The Future of Social Media
We are living in an age where social media is transitioning, as it was after radio made its appearance on the scene, which was later replaced by television. The TV generation is now the internet generation, and anywhere people are, they will eventually drift to hubs, or hotspots, where social interactions can be more universal—like MySpace, and now Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit. For the purposes of this article, the focus will be on a replacement for Facebook as a main hub of social activity for most.
In light of the last couple of years, as progressives and others have found out in no uncertain terms, what we see in the established, mainstream media does not accurately reflect what's actually going on at the grassroots level. What's important to remember is that if it weren't for internet media, all we would have had been able to believe was television's word for anything. We would have known what TIME and the WSJ and the NYT had to say about current events, with very little in the way of conflicting viewpoints that weren't intentionally relegated to the editorial pages.
We would have had our own viewpoints, and those of our close friends, coworkers, neighbors, and family, but considering how integrally those viewpoints are shaped by the media, would we have been asking the right questions, without regard to our answers?
To put a finer point on it, would we have been as likely to feel like we were part of a much bigger, much more powerful group of people as Bernie Sanders supporters, if we hadn't seen pictures like this?
We weren't going to see that on MSNBC or CNN. Rachel Maddow was never going to show us that picture, let alone FOX. None of them wanted us to feel like we were a part of a huge trend sweeping the country. But the fact is, pictures like that went megaviral for a reason: they enlightened people to the fact that they posessed a special power, in their mutual affinity for progressive ideas. It was social media that made gatherings like that possible, and it was social media that shared the images that would exponentially increase their cycle of growth.
But as we all grew to learn, there were rats in the workings. Social media became painfully compromised, and this happened on multiple fronts, on multiple levels, from the very top, down to the bottom.
Progressives can most likely remember a time, a little over a year ago, when many Bernie Sanders Facebook groups became compromised. It seemed like every day, a group was either banned, shut down, punished, or simply changed for the worse in some way. All the while, there were superpacs designed to give internet trolls not only inspiration, but funding. There were many accusations flying that Facebook intentionally brought certain subjects to the forefront, and blocked views of others. This turned out to be true, but even when the biased humans were 'replaced' with cold, hard math via algorythms, stories could still be 'injected' or removed at will. This involved many top facebook executives, and their integrated algorythms slanted anything and everything for or against whatever they chose. This included outright blocking of urls directed at wikileaks.
Once the sources of the truth were silenced, then this opened up opportunities for paid trolls and moles, which came out in force to distract, divert, and divide. Social media was then a battlefield, in a war to establish one's very presence in a way that wasn't distorted and demeaning. It was definitely a lot of work suddenly, when at first it seemed like a wonderful show of hands, reaching out in mutual affinity. It got so bad that there were alternate social networks popping up seemingly all the time, in direct response to it. Justiceserved.org was one such network, Minds was another.
So what could have been done, to prevent the downfall?
Out of all the 'compromised positions' in the hierarchy, the ones at the very top were arguably the main cause of the problem. This being the case, they were the most damaging, but also the easiest to fix. Just get rid of them. Take these people out of the equation altogether. That will not fix the bottom-feeding trolls who dwell at the lowest end of the media food pyramid, but there are ways of dealing with them, also.
But let's take the previous point first, getting rid of the top. There are multiple reasons for doing this that go beyond thumbs on scales, not least of which is access to your personal information.
In slightly technical terms, social networks that connect people can either be 'centralized', like the vast majority are today, in which one body acts as the sole operator and regulator for the entire system, or 'decentralized', like Napster, Kazaa, and WinMX once were, and like torrent networks are still. In that case, there is no central 'hub' of control. Both systems have obvious advantages and disadvantages, but let's break each down, and compare them.
First and foremost, some may recoil in horror at the very thought of downloading a program like Napster, specifically to interact socially. Given that programs like those and the networks they use have been shut down, with litigation, as a matter of routine, one is not encouraged to persue thoughts of using them. Anonymity is not necessarily conducive to a great social network, where you need to be able to tell who you're really interacting with, but remember that even facebook is rife with fake, copied profiles that are bot-generated.
Still, peer-to-peer programs can be used to transfer illegal copies of software, music, etc, and porn of the worst kind. Again, you can already do that on Facebook, you just have to do it privately in a message. The main differences between the two types of network all boil down to user interface. What you can do with one, you can do with the other. One will surely say that even if you produce a social network based completely on people connecting through a shared program like Napster, you still won't be able to view a newsfeed, or see trends. You'd need centralized processing for that.
