Let’s digitally decentralise

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Let’s shift our conversations about things we care about away from social media giants, and back into the blogosphere.

It’s nearly always a bad idea to have all the power in the hands of a few, and this reality has boiled over in the world of social media recently. Twitter and Facebook accounts, not just of President Donald Trump but of a number of political conservative, right-leaning, or libertarian people have recently found their social media accounts suspended. The phenomenon has been described as a purge, and is quite evidently not being done on the basis of worrying posts that might incite violence. Perhaps the most peace-loving politician in America, Ron Paul, wrote about his concerns over social media censoring viewpoints, and promptly found himself locked out of managing his Facebook account. The phenomenon has affected hundreds here in New Zealand as well. The stories I have seen are similar: Users are told that their accounts have been suspended on the grounds that they have “repeatedly” violated an unspecified term or condition, in spite of there actually being no previous warnings of any such thing. It has been said for some time that social media giants were strongly left-leaning and applied their policies in a discriminatory way towards those who lean the other way. The claim that this is mere paranoia has increasingly become a ludicrous one, and now nobody with any powers of observation denies it.

There are several issues going on in this sinister conduct, and one of them obviously concerns whether or not social media corporate giants should act in such a censorious way. They should not. But another issue is here: We should not be arranging our lives and social interactions in such a way that makes us so reliant on so few providers. This much power should never have ended up in the hands of Twitter, Facebook, or Google, and it must be taken back.

There’s a parallel here with government and elections. Governments have extraordinary power. Consequently, in government elections, people are deciding how considerable power will be used. It can be used in their interests, in favour of all the things they value, or it can be used against them and their interests. Because there is so much on the line, anything goes. Lie about people, campaign dishonestly, smear people who might vote differently from you, genuinely hate them because what they are doing will have such a wide-ranging impact that you don’t agree with, riot, burn, and loot when things don’t go your way, etc. But if government simply didn’t have that much power, if government didn’t provide all that we needed or wanted (or fail to do so), if you were voting on something that didn’t threaten to destroy the world or promise to save it, if the stakes weren’t so high, much of the heat about elections would be turned down. Yes, I admit it, I’m saying that if government were a lot smaller and we knew it would remain that way regardless of the election outcome, the world would be better in at least this one way. It might be worse in other ways, I’m not going there just now, but most of our service providers would exist outside of government and they would still be there for us (and we could choose others) regardless of election outcomes, so we wouldn’t be waging war over them with our fellow voters. Similarly, if a tiny number of social media giants – just three, really – were not the giants they are and if we didn’t all depend on them as the public outlets of our thoughts and forums for conversation, there would be much less at stake. We would have our own favourite blogs (or blogs that we write ourselves) and we would switch freely between them according to what we liked or wanted, and while some of them, probably, might have policies we didn’t like, we would not find ourselves pressured to use them, because social media was so widely spread. It would matter a lot less who, for example, began to control the direction of Facebook, because Facebook wouldn’t be the whole online world to us.

Of course nothing I say here justifies Twitter or Facebook’s partisanship. It’s bad. But we shouldn’t have enabled the impact to be so great, and we can make things better even if they remain bad actors. Don’t use Facebook as a blog. Certainly don’t do that with Twitter. Write a real blog. Visit other people’s blogs. Make a podcast, if you’re so inclined. Support other people’s podcasts. Be willing to view people’s content on less popular (but still very good) platforms, like Vimeo. (https://vimeo.com/) Let’s see a drift of writing and interacting activities away from such large, centralised locations that control what everyone is allowed to say and see, and towards something that is, in a sense, more local and grassroots. Part of the reason we don’t do this is laziness. Let’s undo that. It doesn’t really take much effort.

I need to take this onboard as well. My approach on Facebook is generally lighthearted anyway, but when I might feel the urge to say something a bit more substantial, I need to pause and write it here at the blog instead, and maybe flesh it out a bit more, make it more worth people’s time (big social media sites are not good forums for detail), and in so doing help make the blogosphere great again. It would certainly make this blog a bit more interesting once more, and the truth is, reliance on large social media outlets to make frequent but brief comments is undoubtedly one reason why things have gotten so quiet here. I want to change that, and I think many of us should go and do likewise.

Glenn Peoples

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One thought on “Let’s digitally decentralise

  1. Quite! The danger of Big Tech’s purge of dissenters is often missed because many people define censorship narrowly as state censorship. But whether you use the C word or not the arguments against state censorship also weigh against suppressing dissent in the digital public square.
    Then there’s the feeling that these are private companies who can do what they like. I’m a Social Democrat so I have no problem regulating private enterprise in the public interest, but even free market Conservatives have every right to criticise monopoly and oligopoly.

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