Social Media and the Unfiltered Internet

unfiltered internet

Do you remember The Dress? The one that no one could decide whether it was gold and white or blue and black. The one that was being talked about all over the place in 2015. Did you know that the original post for the dress was a Facebook post that got fewer than 20 likes? It was only later, when it was posted to Tumblr and Twitter, that the dress picture because the phenomenon of The Dress.

Filtered Internet Content

The Internet is a huge place that’s expanding every day. In fact, we can only see a tiny portion of it. And that portion is further shrunken by the social media platforms that we use to browse for entertainment or work. The general population adds to these sites constantly, providing an ever-expanding source of content. The question arises though: is there too much content?

Even if you browse social media sites all day every day, you won’t be able to see even a small fraction of their content. This poses a problem for the companies running these sites. They want people to stick around and continue to browse the site, because the more viewers they have, the more money they get from advertising. If a viewer’s feed is too bogged down by uninteresting or irrelevant content, they are more likely to stop going to that site altogether.

This problem has caused most social media sites to start filtering content in one way or another. For example, Facebook decides what to show on your feed based on many underlying factors, such as your sex, age, marital status, and the types of websites and links you tend to visit. In general this is a good thing, since it makes our feeds more interesting and pertinent to us. However, it also causes a sizable underlying layer of social media that gets lost and unseen in the shuffle.

Hidden Content

This hidden content is public and recognized by search engines, but it only reaches a tiny audience and is difficult to find if you’re looking for it. To give you an idea of how much content is hidden, here’s a study from 2009 that showed that 53% of YouTube videos had under 500 views!

Hidden content (besides the spam) often feels more honest, since it doesn’t contain the repetitive formulas of mainstream traffic that keeps those posts more visible to search engines. It also tends to be more amateurish, of low quality, be too short or too long, and have titles that are difficult to find in a search. In general, the hidden content feels more candid, intimate, and human.

If you’re interested in sifting through this forgotten content, several resources have popped up to help you. These include Oviews for unwatched YouTube videos, SadTweets for unseen Twitter tweets, and Forgotify for unheard songs on Spotify.

Using the Unfiltered Internet

As with every resource, some people have actually found a way to get money from the underbelly content of the unfiltered Internet. Some companies search through public photos that people post online looking for recognizable brands. They then sell the photos to the brand’s company for demographic information or advertisement.

Some of the unpopular content is eventually discovered and becomes extremely popular for a time. When content goes viral like this, the original poster very rarely profits from their fame, and sometimes it can even cause them harm. Imagine having a video you posted go viral to the point where you get hundreds of notifications per hour. It would get old quickly and make it impossible to actually find the notifications that you want to see. This is what happened to the girl who originally posted about The Dress. Her phone kept crashing from the influx of notifications. In the aftermath, BuzzFeed posted about a party they were throwing to celebrate The Dress as their largest post ever. It’s impossible to know exactly how much money BuzzFeed made off of that post, but it is known that the original poster didn’t really benefit.

What is interesting (and disconcerting) is that the biggest post on one of the most popular social media sites was taken from another site, which was also taken from another site, without the permission or knowledge of the act from the original poster. No one was compensated for this string of events, and the post was eventually taken down due to copyright infringement.

The Internet is becoming more and more centralized and controlled by corporations trying to subsist on other people’s content. Some of these companies last a long time, while others disappear and are quickly replaced by something else. The future of these companies and social media in general is unclear. It’s similarly hard to tell what will happen to the enormous amount of unseen content that makes up the majority of the unfiltered Internet as it continues to expand every second.

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