Small-blog traffic is down across the board, even as the 'big blogs' get more readers. It is increasingly obvious that blog traffic is like income: the 1% get it all, and us 99% puttering along down here at the bottom, are lucky to get any at all.
I used to get about 10,000 hits a month--even in 2010 when I averaged only about 2 posts a week. Now I am down to about 7000 or so. Every (small) blogger I know has reported similar trends.
How did this happen and why is it getting so much worse?
I blame Facebook, of course. And Twitter. And hypocritically, I am right there on both of them with everyone else. Twitter provides everybody with fabulous linkage and good reading, while Facebook provides the personal stories and socializing; the grease that keeps the online Dharma-wheel turning. What need is there for small-time local blogs? I find it interesting that the most hits I have received in the past year on one post (about 3000), was primarily because it was widely reproduced on Facebook.
Today, whilst interacting on a rather fiery, opinionated blog, it occurred to me. On this blog, where I have previously interacted with lots of people who disagree with me, I was suddenly called a concern troll and instructed to stop commenting. Wow, I thought. What the hell happened? Are people not allowed to simply disagree any more?
Everyone must be FRIENDS, like on Facebook. You can't categorically disagree with the majority any more, or they will just tell you to shut up. Facebook has changed the terms of debate and what sort of discourse is acceptable. Thus, when you step "out of line" or express an unpopular opinion--you are dealt with much more harshly.
By contrast, Facebook threads are self-contained, for the most part. Nobody is totally "anonymous" and there can be no sock-puppets. Many of the participants in any given thread, will already agree with each other since they are from the same social circles, age-grouping and class. However, some of us have a LARGE and DIVERSE number of friends--which is far more likely if you are older (or have lived and worked in a variety of environments, as most older people have). People who hate each other and/or disagree on every single issue in the world, can suddenly and unexpectedly collide on the same thread. And predictably, all fired-up with "likes" (votes from people who agree with any given comment)-- they come out guns-a-blazing. Many Facebook people may not have any other online experience and it is entirely possible they have never before argued with people who disagree with them; thus, they promptly go into ideological apoplexy. This is marked by a lot of "you're crazy!" and "you can't be serious!" because they really do believe this. It's not rhetorical. You can tell they have not been exposed to real life ______ (fill in the blank). Atheists, anarchists, libertarians, Ayn Randians, communists, animal rights activists, whoever. They have heard of them, sure, but they've never met them before ... and they often respond by hitting the proverbial roof, flipping out and calling names.
For this reason (ideological apoplexy), you can easily "block" people on Facebook, so you don't have to SEE their awful opinions and be annoyed by them. This is diametrically opposite to blogular life, where you can't NOT SEE what you don't want to see, unless you are the owner of the blog in question.
And so, Facebook has tamed Blogdonia, made it more homogenous. In so many ways, cyberspace bullies made this happen, just like real-life bullies gave birth to gun control. Just when online culture seemed to be teetering on the edge of a free-for-all, suddenly, Facebook and similar social media promise ORDER FROM CHAOS.
Facebook and other self-contained, monitored sites became the safe place to meet. Who wants to be harassed by total strangers? When does "arguing" end, and actual harassment, hatred and stalking begin? (And who decides?)
I heartily recommend Julian Dibbell's fascinating post (which I originally read in the Village Voice, back in the day) titled A RAPE IN CYBERSPACE, which I commented on. (And I have finally learned how to link to just one comment in a thread, yay me!) I wrote:
The new wrinkle on [the] thousands of listservs (like on Google groups) is that some people are anonymous, some are pseudo-anonymous, and some provide their real names, leading to an imbalance of power among users. The anonymous people have the power to attack, those of us pseudo-anon or using real names, can’t attack phantoms in return....
It’s a pernicious environment… and one I think has given rise to Facebook, where people feel “safe” from anonymous assholes. Of course, a great deal of privacy is given over to FB, and that is the NEW problem… so the trolls greatly assisted the rise of internet surveillance and spying. They should be held accountable for that too.Another thread participant, Galactic Stumblebum (and what a great name!) added some important points. To say the least:
Just as IRL, a rise in crime can lead to increased cops and fascism.
The issues are expectations and trust. People expect that when they are on the net, others will respect them as they would in RL. They trust in the sysops to enforce behavior just as they would trust the courts or the cops or mommy and daddy or Big Brother to enforce behavior in RL. They demand that someone hold their hands.And Mr Stumblebum, obviously very wise, gets the last word.
Perhaps Daisy is right. Perhaps the rise in Facebook popularity is a manifestation of the need for having one’s hand held. Personally, I do not know (I took one look at Facebook and decided that Sturgeon’s Revelation applied and haven’t been back since. I don’t have any fear of that corporation violating of my privacy because I avoid their product like the plague). But I don’t think so. I think rather that the rise in social network popularity is just that – social.
Nor do I believe that fascism is the culprit. No, I think that the rise in surveillance and the loss of privacy are the natural results of both the control freak propensities of the power elite, and the boohoo whinging of the carebears. People have been taught to expect someone to hold their hands, when they don’t get it, they are outraged – just as they are IRL when the cops do nothing. That makes the carebears call out for someone to do something, and the power elite is all too happy to oblige as it directly feeds their need for power and control.
It’s a cycle.
The major problem is the expectations. After all, reality is simply a mechanism for fulfilling expectations – change the expectations of what will be real, and you change what becomes real. That is perhaps the role of antisocial netizens – to bump the expections back into line when they stray too far down the path of fantasy.
As for griefers and trolls – well, let’s not fool ourselves; The real reason for laws and oversight is because the vast majority of humans really are primates barely out of diapers…in short, assholes.