If the 2019 general election taught us anything it is that rules do not apply to our corporate overlords. Certainly electoral rules do not apply. The left have been moaning forever about the corruptive nature of Capitalism. So when it comes to social media it interests me why so many left wing bloggers have allowed themselves to become so reliant on platforms owned by powerful corporations.
This is not entirely surprising. With independent bloggers and journalists making a living from donations it makes sense to go to the popular platforms where they can reach the largest number of people. However you don't need to be a deep critical thinker to know this puts independent bloggers at the mercy of these social media companies.
In his essay The Implicit Feudalism of Online Communities Nathan Schneider wrote about the feudal structures of forums which was inherited by social media which grants admin users almost dictatorial powers over normal users. But this system, Schneider argues, does not need to be present in forum or social media which could instead adopt a more democratic approach. Although admittedly I didn't read the entire essay, it seems to me that the elephant-in-his-essay is capitalism, with profiteering driving the existing feudalism because it gives nearly all control to the owners of the platforms to maximise profit and remove obstacles to profit. As Scheider points out: “feudal powers became part of the business model, incentivizing the unpaid labor of moderation and community building.” Page owners on Facebook are practically unpaid moderators working for Facebook.
“I would have written this as a blog post, but since Facebook have changed the algorithms to invisiblise links to my blog, virtually nobody would see it, so I'll just bang it up on here and hope someone notices.”
- Another Angry Voice on Facebook 13 December at 13:56.
It appears social media algorithms are limiting the reach of people's posts and trapping dissent in its own echo chamber. Left wing bloggers are allowed to continue to write and their followers are allowed to see their posts but their posts no longer receive the desired reach. True to Capitalist form social media are giving you precisely what you want but making sure it does not interfere in their profiteering.
Whether this is deliberate censorship or merely an attempt to get bloggers to pay for advertising I do not know. I'm not sure it even matters; the results are the same. It is interesting that the problem Angry Voice is having in the above quote discourages him from writing blog posts which are essential for extending his cross-platform reach.
One of the suggestions sometimes raised on social media is for the left to move to another platform. The question then becomes which one? Where do we go? But if the new platform is owned by a single company, what is there to stop it behaving exactly like Facebook or Twitter?
This is confirmed by Jaron Lanier in an interview with Channel 4 news. He gives plenty of good reasons to ditch social media, citing emotional well being, disinformation, and manipulation. He mentions that social media does not have to behave in the way it does, but it is interesting that the alternatives he suggests still involve a profit-based paradigm, suggesting an alternative subscription service rather than the usual free services. Lanier freely reveals he is not opposed to the internet giants, that he is part of that world, which I think is why he does not mention decentralised social media. Because the thing is: alternative social media already exist.
Decentralised Social Media
As genius as I am, I must confess I am no expert on decentralised social media, but my thoughts turn to Mastodon, and I cannot help thinking Mastodon holds the key to a better social media for the left. There are a few decentralised platforms about and some require a certain level of technical know-how I do not possess. But even a cretin like me is capable of using Mastodon, which is no more difficult to understand than any other platform for a first-time user, so I think this is a good contender for an alternative platform.
When Schneider talks of “Governance systems that seek to inscribe authority within commonly agreed-upon rules ... generally through the capacity to transfer that authority to someone else”, isn't this the Fediverse? Since Mastodon allows anyone with the know-how (and spare cash) to create their own instance, almost anyone can exist on it with a reasonable amount of power and control. And with the ability to block not just individuals but entire instances, Mastodon grants a lot more power to users. An instance can block all content it does not agree with and as a user, if you do not agree with that, you can move to another instance.
It also provides a chronological timeline, no adverts or tracking, a satisfying 500 character limit, and it has no single owner. This is why I think the left should be moving to platforms like Mastodon. I do not know if Mastodon provides the perfect democratic system, I doubt it does, but it is certainly better than the ad-verse platforms most people currently use.
I do wonder however if extremist alt-right shitbags could flourish on Mastodon, and I see no reason why they couldn't, but you have to remember they already flourish on other platforms. Mastodon won't aid a problem that does not already exist, but I do think it does aid power to deal with those problems.
One cute feature of Mastodon is that is does not include the 'retweet with comment' feature of Twitter. This is because that feature has a passive-aggressive nature and encourages dog-piling. This feature was deliberately excluded to protect users. How can you not love Mastodon?
I do not think Mastodon will solve the echo-chamber problem the left has with social media, and I think Facebook will always have the largest potential reach. But with the might of corporate media with their smears, disinformation, and their money influence that sees their voices are heard the most, it would be foolish to think Facebook will ever offer anything to challenge that.
Independent blogging might wane in the face of a corporate media blitzkrieg but it has influenced and informed a lot of people, providing much-needed views that opposed the plethora of right wing bullshit. I think that is the sole strength of independent blogging and it is worth saving, even if it alone will never save us. I think the best way to maintain a strong counter narrative is for the left to use decentralised platforms and be true to left wing spirit by boycotting ad-verse social media.
There needs to be an exodus of the left, just a simple boycott of the ad-verse platforms. Having said that nobody needs to delete their old social media accounts. This need not be an instant or complete boycott. That's the beauty of the web; the old accounts can be kept while they still prove profitable. The decentralised platforms can be used alongside Facebook and Twitter, but I do think the decentralised platforms should become everyone's primary platforms.
The success of an exodus lies largely amongst the popular left wing bloggers and their conviction to make it succeed. If the bloggers go and announce their move, the rest will follow.
Over and out for now, guys!