I have some thoughts on the turmoil in corporate social media recently – meaning, in particular, Facebook and Twitter. For posterity, the precipitating events are:
- The efforts of Russian and other agents to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, Brexit, and (presumably) future elections.
- The news that Cambridge Analytica was able to scrape supposedly-private information from the accounts of tens of millions of Facebook users, which was probably also used to influence the elections.
- The news that Twitter plans to cripple third-party clients in the near future by removing APIs they rely on, with uncertain replacements for that functionality, probably with the intent to push users to use their own client.
- Twitter recently killing its Mac desktop client.
I’m hardly the first – or the five hundredth – person to observe that this is the natural development of handing over our online social connectivity to a few corporations who are mainly driven by profit motives and which mainly make money through advertising. The details of election manipulation were perhaps harder to foresee, but it seems clear that there was plenty of room for badness.
So what now? While there’s a movement to delete Facebook (#DeleteFacebook), it is still a tremendously useful resource for keeping in touch with friends and family. (My observation is that it’s especially handy for generations older than mine.) Twitter is less useful for that purpose, but it’s more useful for keeping up with people involved in or who share my hobbies and interests.
Frankly I trust neither of these companies, as both have long histories of not caring about their users. Facebook in particular I think is deeply untrustworthy as Mark Zuckerberg’s 14-year apology tour indicates. Twitter I think is at least as incompetent as they are untrustworthy, and I’m not sure if that’s better or worse – probably it just means they’re going to sell to some large, more solvent company in the next few years. (My guess is Google will buy them.)
Should I stop using them? Yeah, probably. Will I? Probably not. But I have been making some changes in how I use them:
- I recognize that making political posts is not going to change the opinions of my followers on these platforms. So I’ve been cutting back on doing so unless I think I have something novel to say.
- More seriously, I’ve been trying to avoid sharing political posts unless the post’s originator is someone I know and trust. The means of political manipulation has been to promulgate divisive political propaganda – at both extremes of the political spectrum – and while I’m solidly left-liberal, I see little reason to help them.
- I’ve also been cutting back on following people whose main social media activity is to share political content which they didn’t write. So if that’s mainly been what you’ve been posting, then there’s a fair chance that I’ve stopped following you. I follow people mainly for what they have to say, not for them sharing content from others.
- I also use an ad blocker (AdBlock on the Mac, 1Blocker on iOS), and also a tracker blocker (Ghostery). Since ads can be a vector for malware, using an ad blocker is also a security measure. Moreover, if I visit a site which doesn’t let me read its articles because I’m using an ad blocker, then I stop visiting that site.
- My Twitter client on both Mac and iOS is Tweetbot. If Twitter drops support for third-party clients and doesn’t come up with a good client of its own with the features that I want, then I’ll probably stop using Twitter. I’d probably do the same thing with Facebook if they ever remove the live feed.
In the long run we’re going to have to move away from corporate-owned social media networks, or at least move to ones which we pay for, where we, not the advertisers, are the customers. Maybe something like Micro.blog or Mastodon is the future. It seems like something like that should be viable, but whether it will become popular is something else altogether.
The bottom line, though, is that it’s got to be something each of us owns. Because if you don’t own it yourself, then you don’t own your own presence on the Internet.
Which, despite my relative inactivity here lately, is why I still have this blog.
(Oh: This is the second post I’ve written titled “Social Media”. Things have changed a bit in the 9 years since I wrote the first one.)