What If Social Media Were Not for Profit?
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“What would it look like if we called time on Big Tech’s failed experiment?” asks the co-editor of the Oxford-based magazine New Internationalist:
A better social media would need to be decentralized… As well as avoiding a single point of failure (or censorship), this would help with other goals: community ownership, and democratic control, would be facilitated by having many smaller, perhaps more local, sites. Existing social media giants must be brought into public (and transnational) ownership — in a way that hands power to citizens, not governments. But they should also be broken up, using existing anti-monopoly rules.
It is hard to know what sort of algorithms would best promote real community until we try… But the algorithms that determine what enters peoples’ social feeds must be transparent: open source, open for scrutiny, and for change. We could also adapt from sites like Wikipedia (collectively edited) and Reddit (where posts and comments’ visibility is determined by user votes). Moderation policies — what content is and isn’t allowed — could be decided collectively, according to groups’ needs….
An important step towards a decentralized social network would be interoperability, and data portability. Different sites need to be able to talk to each other (or ‘federate’), just as email providers or mobile operators are required to. There’s no point being on a site if your friends aren’t, but if your server can relay messages to theirs there is less of a barrier. Meanwhile encryption will be vital for privacy.
One particularly intriguing idea is that of artist and software developer Darius Kazemi, who suggests every public library — there are 2.7 million worldwide — could host its own federated social media server. As well as providing local accountability and access, and boosting increasingly defunded neighbourhood assets, these servers would benefit from librarians’ expertise in curating information.