There is a lot of talk about being in a post-truth (lying) era and the amount of fake news displayed on social media. Because of this, many well-known people have left social media platforms, with public announcements of course. Paul Prinsloo shows the disconnect we face when engaging with these platform monopolies: “Yes, I know Facebook uses my clicks and ‘likes’ to profile me. Yes I know the space is increasingly becoming creepy … Yes, I am increasingly aware of those watching. But for now, Twitter and Facebook are my oxygen that allows me to breathe.”
If you are already famous you don’t need social media. If you have a well-paying secure job, you do not need social media: yet. If you (still) have tenure, you do not need social media. Most of the rest of us need it: to stay current, to learn, to find work, to escape our geographical limitations.
“In other words, while being a privileged white guy working in a reasonably-prestigious university might mean that he can avoid the 21st century for a while, for the rest of us social tools enable us to make important connections, do innovation work, and increase our serendipity surface.” —Doug Belshaw
I deleted my Facebook account 5 years ago. I can still get by without it but I know that I am missing connections from many people who only network on Facebook. From a business perspective there is likely a cost to me. However, I decided I needed to set an example. If I didn’t delete my account, who would?
According to Vala Ashfar, this is “where U.S. adults get their news from on social media: Facebook: 44%, YouTube: 10%, Twitter: 9%, LinkedIn: 4%” Fake news, especially on Facebook, the dominant source of social news, is a serious problem.
“One important problem is that Facebook doesn’t just show you posts from Pages you’ve Liked. The site also suggests posts that other users have shared, as well as what it calls Related Articles. In both cases, that means certain posts are ‘reinforced’ by other similar posts placed directly beneath them, with stories that seemingly back up what’s being shared as actual truth.” —PCWorld 2016-11-21
I use Twitter a lot. It is an excellent platform for loose social ties. I can see patterns and my reach is extended to many networks. I like its asymmetry. There is no real alternative to Twitter. However, one is being built and tested. It’s not as slick as Twitter. If you want to be a pioneer to test out an open source micro-blogging platform (that’s what we used to call Twitter) then check out Mastodon. I’m @harold. It’s early days still.
During the past decade most people who had internet access created an account with one of the major social media platforms. They are part of our lives. So much so that some government agencies, non-profits, and crown corporations, use them exclusively for external communications.
For example, if I want to see pictures posted by the local CBC radio station, I have to go to Facebook. If I want to peruse these, I need to create an account. This is an abrogation of responsibility, done most likely because decision-makers at these organizations do not understand the network economy. They are forcing us to be advertising fodder, and most of us willingly go along.
We need to stand up and say stop. What can we do? We can lobby these organizations to get off Facebook for starters. Make them use the web in the way it was intended by Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf, who ensured it stayed open from the beginning. If enough of us leave, it will be easier for others.
To drop out, we need a place to go, like Mastodon, and hopefully many more soon. Blogs are still a viable option, no matter what pundits say about the death of blogging. Some alternative models are being developed: e.g. Meeco, VRM. But we all need to be more engaged in our online freedom. Only we can decide if we are the media, or if we will remain the products being sold to advertisers.
Here is one more reason why we should tell our elected officials, public servants, and the companies we patronize, to get off Facebook. The platform monopolists have no consideration for freedom of speech or democracy.
“In a liberal democracy, Facebook can stimulate civic discourse—even if it sometimes makes a mess of administrating its editorial policies. Together with companies like Google, Instagram, YouTube, and a few others, it has the power to further democracy and the freedom of speech. But the company’s efforts to reenter the Chinese market suggest that, if freedom of speech is an impediment to profit, Facebook is willing to sell out democracy for the sake of the bottom line. In the Mark Zuckerberg mentality, it’s business first and galvanizing democracy a distant second—if at all.” —Vincent F. Hendricks, Professor of Formal Philosophy, The University of Copenhagen
One final note. Facebook is not the problem. The fact that we have allowed Facebook to become a prime source of information and the medium for much of our social interactions is the real problem. Facebook made the web too simple to not use, but at a significant price of freedom and privacy. We can do much better.