TikTok: Some Interesting Assertions

March 22, 2023

Note: This essay is the work of a real, still-living dinobaby. I am too dumb to use smart software.

I read the “testimony” posted by someone at the House of Representatives. No, the document did not include, “Congressman, thank you for the question. I don’t have the information at hand. I will send it to your office.” As a result, the explanation reflects hand crafting by numerous anonymous wordsmiths. Singapore. Children. Everything is Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The quip “NSA to go” is shorter and easier to say.

Therefore, I want to turn my attention to the newspaper in the form of a magazine. The Economist published “How TikTok Broke Social Media.” Great Economist stuff! When I worked at a blue chip consulting outfit in the 1970s, one had to have read the publication. I looked at help wanted  ads and the tech section, usually a page or two. The rest of the content was MBA speak, and I was up to my ears in that blather from the numerous meetings through which I suffered.

With modest enthusiasm I worked my way through the analysis of social media. I circled several paragraphs, I noticed one big thing — The phrase “broke social media.” Social media was in my opinion, immune to breaking. The reason is that online services are what I call “ghost like.” Sure, there is one service, which may go away. Within a short span of time, like eight year olds playing amoeba soccer, another gains traction and picks up users and evolves sticky services. Killing social media is like shooting ping pong balls into a Tesla sized blob of Jell-O, an early form of the morphing Terminator robot.  In short, the Jell-O keeps on quivering, sometimes for a long, long time, judging from my mother’s ability to make one Jell-O dessert and keep serving it for weeks. Then there was another one. Thus, the premise of the write up is wrong.

I do want to highlight one statement in the essay:

The social apps will not be the only losers in this new, trickier ad environment. “All advertising is about what the next-best alternative is,” says Brian Wieser of Madison and Wall, an advertising consultancy. Most advertisers allocate a budget to spend on ads on a particular platform, he says, and “the budget is the budget”, regardless of how far it goes. If social-media advertising becomes less effective across the board, it will be bad news not just for the platforms that sell those ads, but for the advertisers that buy them.

My view is shaped by more than 50 years in the online information business. New forms of messaging and monetization are enabled by technology. On example is a thought experiment: What will an advertiser pay to influence the output of a content generator infused with smart software. I have first hand information that one company is selling AI-generated content specifically to influence what appears when a product is reviewed. The technique involves automation, a carousel of fake personas (sockpuppets to some), and carefully shaped inputs to the content generation system. Now is this advertising like a short video? Sure, because the output can be in the form of images or a short machine-generated video using machine generated “real” people. Is this type of “advertising” going to morph and find its way into the next Discord or Telegram public user group?

My hunch is that this type of conscious manipulation and automation is what can be conceptualized as “spawn of the Google.”

Net net: Social media is not “broken.” Advertising will find a way… because money. Heinous psychological manipulation. Exploited by big companies. Absolutely.

Stephen E Arnold, March 22, 2023


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