But would you? If each instance of the program is connected with every other instance, and each has the ability to process the same information from all of them at once, couldn't they all be doing the work of the previously central computer, all the time? There would still be those who would say that people wouldn't use a separate program for social interaction, apart from their browser. But they already do that, on their phones. As a matter of fact, current social media circuits typically already exist as both a downloaded app for iPhone or Android, or as a web-based browser experience. Those apps are probably not decentralized, but the point is that people are using them. In addition, you can also view your non-centralized social media in a browser window, if the program simply permits it.
So what is the advantage of a decentralized social network? The main advantage is that the system is controlled by each user, or to put it another way, each user on the system is responsible for contributing their own part of the data set, which is formed by all users together. When this is the case, no one party can control what everybody sees, or doesn't see. Nobody can prioritize data, or monetize it, or politicize it for everyone else. Another aspect of using a system like this is anonymity, but unless you're cloaking yourself there's really no such thing anyway. If someone really wants to know who is doing what, they can find that out, no matter which peer-to-peer program you're using.
But still, decentralized networks are more anonymous than centralized ones, and in an age when your personal information is bandied about like so much pirate booty, it's a relevant point. Something else that is important to keep in mind is that the agency that was nearly single-handedly responsible for networks like Napster getting shut down was the media industry as a whole. Big money was the biggest motivator in that fight.
...Which, unfortunately, may be the reason why a massive decentralized social media network the size that Facebook has currently, might not be feasible in the near future. Big business might simply never let it happen, no matter how much people want it. They will demonize it for the same reasons they did before, and we must be prepared for this in our fight for a true social network.
But are there alternatives to the alternatives, just in case?
One possibility might be to use a centralized system, but with transparent, open-source coding that cannot be tweaked (monetized/politicized) at will. However, everyone would still have to trust that the agency that controls it at its center isn't manipulating anything, or data mining anyone's personal information via some other covert means. That possibility would always be there, whereas it would be much harder if it were decentralized.
Another possibility might be a decentralized system that had a heavily regulated file transfer protocol; but again, that isn't even necessary at this point. The fact is, there are already several decentralized social networks that are already up and running, like quitter (based on the GNU social open source software), friendica, Synero, Diaspora, Steemit, and AKASHA. The problem is getting everyone to join any one of them en masse. The fact that they exist at all though, stands as a testament to their viability, at least on that level.
It would be worth the trouble though, to achieve social media that is a guage for true social opinion, not slanted to what someone else wants to be regarded as true or important, and not monetized, or politicized. It would not be designed to make money through advertisement revenue, but individuals could still advertise to their own networks. Data mining could still occur, but as raw data, not specific to individual people. This information would be freely available to anyone in the system.
After all, the online social networking experience isn't just about connecting via personal pages, it's also about interactivity with pages people have made, such as band pages, artist pages, small businesses, books people have written, etc. Right now, Facebook is charging people money to actually access the base that they had to work themselves to build, by forcing them to boost posts in order to reach more of their own fanbase. Their excuse for doing this is increased page volume. Fair enough, but there are much fairer ways of dealing with that, where everyone gets time in the spotlight, when the system is run by people for people.
There are those who may dismiss the entire subject as pointless, when superpacs can still pay throngs of internet trolls to infiltrate a decentralized network. But wouldn't you rather see a 'fake news' story because a lot of people are talking about it, rather than because either a computer algorythm selected it, or because it was intentionally 'injected' by a person? Maybe if enough people tag a post as 'questionable', then it becomes subject to group review? Ideas could then be defended and voted upon in some sort of integrated group forum.
Also, consider this: If Facebook had been decentralized for the last 2 years, they wouldn't have been able to block Wikileaks right before the 2016 Democratic convention, they wouldn't have been able to promote stories about Hillary Clinton over stories about Bernie Sanders, they wouldn't have been able to convince millions of HRC supporters that they had it in the bag, they wouldn't have been able to disrupt our social groups to the extent that they did, dividing and demoralizing us, and they wouldn't have been able to dumb down the reach of our pages unless we paid their ransom the entire time.
In short, the world today might be a very different place.
Let's keep this in mind in the future, to avoid the same things happening again. It seems the establishment has learned from progressives how to respond to our sudden presence. It caught them off guard, but now they have learned better. It's up to us to respond in our own way, and soon.
And who knows, if everyone was on a decentralized network already, and it was working well, what's to say that we couldn't translate what we've learned, to a safe election system? If the problem with our current one is at its center (central tabulator), why couldn't we decentralize that, as well? If each member in the system was running the same tabulator, then they could all keep each other in check. It would be impossible to hack every single instance of the program running simultaneously, and if any person decided to hack their own system, to make their own votes count x3 for instance, then the other units in the system would immediately detect it, and shut the offending member out. they would lose their right to vote in that cycle.
...just something to think about. And while we're on the subject, here's one last, gentle reminder: