Dead Internet Theory is Real and Happening Right Now. Can We Stop It?

In a dystopian future, the internet as we know it will cease to exist.

Massive corporations, using their power and influence to gatekeep information in their never-ending quest for increasing profits, will dismantle the free and open internet. All online content will be mass-produced by bots and AI, spamming the web with rage bait and scams to further their insidious agendas.

It’s dead internet theory, and it’s happening right now.

What is Dead Internet Theory?

Dead internet theory is a conspiracy theory from the early 2010s that claims the internet will devolve into a never-ending cesspool of bots and artificial intelligence (AI), making it unusable for regular people.

All the online content will be auto-generated. What looks like conversations between people will actually be bots interacting with each other. These bots will crawl the last remnants of the old web, regurgitating information at unimaginable speeds.

People will leave in droves, no longer trusting the online world for information. The bots will have replaced us.

Dead Internet Theory Realized

The original theory claimed bots would overrun the web in 2016 or 2017.

It was only off by eight years.  

Today’s internet is in its death throes, fighting for life among the massive influx of AI and bot traffic seeking to dominate it.  

What’s Wrong with the Internet?

A few weeks ago, we claimed the internet was navigating a massive mid-life crisis. It’s leaning towards death and destruction rather than growth and renewal.

Two major players are responsible for the internet’s slow death knell.

In 2023, Statista published a study showing the world’s most popular websites. Google and Social media platforms dominate the results.

Google won by a landslide, followed by YouTube, the video-sharing company owned by, you guessed it, Google.

Facebook placed third.

The rest of the top ten includes pornography sites, other social media sites (Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit), and two surprises: Wikipedia and a competing search engine, Duck Duck Go.

Here’s how these companies are propelling us to a future where the dead internet theory is accurate.

Google Search

Google quietly removed its “Don’t be evil” tagline years ago, and since then, the company has embarked on a mission to reap as much profit as it can from the internet before killing it.

Publishers should have known there was a problem two years ago when Google rolled out its new analytics program, GA4, which focused on e-commerce over analytics.

But it wasn’t until the so-called “Helpful Content Updates” (HCU) of September 2023 and March 2024 that publishers truly saw the evil afoot.

What Happened with the HCU?

Google’s HCU decimated small publishers. They disappeared from search results as Google promoted giant brands like Forbes and low-quality forums like Reddit.

Searchers can no longer find niche content from independent websites. They’re inundated with the same stale information from a handful of massive companies that control the information flow.

Good luck finding a unique perspective, an expert opinion, or anything other than a money grab by giant corporations with a Google search.

Google Becomes a Publisher

But it’s worse than that. Google has been experimenting with generative search results for years. Its “featured snippets” sought to answer users’ questions right on Google without a visit to the website providing the answer.

Publishers accepted this compromise, as most users did click through for a more detailed result.

However, Google’s new AI search tools provide the entire answer.  The average user won’t have to leave Google.

That means Google is no longer a search engine but a publisher.

However, it didn’t create any of the content it publishes. It may claim that “AI” wrote it, but that’s not exactly true.

AI scours the web for an answer, then regurgitates what it learned for the user. Google keeps all the sweet advertising dollars to itself and even shows users “helpful” shopping results, enticing them to spend even more.

What Happens to the Real Publishers?

The publishers get nothing.

They spent hours creating content for genuine users. Many relied on income from display ads or affiliate sales to fund their lives while providing unique perspectives on every topic, from health to wellness, gaming to travel, sports to autos.

Google’s AI bot reads their content and uses it to generate an answer, but Google keeps all the money for itself.

Many real publishers lost their entire incomes overnight. Some had to fire writers, meaning even more people were put out of work.

Things Change – Why Should We Care?

The casual observer may shrug at this turn of events. Technology brings change. Getting your answer without clicking on another website may even improve the user experience.

It sucks that people lost money and were driven out of business, but that’s what happens with innovation. Cars put carriages out of business. Computers replaced office workers. Online shopping decimated retailers.

You might be asking why this is different.

These four crucial points explain why this change is bad for humanity.

1. It’s Theft

The most obvious reason why Google’s new “AI Search” is wrong is theft.

Google is stealing content from publishers, presenting it as its own, and reaping all the financial awards.

Of course, Google claims that’s not true. They call it “artificial intelligence,” claiming that their AI actually knows the answers to everything a user asks.

But the truth is, AI isn’t that smart. It’s not an all-knowing entity; it’s a superfast robot that can “read” what’s online and generate an expected response based on what it’s read.

It “reads” information from publishers and presents it as its own. That’s content theft, and it’s illegal.

2. It’s a Monopoly

But it’s worse than theft.

Google is becoming a monopoly. It’s taking everyone else’s work, publishing it as its own, and ensuring no one ever leaves the site.  

Google wants to be the entire internet. It intends to provide all the content and make money from anything it can sell. To keep as much money as possible in-house, it’s creating travel and shopping platforms while clogging search results with ad space for the content it doesn’t currently have a hand in.

Do you want one corporation to own the entire web?

3. They Tell You What To Think

Consider the ramifications of web ownership. Once Google controls all the content, it can manipulate it.

It already happens in real-time. Google tells you what to buy. 

Read this article by HouseFresh, which describes how the search results are overrun with massive companies selling the same low-quality (but high-priced) items. These companies aren’t showcasing all the options or even the best options. They’re only showcasing what makes them the most money.

Google does the same.

It’s a short trip from “only showing the stuff that makes us money” to “only showing the stuff we want you to see.”

Imagine what would happen if Google had a political agenda. Will it bury articles and voices that contradict its agenda?

When this happens, the free and fair internet will be gone. We will only see what big brands and monied interests want us to see. The masses, who can’t find differing perspectives, will start to believe whatever Google promotes.

4. A Dead Internet

Google’s monopoly over publishing and content theft will lead to a dead internet.

Content creators are already throwing in the towel. They can’t afford to keep creating content when Google steals all the ad revenue.

Eventually, all the creators will leave, as they won’t be able to support themselves anymore.

Without human creators, all “fresh” content will be AI-generated. The internet will transform from a web of people to a web of bots, all ripping information off each other and regurgitating it to the masses.

The public will eventually tire of the freakshow. There will be no fresh content—no new ideas, perspectives, viewpoints, or creations. Everything online will be outdated as the bots rip content generated ten years ago, not realizing how quickly things change.

It’s dead internet theory in action.

Other Search Engines

It might be unfair to single Google out when other search engines exist. But, the fact is, Google has over 90% of the search market, and no other competitor comes close.

Would the other search engines do the same thing if they had Google’s power?


But they don’t have it, so we will never know.

Social Media

Social media stands beside Google as the other major player in destroying the internet.

Of course, it’s slightly better because it’s not a single company but a handful of companies all playing the same game.

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Reddit, and YouTube don’t have as much power as Google, but they do their part to destroy the internet.

However, we must first remember that we are not talking about seven companies, only five.

Google owns YouTube. Meta owns Facebook and Instagram. So the companies responsible for killing the internet via social media are:

  •       Google
  •       Meta
  •       X (Twitter)
  •       Reddit
  •       TikTok

Here’s how social media is destroying the web.


Algorithms are the first step in dismantling a free and open web.

No social media company allows an entirely free and fair exchange of ideas. They can’t because the platform would devolve into an abyss of hatred, violence, and pornography.

At first, they used simple moderation tools to fight inappropriate content, but then they developed algorithms.

The algorithms, in theory, promote “good” content while devaluing “bad” content. They show users what they want to see and hide what they probably wouldn’t want to see.

But it goes far beyond hiding inappropriate content.

Algorithms Show What They Want You To See

Algorithms no longer work to enhance the user experience. 

Web developers designed their algorithms for one reason: money. That means they elevate content that makes them money while devaluing content that doesn’t. It’s no longer about providing a good user experience but filling their already bursting pockets.

