July 25, 2022
Greetings, Login readers! Scott Rosenberg here, stepping in for Ina for a few days while she takes a well-deserved family break.
- This is the week when all the tech giants report their earnings, and the early warning signals last week — disappointments from Netflix, Snap and Twitter — suggest it's going to be a rough ride.
Today's newsletter is 1,241 words, a 4.5-minute read.
1 big thing: Sunset of the social network
Mark last week as the end of the social networking era, which began with the rise of Friendster in 2003, shaped two decades of internet growth, and now closes with Facebook's rollout of a sweeping TikTok-like redesign.
The big picture: Under the social network model, which piggybacked on the rise of smartphones to mold billions of users' digital experiences, keeping up with your friends' posts served as the hub for everything you might aim to do online.
Now Facebook wants to shape your online life around the algorithmically-sorted preferences of millions of strangers around the globe.
- That's how TikTok sorts the videos it shows users, and that's largely how Facebook will now organize its home screen.
- The dominant player in social media is transforming itself into a kind of digital mass media, in which the reactions of hordes of anonymous users, processed by machine learning, drive the selection of your content.
Facebook and its rivals call this a "discovery engine" because it reliably spits out recommendations of posts from everywhere that might hold your attention.
- But it also looks a lot like a mutant TV with an infinite number of context-free channels that flash in and out of focus at high speed.
- That's what younger users right now seem to prefer, and it's where Facebook expects the growth of its business to lie.
Flashback: For roughly a decade following the 2008 financial crisis, social networks — led by Facebook, with Twitter playing an important secondary role —dominated the internet's culture and economy.
Facebook bested rival MySpace and absorbed or outmaneuvered challengers like Instagram and Snapchat as it transformed a simple "social graph" of human relationships into a moneymaking machine that helped businesses, particularly smaller outfits, target cheap ads with uncanny precision.
- Rivals tried and failed to beat Facebook at the social network game — most notably Google, with multiple forgotten efforts from Orkut to Google+.
Yes, but: As the profits mounted and vaulted Facebook into the exclusive club of Big Tech giants, so did the problems.
- Facebook's friend counts and "like" buttons turned human relations into a depersonalized metrics competition.
- Keeping up with the volume of posts became a chore, which was why from 2009 on Facebook's news feed defaulted to an algorithmic, rather than chronological, sort.
- That drove many users, particularly political organizations, to crank up the volume and try to game Facebook's program.
- Over time, critics charged, this dynamic became a driver for extremism, misinformation, hate speech and harassment.
Be smart: The TikTok-style "discovery engine" model shares many of the same problems.
- Posts are even less rooted in a web of social relationship.
- The larger the crowd, the louder the threshold for speech to be heard.
Of note: Facebook will continue to provide old-school friends-and-family networking via a subsidiary tab. Those posts will be chronologically ordered, as some users have long wished for.
But the era in which social networking served as most users' primary experience of the internet is moving behind us. That holds for Twitter, Facebook's chief surviving Western rival, as well.
- Twitter never found a reliable business model, which opened it up to an acquisition bid by Elon Musk. Whatever the outcome of the legal fight now underway, Twitter's future is cloudy at best.
Our thought bubble: The leadership of Meta and Facebook now views the entire machine of Facebook's social network as a legacy operation.
- They aim to keep cranking it to generate the cash they need to subsidize their decade-long plan to build the metaverse — where, maybe, social networking will be reborn in a 3D interface.
What's next: Messaging will continue to grow as the central channel for private, one-to-one and small group communications. The "discovery engines" run by TikTok and Meta will duke it out with streaming services to capture billions of eyeballs.
All this leaves a vacuum in the middle — the space of forums, ad-hoc group formation and small communities that first drove excitement around internet adoption in the pre-Facebook era — that could become an opportunity for upstarts like Discord.
2. On crypto regulation, the U.S. is way behind
Crypto's new winter has chilled the push to oversee digital assets, as Axios Crypto's Crystal Kim reports.
The big picture: Momentum behind creating a national regulatory framework for the sector has slowed just as an industry-wide shakeout has pushed multiple firms to the brink of collapse and investors are suffering big losses and occasional asset freeezes.
Meanwhile, Congress and the executive branch have had a hard time writing rules to protect investors or simply devising a definition for cryptocurrencies.
- The indecision risks costing the U.S. in the global race to build the future of finance.
- Calls for the Securities and Exchange Commission to act have intensified lately, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) prodding the agency.
Yes, but: The chair of the House Financial Services Committee, Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), is reportedly putting together legislation with Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) that would create a legal framework for stablecoins, one very important facet of the industry.
State of play: SEC chair Gary Gensler recently expressed concern that efforts in Congress to create rules for crypto could undermine existing market regulations.
What's next: A broad regulatory template, introduced in a bipartisan bill by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), seeks to clarify which tokens meet the legal definition of "security" for SEC purposes.
- But that bill is considered too big to pass the current Congress, industry leaders tell Axios.
- Federal legislation that touches on stablecoins and oversight for digital asset spot trading could also emerge.
3. Exclusive: U.S. cyber office taps Google exec
The White House’s Office of the National Cyber Director has named Google executive Camille Stewart Gloster as a deputy national cyber director focused on workforce programs and supply chain security issues, according to an administration official familiar with the hire, Axios' Sam Sabin reports.
The big picture: Stewart Gloster’s hire comes as the year-old National Cyber Director’s office continues to fill out its roughly 50-person staff.
Driving the news: National cyber director Chris Inglis pledged at a White House cyber workforce summit last week to develop a formal national cyber workforce and education strategy, and Stewart Gloster is expected to lead those efforts, the official said.
Details: Stewart Gloster starts Aug. 1 as the deputy national cyber director for technology and ecosystem security.
- Most recently, she was the global head of product security strategy at Google.
- Stewart Gloster was also a senior policy adviser at the Department of Homeland Security during the last few years of the Obama administration.
Of note: She is known in the cybersecurity world for the initiative #ShareTheMicinCyber, which helps highlight diverse voices in the cybersecurity industry across social media.
4. Take note
- Buckle up! Google, Apple, Microsoft, Meta and Amazon all report earnings this week.
- Former Obama White House press secretary Jay Carney is leaving Amazon for Airbnb, where he'll serve as global head of policy and communications, Axios' Mike Allen reported Friday.
- Google fired Blake Lemoine, the engineer who said he believed an AI-driven chatterbot had become sentient, as Alex Kantrowitz reported.
- State legislators in South Carolina introduced a bill that would outlaw providing information online about how to obtain an abortion. (Washington Post)
- Meta ponied up another $150 million, on top of an original $130 million grant, to fund the Oversight Board's work advising the company on handling tough content-moderation cases. (Axios)
5. After you Login
Apparently the Halifax Oyster Festival has a mascot, and I dare you to look.