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How Facebook, Apple and Twitter are ending online equality

Mike Elgan | Aug. 11, 2015
The latest trend in social networking is the rise of elitism.

Fast-forward to 2015. Apple has fixed what was wrong with Ping in part by excluding the public from full participation.

The result is Connect, Apple's new music-focused social network. But it works like old media, not new media.

Connect is a social network where famous people in the music business get to communicate to a public that is excluded from full participation. Apple explicitly segregates everyone who uses Connect into "Artists" and "Fans." The rest of the slogan is "Zero Interference," by which the company apparently means that elite celebrities can post without interference from the noise created when the public is also allowed to post.

The new social media elitism may actually have been started by Twitter, which uses user-verification as a way to create a country club environment where members get special privileges.

The verified users concept is widespread on social networks. It has benefits both for the verified and unverified in that it often lets people know when a prominent person's account is authentic.

But on Twitter, verified users have an exclusive set of tools that show them data about the people who follow them. They can also opt out of group direct messages and do other things.

The most elitist of these features is a switch that lets Verified users turn off notifications from non-verified users. That feature transforms open, public Twitter into a private club where elites can pay attention only to other elites and ignore the riffraff.

Of course, small elite social networks have existed for more than a decade. They're places where the wealthy can gather and socialize beyond the reach of the public. One such site, called a SmallWorld, launched 11 years ago.

This year, a few more have come online. One is called Squa.re, which has a social component but also has shopping and event listings.

Forbes.com and Tinder last week announced an exclusive and ageist social network. It's a social app called Forbes Under 30. To join this new social network, you have to be one of the approximately 2,000 people featured in the four Forbes 30 Under 30 lists published to date. So not only must you be hand-selected by Forbes, if you're older than 34 you're not even eligible for consideration.

What's new isn't that there are tiny, obscure, somewhat insignificant social networks where people can avoid the public. What's new is that now some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley -- Facebook, Apple and Twitter -- are creating elite enclaves within their social offerings that threaten to turn the mainstream, egalitarian new media into the elitist old media.

The retreat back to old media isn't merely conceptual. Take Facebook's Live feature, for example: It doesn't have any new media stars -- no YouTube celebrities or others who got famous on the Internet. In order to qualify as a user of Facebook's new-media streaming service, you have to be an old-media star. It's the only criterion for access.

 

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