The thing that will beat Facebook

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Earlier this Fall, in a town in Mexico, WhatsApp messages started to fly around the community from an unknown source.

"Please everyone be alert because a plague of child kidnappers has entered the country.”

“It appears that these criminals are involved in organ trafficking... In the past few days, children aged four, eight and 14 have disappeared.”

“some of these kids have been found dead with signs that their organs were removed. Their abdomens had been cut open and were empty."

The messages spread rapidly and it wasn’t long before new messages started to come in that there was an arrest. Suspects were in custody at the police station.

At a certain point the guards could not contain the crowd that rapidly formed. They broke into the police station, retrieved the suspects, then beat them. The suspects were then covered in petrol and burned alive. More than twenty smartphones from the crowd streamed the event to Facebook Live.

The town would soon discover that the WhatsApp messages were a hoax and both the suspects were innocent. Instead of kidnappers they were Alberto Flores, a 43 year old farmer and Ricardo Flores, a 21 year old studying law.

Facebook has two billion active users. You can make the case that this is the kind of event that just happens when you reach it’s scale but it’s an answer that falls flatter every time it’s used.

In the past two years the coalition of people and groups furious with the company has expanded. The governments of Europe! Republicans in DC! Democrats in DC! NYC journalists! All groups have been hit with specific events that have been seared into their conscious.

There’s no doubt that increased pressure is coming. Antitrust, regulation, country by country bans, all are on the table. It’s deserved but I also can’t help but think that a swelling tide to break apart the company misses the darker point.   

The questions raised by the platforms aren’t temporary or a short lived quirk in our history. The core inventions of Facebook–an interest graph newsfeed, an open marketplace for highly targeted ads, accessible end to end message encryption—are what matter. If Facebook were to be deleted these inventions would respawn in a new host, perhaps in a more chaotic form than ever before.

The grim reality is that this is it. Beating Facebook or Twitter means little if it’s to be replaced by something with the same fundamentals. The intellectual work of our time, the stuff that is hard, will involve digging into the strangeness of these problems. Identifying the role governments ought to play in regulation. Elevating the broader, cultural understanding of how these technologies are affecting people. And ultimately, building new things—alternative products and models more inline with what we value.

My fear is that this stuff is too new and too big and we’re going to slip, hard. If there is agreement from those in governments and media that we’re in an “Info War,” it becomes much easier for everyone to slip into a war like posture. One where intense internal debate is fortified by external messaging that says things are fine and under control. That’s true for the platforms but it’s also true for those covering them and attempting to regulate them. The disconnect between facade and reality creates a loop of mutual resentment. As things grow tense, that resentment only seems to harden.

There are occasional moments where everyone comes to the table. An increasing number of people are connecting the dots. But, on some level, it feels like we’re just starting.

So, in perhaps a throwback to an older era of the internet, some friends and I are starting a blog. We want to zero in on the conversation about what models are next. Build a better backchannel for the people in the weeds, working on all of the stuff.

Stuff we want to be a home for.

  • Industry Confessionals

    • SV, DC, NYC

    • Have something you want to say you could never put your name next to? We want to give you the space for this.

    • We’re less interested in scoops, more interested in leaks that help the internet better understand how your organization is thinking through problems.

  • Post Mortems of attempted products/projects/models

  • Prototype Challenges

  • A better backchannel between the West Coast and the East Coast

This is a side project. We don’t have any set posting schedule and we honestly don’t know who is on a similar wavelength. We’re doing this because we’ve been craving a different kind of intellectual space. One that is less focused on who to blame and more focused on what to build next.

This post is our equivalent of shooting a flare gun in the air to see who else is out there.

If that’s you, we want to hear from you.

cody brown