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. 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 see are similar: Users learn 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 are 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 can deny 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.

Lower the stakes

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 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. Those providers would still be there for us (and we could choose others) regardless of election outcomes. We wouldn’t be waging war over those services 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). We would switch freely between them according to what we liked or wanted. Some of them might have policies we didn’t like, but that would be OK. We wouldn’t find ourselves pressured to use them, because social media would be more widely spread. It would matter less who, for example, began to control the direction of Facebook, because Facebook wouldn’t be the whole online world to us.

Go local!

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. We can make things better even if social media giants 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. Let’s see a drift of writing and interacting activities away from large, centralised locations that control what you 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. I’m lazy. My approach on Facebook is generally lighthearted. But when I feel the urge to say something more substantial, perhaps I should blog about it instead. I could flesh it out and make it worth people’s time (social media sites are not good forums for detail). In so doing I would be doing my small part to help make the blogosphere great again. It would certainly make this blog a bit more interesting once more. Reliance on large social media outlets to make frequent, brief comments is partly 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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3 thoughts 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.

  2. Thanks for this. I’ve seen this course of action recommended in a couple of other places as too – one in case of a purge, and the other to avoid allowing the social media sites to feed upon your time and attention.

    I’ve gone through the people I follow on Twitter and made a list of (some of) their blogs – a lot to check out in future. Time will tell how many of them I will read. Twitter has value – its enabled me to find people and hear views that I would not have otherwise. But agree, we ought not to put too much power in their hands, and it’s probably easier to develop an argument on a blog than on a Twitter thread.

  3. I wondered what had happened – didn’t realise you were posting on facebook, I’m not on it. I’ve been checking back here periodically and always wondered why it all stopped.

    I like hearing your thoughts on various matters, so if I may be of any encouragement, know that your thoughts always exercise my brain and I look forward to every new post.

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