States of Internets: 3

Look, we all know the problems with Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is the place where older relatives share fake news, millenials share memes, and nobody particularly like doing the basic “sharing news about themselves and their day” thing that we all went there for. Twitter is great for breaking news, sharp humour, Nazi propaganda, and for piling on people we suddenly decide need to go full Lord of the Flies on for whatever reason.

They are also large corporations, who make money selling our data to advertisers. A few years ago experts were describing this as equivalent to a subscription fee for the services being provided, but really it’s straightforward exploitation. And it leads to things like Clearview, who have scraped photos and information off all sorts of social media platforms, pairs it with augmented reality and facial recognition technology to allow you to identify people as they walk down the street, and licences this technology to law enforcement agencies.

Sadly, not only should we stay on these services, it’s important that we do. While it’s tempting to believe that we can and should walk away (I’ve been fantasising about deleting Facebook for years), and mental health breaks are important, we can’t just pretend this digital landscape doesn’t exist. Venkatesh Rao argues that we have a responsibility to stay connected:

We are all now part of a powerful global social computer in the cloud that is possibly the only mechanism we have available to tackle the big problems of the world that industrial age mechanisms are failing to cope with.

Venkatesh Rao, Against Waldenponding

Elections are now won and lost on social media. Everything from public policy to Star Wars movies is influenced by their noise and heat. There is scope for reform and oversight, sure, but we are trapped in a basic contradiction: as long as people keep using them, we have to keep using them.

However, we don’t have to live there. We don’t need to host our online lives on these services, we don’t need to work to give them content, and we can own our digital space. You don’t need to live on someone else’s website when you can build your own.

This is an occasional series.