen in news is a return to the Iron Age of Media.
Newspapers proliferated and profited in the 20th century so much that they created an even more prolific kind of news, digital news, which then picked them off, one by one, like a serial killer. (Times-Picayune, R.I.P.) Now what’s left is a single general-interest daily broadsheet with bureaus and national import: The New York Times. That paper prints op-ed columns, and a handful of these cover the election. So that’s what everyone reads. So much for the thousands of voices from all sides that were supposed to, and briefly did, bloom on the Internet.
However, if Google wakes up on a different side of the bed, if Twitter focuses its ideological vision or if Facebook zags instead of zigs in response to the bummer stock-price news, a different set of Web practices and users and voices might be unleashed. It happens all the time. As Mark Zuckerburg should keep in mind as he sees his company’s fortunes wax and wane: If you don’t like the Internet weather, wait a minute.