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The comedian and the social network

February 7 · Issue #78 · View online
The Interface
The internet created fertile new ground for comedians, just as it had for so many other creative types. The rapid proliferation of low-cost tools for creating and distributing video led to a nearly bottomless well of delights, from the Flash-era DIY thrills of Homestar Runner to the high-fi professionalism of Funny or Die. But the economics that enabled that creative explosion are in tatters, and today one of the affected comedians laid the blame at Facebook’s feet. 
Last month, Funny or Die laid off around two dozen people — reportedly its entire editorial team. Matt Klinman, who built a joke-telling app called Pitch for Funny or Die, spoke to Splitsider today about why he believed Facebook to be at fault:
The problem was that the whole business model made no sense, as far as us just putting the stuff up on the internet and us being able to make a living on it. I was just angry and frustrated and sad that you can’t make cool shit for the internet anymore and make a living.
The whole story is basically that Facebook gets so much traffic that they started convincing publishers to post things on Facebook. For a long time, that was fine. People posted things on Facebook, then you would click those links and go to their websites. But then, gradually, Facebook started exerting more and more control of what was being seen, to the point that they, not our website, essentially became the main publishers of everyone’s content. Today, there’s no reason to go to a comedy website that has a video if that video is just right on Facebook. And that would be fine if Facebook compensated those companies for the ad revenue that was generated from those videos, but because Facebook does not pay publishers, there quickly became no money in making high-quality content for the internet.
Whether you believe Funny or Die was (and/or still is) making “really good” content, it’s indisputable that it at one point had a highly engaged audience on Facebook and a very high profile otherwise, and now it does not. On any other platform, a huge slump in traffic like this would be easier to understand and somewhat more manageable. But the publishing world’s Facebook addiction has left it ill-prepared for reality. Quick hits and hand-delivered audiences don’t exist outside of the carefully crafted bubbles of social media networks, and once they pop they’re not coming back.
For media types, Klinman’s complaint is a familiar concern. Facebook encouraged creators to build audiences inside its walled garden; over time Facebook restricted free access to those audiences; audiences for creators’ owned-and-operated websites shrunk; creators were left in the lurch. The truth of this complaint varies widely from publisher to publisher, but there’s no arguing that the media industry feels particularly on edge lately. 
The question is where to place the blame. Creators of all types often come to believe they own their audiences when, in fact, they are renting them. A website grows popular as the world spends more time on the web, then shrinks when the world moves on. To Klinman, this smacks of theft on Facebook’s part. To me, it looks more like a case of changing consumer behavior, caused primarily by the shift to mobile phones.
That’s not to say Facebook hasn’t taken publishers on a wild and often unprofitable ride. If they knew then what they know now, it seems likely that publishers who invested most heavily in Facebook at the beginning would take a more restrained approach the second time around. FunnyOrDie has 15 million followers on Facebook, and a post from 24 hours ago has fewer than 300 likes. It’s fair to ask today what the point of all this is, or was supposed to be.
But Klinman is ultimately undone by his tunnel vision. Not once in an interview that runs for thousands of words does he even mention the more vibrant places where independent comedy is flourishing online: on YouTube, on podcasts, and even on Twitter. (Not to mention the late lamented Vine, which flooded YouTube with comedy when it perished.) Klinman pines for a golden age that seems to have peaked around 2015, without acknowledging how much better creatives have it today than they did in nearly any other year he was alive.
It’s true that doing great comedy and making money from it are often very different propositions. But the question of how art gets paid for is a centuries-old problem, and the solutions are perpetually evolving. 
Dig deeper into FunnyOrDie’s business and you see that the company’s management decided to double down on film and television distribution at the expense of the web. Film and TV licensing is a more lucrative business than web display advertising, and a more stable one, too — at least for now. This is a rational economic decision by company management. Facebook has many things to answer for. But the death of comedy is not one of them.

How YouTube Drives People to the Internet’s Darkest Corners
Russian Trolls Ran Wild On Tumblr And The Company Refuses To Say Anything About It
Overseas Fake News Publishers Use Facebook’s Instant Articles To Bring In More Cash
The UK's Fake News Inquiry Turned Down An Appearance By The Tech Giants And Went On A US Road Trip Instead
Cognitive Ability and Vulnerability to Fake News - Scientific American
Reddit bans ‘deepfakes’ AI porn communities
Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian Steps Aside, Focuses on Initialized Capital
Snapchat built a livestreaming video feature — but it’s for the Olympics, not for regular users
Logan Paul tasers two dead rats in new controversial video
Police Confirm Logan Paul Really Did Citizens Arrest an Intruder. Here’s Who He Collared.
New York bill tries to get Tide Pods to look less edible
Patreon is launching its Snapchat-like photo and video feed for artists
Instagram tests resharing of others’ posts to your Story
Facebook Messenger’s ‘Your Emoji’ status tells friends what’s up
Telegram Login Widget
The social media dilemma: With a child, how old is old enough?
Snap's Earnings, Fox Signs Deal for Thursday NFL Football, The Sports Linchpin and Snap et al
And finally ...
Cloverfield Paradox was already shooting before J.J. Abrams figured out how to make it a Cloverfield movie
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