Hossein Derakhshan – “Reimagine your world!”

“The Internet is dying and the reasons for that are three.”, said Canadian-Iranian author and journalist Hossein Derakhshan during an ijf16talk on 8 April, part of the tenth edition of the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy.

The decline of hyperlinks, weakening of the business model of the web and the difficulties with browsing on smart phones are the three main reasons which, according to Derakhshan, are diminishing the idea behind the Internet.

The Iranian journalist and blogger “was absent from the Internet” for six years which he spent in prison in Iran over his blog posts and other web activities.

For Derakhshan, “hyperlinks are the foundation of the Internet”, but they are in decline, “especially because social media are not very friendly to them and are not supporting them”. He believes that Twitter remains the most link-friendly social network.

Another reason why the Internet has changed for worse according to the journalist is that the business model of the web, namely advertising, has weakened. “There are lots of banners that are trying to attract the attention of the user, but this has slowed down the experience with browsers”, said Derakhshan.

Last but not least, the journalist sees a contradiction between the rise of mobile phone use around the world on the one hand, and the difficulties with browsing on smart phones, on the other. “The experience when browsing on a laptop, for example, is a bit different from the experience with trying to access a website on your mobile phone”, adds Derakhshan. In his opinion, the Internet “is not really designed for mobile phones”.

As a consequence of these developments, “we are now experiencing a centralized, linear and closed space where there is no diversity”, says the journalist.

In his view, the basic problem stems from the shift in our social values, in particular from the fact that dominance of popularity has become a primary social value in our societies. Derakhshan believes that “whatever is considered the most popular, is considered the most important and gets the most visibility on the new Internet”. In his words, there exists a suppression of minority views on the Internet because they are never going to receive enough clicks or views to become important and visible, which leads to a fragmentation of the society.

“Writing has become much easier than it used to be, but being read is harder than ever, because it is really difficult to make something visible on the “new Internet” to a large number of people, unless you are a celebrity and have the influence on the social media to do that”, adds the Iranian journalist.

He strongly believes that the losses because of social media outplay the gains and that “now we have to start thinking how can we fix this”.

What does he suggest?

Derakhshan spoke about several possibilities to stop “the dying of the Internet” and some of them are reviving the hyperlinks; a public demand towards social networks to open up the algorithms they use in their work and a revision of traditional business models.

“We need to realize just how social media has started to dominate our lives – from what we buy, what we eat, where we go out and who we date to what we read and what we think”, said the journalist who sees the role of the public and the states as crucial. In his view, the public needs to start demanding from the social media companies to open up the algorithms that govern their work and predicts that the states will start legislating on this topic in the near future.

The journalist considers that the web business model, namely advertising, is dead, but some traditional models of journalism could work to remedy the situation. “One suggestion is to take journalism to the streets, to combine contemporary art forms and mix them with journalism”, says Derakhshan. “Re-imagine your world and the way how you, as a media professional, could reach people in times in which social media is stealing audience from you! Maybe it is time for us to expect from the Internet to surprise us and not to comfort us!”, concluded the blogger.

By Stanislava Gaydazhieva