What if social media platforms like Twitter did not force-feed a perpetual stream of manipulated content specifically targeting you? What if they did not track you at all? Or sell to you or monetize your data? As the conversation intensifies over the ownership of Twitter and its future, we really have to think about whether we are really inching towards a brighter future?
Their founders may have envisioned these mainstream social media platforms as “inclusive town squares”, in their current form, they have turned into monstrous mavens that control, track and manipulate critical information in the internet age. These platforms have struggled to balance the tightrope between encouraging free speech and pinning down agents of misinformation. What started as tools to cater to small communities are now in the middle of intensifying global maelstrom of misinformation.
Reality check: these social media channels valued worth billion of dollars are now potent mediums of manipulating the masses, selling data and harming the digital freedom of millions of people.
Social media platforms help us to stay connected with each other and the world. Being connected is our basic human need, and in the internet age, we do rely on these channels to stay in constant touch with our world. What went wrong is that in a bid to grow their engagement metrics and revenues, social media channels started to track, monitor and control their users’ behavior. They manipulate the users’ thirst to their advertiser’s ends. “Social Media can absolutely exist without being invasive; search tools can return valid results without recording everything on you (forever)” says Founder and CEO of Purism, Todd Weaver, in his post about controlling and harmful digital atrocities that big tech companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and others commit.
#1 Opt-In is Respectful
When social media channels force you into listening to certain types of content or manipulate algorithms, you are trapped in echo-chambers. The platforms end up becoming or serving brokers who frame societal, behavioral and political narratives. The big social media channels have acted as “arbiters of truth” in several controversial situations, which do not make them neutral parties in public discourse.
Could their algorithms be also amplifying negative content because it gains engagement? Researchers have found that often, engagement comes from crass conflict: “In a schoolyard people cluster around fights, and the same thing happens on Twitter, says Carl Bergstrom, who studies misinformation.
For these reasons, social media channels need to be designed as “opt-in” only, that is: all features on the platform should give users a real choice to opt-in to information and interact with only people they want to connect with.
#2 No Ads, No Tracking
Ideally, social media platforms could sell, and enable trade without tracking. However, this has not happened. They track detailed information about users, that gets sold to advertisers who bid the highest price. Since they have control over the detailed analytics at their backend, they can manipulate both buyers and sellers. The pressure to monetize social interactions combined with the need to raise shareholder’s expectation of quarterly results has driven these platforms to be embroiled in unethical practices.
#3 No control over the content of search results
When social media platforms control how users search, and which search results get boosted or relegated in their algorithms: they become active players in manipulating the preferences of their users. In this case, we see that they are not just platforms, but affect the outcomes on behalf of users. Staying out of search manipulation is simply respectful.
#4 Community Content Moderation
There has been increased pressure for social media companies to moderate content. At the other end, Free Speech advocates want social media platforms to stay out of it.
How can we control the growth of spam and hateful messaging on the social platforms? What is distasteful, funny or offensive are highly subjective topics, and there are no clear lines on the issue of how and who should perform moderation. When social media platforms stay out of tracking, manipulating content and increasing their user base by hook or crook, the people who use these platforms win.
The social media platforms need to be “public record takers” and not get into the business of playing Whack-A-Mole with users. It may be too simplistic to not moderate at all, so users and community of users should be empowered to decide. One example of a feature that empowers users, is the use of “custom tags” that you can apply to others’ posts. President of Purism, Kyle Rankin suggests, “Custom tags give users much more power in the ability to control and organize posts they see. Just like in certain projects like Gitlab, one can add tags to issues that someone files so they can be easier to sort, filter and organize.”
The power should be with users to filter out, opt-in or to block certain content based on their sensibilities and context.
“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” -William Gibson
The Fediverse already exists, and it is growing with millions of users. Fediverse differs from mainstream social media platforms that concentrate millions of users on one website, then controls the decision-making and own their users’ data rights. The Fediverse is the decentralized replacement to MySpace, Orkut, Friendster, Google+, Twitter and Facebook (can you spot the trend?). If you want, you can search for posts from across the Fediverse. It’s composed of lots of services, most of them use the same protocol, known as ActivityPub.
At Purism, we built Librem One so that you see the posts from the people you want to see posts from – your friends, family, news sites and favorite celebrities. We do not advertise to you, which means we have no reason to track you. Another interesting feature is that there are no trending timeline to manipulate. This way you do not get promoted ad content in your feed, and you do not get updates from people you don’t want to follow. Weaver explains the rationale to choose this timeline design where you control what you want to see, and not what the platform decides for you to see.
Librem Social is part of Librem One, the suite of privacy-protecting, no-tracking apps and services created by our team at Purism. Librem One currently includes Librem Mail, Librem Chat, Librem Tunnel, and Librem Social. Librem Social is designed in the context of a service bundle, so you know what tool to use for the right audience and message. We do not maintain any of your personal details on our server. Librem Social is proudly built on Mastodon, part of what is known as “The Fediverse” of other Free Software projects that we actively work with and contribute to.
Librem One is accessible via:
Purism is proud to invest and innovate towards a digital world where we fully respects people’s need to be secure, private and free from control of big tech.
At Purism, we do not place third party tools like Google Analytics to monitor your web activity on our website, instead we use Matomo to understand web traffic. Matomo offers a web analytics platform that protects our and our customers’ data ownership. So we do not track you in a way that your data is unsafe with us.
We respect the right for companies and individuals to choose their social media platforms based on their objectives. For us, social media platforms are a way to reach out to new users beyond our core customer base: to inform, educate and advocate for a freer world. For our company use, we primarily post on Librem Social and our News and Events section on our website.
We do maintain footprint on dystopian social media channels like YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. We have advertised on these platforms in the past and will likely do so in the future to reach groups of people we have trouble reaching other ways.
In terms of content, we do not put out spam. While posting on social media, we do not tolerate offensive posts/hateful speech. We do flag them to the said platform, and adhere to their community guidelines. The main idea is to be organic, respectful and still be able to amplify our message of being secure, private and free. We’d love to hear from you about what you think about this approach, and if you have any further suggestions. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Future is Your Choice
Consumers of social media are increasingly aware of the counter-productive role that companies like Facebook, Tiktok, Twitter, Google etc. play. They are invasive and pervasive in this age of hype. They track and manipulate users for profits. There is nothing new to note about this. What you should take back is that you have a choice: to opt in, to choose ad-free options, to switch to a better future that do not lock you in. Now or never.