From disinformation to cyberbullying, the constant torrent of spam, cybercrime and increasing encroachment on people’s privacy, social media has become a bit of a mess. It’s also enabled greater civic actions, community organizing, saved lives and of course, been the greatest PR campaign for cats. Social media has penetrated so many aspects of our lives and pretty much had a free, minimally regulated reign for over a decade. That time however, is coming to a close.

Now, as U.S. congress, the EU parliament, France, the UK and others have called out and hauled in CEO’s and their representatives for hearings and discussions, the baleful eye of government is looking deep into the souls of social media platforms. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of how some tech companies and very much the social media platforms, are leveraging their personal information. As has been said, we are now the product.

Already, Apple has staked its position on privacy. DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused search engine, is an example of being profitable while not mining people’s personal data. This of course, negates Facebook’s argument that it needs our personal data to survive. It does not. Neither does Google or any other search engine. Nor do other social media platforms.

The business model will change, but how?

The primary business model of social media companies in the “attention economy” is selling your attention to brands, political parties, governments and others; advertising. Marketers became drunk on data and we’ve seen the rise of “performance marketing” agencies, which essentially mine data for clients to precision target an audience. Creativity in marketing died a few years ago.

Consumers are waking up up to just how they’re being tracked and they don’t like it. With iOS 14.5 for iPhone, 98% chose not to be tracked. Awareness grew through two seminal books, one by the Harvard professor Soshana Zuboff’s insightful book “The Surveillance Economy” and “The Information Trade” by Alexis Wichowski, who breaks down how we got here and how companies profit and trade in our data.

Twitter last month opened up a subscription model where you get various benefits for $3.49/month. Could Facebook charge? Unlikely. But some do. They are smaller social networks, such as MetaFilter that charges a $5 membership fee to post comments and search engine Neeva that is ad free for a fee. LinkedIn has less toxicity because users must identify themselves.

The future is likely to hold a mix of models and it is too early to say what will work, but social media channels will change. New taxes on data exchanges, digital services and products, regulations regarding privacy and personal data rights are all harbingers of what is to come. But the models will change and so will the experience. Some will be good, some will be bad.

What do you think?

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