Elon Musk’s X is the most egregious example. He turned one of the most beloved social media platforms into a pay-to-play system by promoting content shared by people who pay over content shared by those who don’t.

Anyone can pay for a blue check mark, which requires practically nothing to prove identity, and elevate their voice. The algorithm buries those who don’t pay, while Musk continues to call his platform a “free speech” platform.

X may be the most obvious, but all social media platforms use algorithms to boost engagement.

And do you know what people LOVE engaging with?

Rage Bait

Anger is one of the most valuable human emotions, for marketers. Social media companies feed off your anger to keep you on their platform.

We wrote a robust article about how rage bait keeps people engaged on platforms, so we won’t rehash it here. The takeaway is making you angry is profitable, so companies elevate the worst content to boost engagement.

In doing so, these companies aren’t just destroying the internet – but they’re implicit in the downfall of society as we know it.

Are We Human, or Are We Bot?

The dead internet theory isn’t about algorithms and rage bait. At its core, the theory warns against bots—automatic scripts that can post and respond to content.

The theory states that the internet will die when it’s overrun by bots interacting with each other.

A 2022 study by Tech Report found we’re halfway there. They reported that 47.4% of all internet traffic came from bots.

Some bots are legitimate. Web crawlers help index sites for search engines, for example. The study showed that about 17% of web traffic is generated by these “good bots,” whereas the harmful bots account for nearly 1/3 of all internet traffic.

Harmful Bots

Harmful bots seek to scam people, influence politics, and promote hatred. Some bots only purpose is to troll unsuspecting users for nothing but the bot creator’s sick pleasure.

Social media companies keep their user data close—they don’t want the public to know how much content comes from bots. The most recent estimate of the number of bots on all platforms is seven years old. That 2017 study found 190 million bots across the three most prominent social media networks of the time (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).

The problem has grown exponentially.

X claims only 5% of its users are bots, but studies show bots account for over a quarter of all content posted on the platform. Facebook removes over 500 million bot accounts every quarter, over a billion annually.

We don’t know the full extent of the problem, but if you’re active on social media, odds are, you’re interacting with many bots.

As technology advances and AI systems improve, it will be easier than ever for nefarious players to create these bots and harder than ever for the public to tell the difference.

Can We Prevent Dead Internet Theory from Becoming Reality?

We’re halfway to dead internet theory – but can we stop it?

The public has more power than we realize. Yes, we can stop it, but it will require a lot of hard work.

Here’s what you can do.

Stop Visiting These Websites

First and foremost – speak with your dollars. Stop using the websites complicit in destroying the web.

Search the web using DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, or even Bing. Or use Ahref’s new Yep, a search engine designed to help rather than punish content creators.

We don’t know whether these sites are as evil as Google, but using them will dismantle Google’s monopoly and send a message that we don’t want what they’re selling.

Get off social media. Connect with your family and friends via text or a messaging app like Discord instead. 

Support Content Creators

Individual content creators are the heart and soul of the web. Support them.

Sign up for their RSS feeds and email newsletters. Donate to their patrons. Use their affiliate links. Visit them directly with their URL. Cut out the middlemen of social media and search.

Stop giving your money to giant corporations like Forbes, who spam the web with affiliate content for nearly any niche you can think of. Instead, visit smaller websites created by passionate people who know their topics inside and out.

With all the changes in social media and organic search, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find these niche communities. Do the extra work to discover them. Search through pages 2 and 3 of the search results. Ask friends for recommendations. Follow as many real small creators on social media as possible, and stop following the big brands.

Write Your Congressman

Much of what’s going on is illegal, and some should be, even if it’s not currently.

Share your thoughts with your representatives at the state and federal levels. Let them know these big businesses are hurting their constituents and the economy. Make your voice heard.

In elections, support candidates who support a free and fair web for publishers and consumers. Make this a crucial issue that candidates can’t ignore.

Save the Internet

The internet is one of humanity’s greatest creations, and it’s dying.

There’s still time to save it if we act now.