Zombie Internet

May 18, 2024 Generative AI Jason Koebler Facebook

When I log on to Facebook these days (which I rarely do anymore), it serves me an absurd slurry of content: Strange maps, statistics, the occasional family photos, and overall very low-quality content, clearly intended as clickbait. A few days back, I spent a couple minutes just browsing the endless stream of content, in equal parts bored and mesmerized.

We’ve been around long enough to learn that it’s normal for platforms to die, for the public attention to shift elsewhere[^I recently learned that the older generation has embraced WhatsApp status stories” in a shift that marks how even older users are deserting Facebook, if to another Meta platform.], and for a network to languish. Facebook is a special case, though: Once a juggernaut, it slowly lost relevance but remains too big to fail. Instead, it has turned into a wasteland of AI generated content, anything to generate clicks, keep the feed full even if the users aren’t posting.

On 404 Media, Jason Koebler has called Facebook the Zombie Internet”:

It is reductive to call Facebook the Dead Internet.” There are real people on Facebook, and real people are being fed this content. The images themselves are being made by AI at the direction of real humans who have learned that spam can be monetized. Real humans at Facebook the company are choosing not to or are not equipped to take action on these accounts or this type of content, which now makes up an unknown but significant portion of content on the site. AI spam, as well as the specter of AI content, is impacting how real people use Facebook and perceive reality more broadly. Facebook itself is shoving its own AI features down people’s throats, and has made clear that it is going to continue spending billions of dollars on AI features that it intends to make core to its products and business model.

Why does this exist? The answer, as usual, is money.

It is impossible to calculate an exact number, but given the size of Facebook’s platform and the ubiquity and popularity of AI images on Facebook now, a non-trivial amount of human hours is being wasted thinking, commenting, and giving feedback on AI-altered joists in service of an engagement scheme that converts clicks into dollars via online ads.

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