Social media often sucks. The social internet is a magical place full of rich relationships, new connections, intriguing ideas, and true community.
What do I mean when I say the social internet? It is all of the internet designed for sharing, connecting, and engaging with other people. This may include social media, but it also includes personal blogs, forums, discord servers, random IRC channels. In short, places where people congregate around shared interests.
I have already conceded that social media can be an interesting part of that, so it is easy to wonder why it was separated out. The simple reason is that the dynamics of most social media are very different from the dynamics of other social internet applications. For one there seems to be a fundamental push vs pull difference in the way that you normally come to view the content.
Social media has a habit of pushing content on to you. This may be literally in the form of push notifications or more subtly via the magic of algorithmic infinite newsfeeds. You get to see more and more content, much of which you never would have chosen, all pushed on you. This does offer the opportunity for fortuitous discovery, but it also fundamentally changes our relationship with the internet.
In the old social internet you pulled the information you desired, rather than having content you may want pushed on you. If I wanted to see someone’s recent thoughts I would navigate to their blog. If I wanted to discuss a topic with people I would go to that forum. If I wanted to stay in touch with people I would have to remember to reach out to them or drop in a channel or server where I knew they could be reached. The internet was on demand, instead of demanding.
Now perhaps you reject my premise that the internet is no longer on demand. Before you do so I want you to install RescueTime or a similar program on every computer you use, and combine the time from that with the Screen Time from your phone and add in the number of hours you spend watching Netflix or Hulu. Likely you will find that the majority of your waking hours are spent staring at a glowing rectangle. If you truly feel that each and every time you wanted that content, then you are the exception that proves the rule. Most will find that they have without realizing it found that vast portions of their life, sometimes more than they spend sleeping, have been frittered away.
The simple objection here is to my usage of the word fritter. Perhaps you feel your life is substantively enhanced by this time spent with the glowing rectangles rather than a harm. However, before you jump to that conclusion spend a minute thinking on the opportunity cost. Remember that every minute you spend using one of these devices is a minute you cannot spend doing something else. If you still feel this has been a net benefit for you then are in a fantastic place. If however you find that there are other things you wish you spent your time on then I recommend you read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. I also think it is time for us to start challenging the status quo and acting to take back the social internet.
There are some initiatives that are already working on this concept. The first that comes to my mind is the awesome IndieWeb movement. They advocate simply for people publishing their content on their own website and then syndicating it elsewhere if they desire. This gives people the power over their own voice again, and even if they are deplatformed or demonetized or obsoleted they still maintain control of the original content and are free to move it to new platforms with greater ease. Considering examples like this I was left thinking about what the ideal platform for syndication could look like that will still empower people to have this same kind of control over their content. The idea I keep coming back to is somewhere between a classic forum, Reddit, and Medium.
Imagine a stripped down Medium allowing only text, images, and hyperlinks, that retains the syndication abilities that Medium has. Except instead of the articles being organized into a publication or on your personal profile they are instead organized around debates/discussions. Posts would surface to the top based on some mix of voting and maybe some version of the old forum ‘reputation’. No one will be able to see their reputation because it will be compromised of several things including: you will have a general site rep which will lightly affect your postings in all categories and topics, a category rep which will more significantly affect your postings in topics in that category, and a topic rep that will significantly affect your visibility on that topic.
Now how topics and categories will be formed has been a little bit more difficult for me to figure out. I have gone back and forth on whether or not it should be community created or if there would need to be more stringent proofing by the company. What I think I have settled on is the company creates the broad categories, then new topics are launched in each category daily. What topic will be launched next in each category is decided by voting. Seems to be the simplest solution.
Now we come to the trickiest problem:moderation. We have partially eliminated some of the most dangerous effects of deplatforming by ensuring that people still have access to their content (would be allowed to download archive even if they get banned from posting), but now must figure out how to handle issues. The upvoting and downvoting and reputation systems partially alleviate this problem by burying posts that are undesirable. This combined with automated screening for certain offenses, spamming among them can help also. However, you do still need humans who are moderating and looking for certain content. Child pornography cannot be allowed. Doxing cannot be allowed. Unfortunately, this means we will need humans watching our site for the most dangerous of content, but much of the objectionable and distasteful content needs to be allowed to stand in order for the site to truly be about discussions and debates.
Finally, I do not know whether or not a system like this could ever actually work. It is just an idea that has intrigued me for a long time.
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14 thoughts on “The Good Social Internet”
I don’t control the algorithms but I do control the notifications. I tunr them off. Completely.
I keep wondering about articles like this one where social media — the technology — is thrown under the bus with few acknowledging that without human beings, there would be no social. The problem, in my opinion, isn’t the tech. It’s the person in the mirror.
Polite society is finally being confronted with the fact that there are less polite people among them. And that we all now have a means of one-to-many communication in the palm of the hand. Why are we acting so surprised?
We live in a world which just over the last hundred years was built on the back of African slaves. Where a demogogue in Germany attempted to wipe out an entire ethnic group. And instead of admitting that we are the problem, we go to blaming some piece of technology.
Of course without humans there would be no social but that does not imply social is good. Consider other arguments of the same format:
Without humans there would be no war
Without humans there would be no homicide
Without humans there would be no suicide.
Society has always had the less polite in front of them, and that is not the primary problem inherent in social media.
Also Godwins Law
I also keep notifications off
I think social media is awesome. I have very few of reservations with using social media. I am disciplined and disabled the notifications. I am disciplined an don’t check my phone 11 times an hour. Just like I don’t drink to excess or watch 100 hours of television a week.
Facebook and Instagram et al. have active accounts numbering in the billions. The USA has about 350 millions residents. Assuming 50% of them have accounts and allowing a similar number for Europe, the number of Western users of social media are not significant compared to the whole. The majority of the users would be in non-Western societies. Are those societies hand wringing over the same issues?
The Good Social Internet (Bennett’s Blog)
Social Media: What Countries Use It Most & What Are They Using?
How Social Media Behaviors Differ Across Asia Pacific
Considering that most users of social media are not ethnically European, I am alarmed by attempts in the Western world to control the narrative.
It feels like digital colonialism.
It is in no way digital colonialism. The companies were founded in certain countries and as in normal throughout the world those countries have the ability to regulate countries within their borders
Aaron Davis: I am not sure if it is what you are talking about, but I am wondering if you have checked out Kicks Condors’s indieweb.xyz. via collect.readwriterespond.com
Chris Aldrich: mentioned this in 👓 The Good Social Internet | Bennett Tomlin. via boffosocko.com
You are missing my point. None of these links change the fact that these types of posts are like a house guest who’s complainign about the house rules. It’s not your house. You are a guest. The owner can change the rules arbitrarily, or violate his/her own rules or ask you to leave or be a jerk. It’s their house. You are just a guest.
Or you can leave the house, or build a different house, or convince other people that their time would be better spent not going to that house
Ok. Have you seen this?
Would Replacing Anonymity With A Single Universal Social Media ID Fix The Web’s Toxicity? https://inhomelandsecurity.com/would-replacing-anonymity-single-universal-social-media-id-fix-webs-toxicity/
Yes. Those are all things within the power of the guest. The guests are not welcome to rewrite the house rule of the host to suit themselves.