Imagine social media for people and not for profit?

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Imagine social media for people and not for profit?

Nick Dowson imagines a different world of online communities that puts our needs first.


Imagine social media built for our needs and not for profit? ANDY CARTER

My first interaction with online social platforms – other than email – was on MSN Messenger. I remember it with the tones of dial-up internet.

The MSN program had a simple interface and it had text-based, mostly one-on-one, chats. There was no public posting, or algorithms deciding who read what.

With MySpace, and later Facebook, we loved that they were new and we thought they were for fun. But, not so many years later, the love affair with social media is over – except for a short time when Twitter took credit for so many revolutions and protests.

We didn’t need Elon Musk to prove that having the world’s social media controlled by a few rich men was a mistake. Big business owns service providers, fibre optic cables, and the internet.

Its problems come from making money from social media. Advertising fuels consumerism. And platforms prefer to spread far right messages.

So, imagine different social media.

For a better social media, we need to take it away from the US stock markets and men like Mark Zuckerberg. This would help with other goals. To get community ownership and democratic control we could have many smaller, perhaps more local, sites.

We could bring the big social media companies into public and transnational ownership. In a way that gives power to people and not governments. But we should also break them up, using anti-monopoly rules.

It is hard to know what sort of algorithms would be best to promote real community. We just need to try. But the algorithms that control what goes into peoples’ social feeds must be transparent: open source, open for scrutiny, and for change.

We could also adapt from sites like Wikipedia, and Reddit, where user votes decide which posts and comments we see. We could decide together in groups what content to allow and not to allow to meet groups’ needs.

A new social media could be slower and kinder. We could design it to be satisfying, to build connections in the real world, and not to be addictive.

That would also help to make it green. At the moment, there is a big infrastructure of cables, servers, and throwaway devices using energy and materials. At the moment, corporate social media uses many exploited Global South workers - from brutalized coltan miners to exhausted content moderators. Our social media would reduce and make better use of network flows and screentime. Different sites need to talk to each other, just as email providers or mobile operators need to. There’s no point being on a site if your friends aren’t, but if your server can send on messages to theirs, there is less of a barrier. And encryption will be vital for privacy.

Artist and software developer Darius Kazemi has a very interesting idea. He suggests the 2.7 million public libraries around the world could host its own social media server. This would provide local accountability and access and these servers would get help from librarians’ experience in organising information.

Now in 2023, there’s a reason to hope. After the problems of Musk’s new toy, millions of users have accounts with the federated social media software Mastodon. It feels like an experiment. But we will need many more...


(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)