Your Digital Self: The Facebook whistleblower isn’t a big help to those who want an open and free internet

I have to admit that I’m not particularly active on social media.

My last post on Facebook

was in 2013. I use Twitter

sporadically, only to announce a new art piece or the latest  article on MarketWatch.

I have more of a presence on LinkedIn , but it’s still in the realm of a couple of replies per month as I rarely post my own content.

I’m part of an ever-dwindling minority. The number of social media users worldwide is on the rise; in 2022, more than half of the global population will use social media at least once a month.

This trend doesn’t seem to be abating, and it’s projected that social networks will affect the minds of 4.41 billion people globally in 2025.

The growth is driven largely by the increasing usage of mobile devices. On mobile, you can browse posts from your friends, community, celebrities and brands no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Waiting at a bus station? Let’s check what everyone’s up to. On a boring date? Let’s spice it up with funny TikToks. Going to bed? Let’s check social media feed one more time. Just like smartphones, social networks embed themselves in our daily routine. The global average for time spent on social platforms is 144 minutes a day in 2021, a 25% increase compared with 2015.

Those statistics are unsurprising. Humans are social animals. We need communication to thrive. In times of fear and uncertainty, we turn to each other for emotional support and guidance, and social networks have been portrayed as ideal tools to facilitate that outreach.

Manipulated communication

However, they’ve become quite the opposite. By using advanced algorithms to provide specific content to their user base, social networks not only push the narrative favored by advertisers and interest groups, but also manipulate newsfeeds and communication, which affects users both emotionally and intellectually.

By limiting access to information, providing biased data that fuel one-sided narratives and silencing the opposition instead of facilitating civilized discourse, social media acts like a censor-in-chief. This creates polarization, increases social discontent and removes moderate individuals from discourse, preferring aggressive outbursts and name calling instead.

Needless to say, this is bad, and it’s an unavoidable consequence of centralized systems. Whenever someone controls an asset of any kind, they will do the utmost to shape it according to their beliefs and needs — this includes manipulation, censorship … the ends justify the means.

Overregulation is the problem

The recent Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen acknowledges these issues to a point, but offers no solution. Instead, she pushes for even more centralization, moving the hegemony away from CEO Mark Zuckerberg and into the hands of the government.

One can find an abundance of excuses for this, but the end result is always detrimental to the overall quality of information, human rights and freedoms and democracy itself. Whether Haugen was truly privy to Facebook’s decision making processes and whether the leaked study has flaws or not is a different discussion altogether.

The main problem here is one of overregulation. It’s a highly dangerous practice — especially in the tumultuous times we live in. The solution here isn’t to point fingers and ask individuals or governments to step in.

The open internet

Instead, the internet must evolve from its centralized form to a decentralized, blockchain-based model that isn’t governed by any entity and all information on it available to all humans regardless of their race, gender, creed or any other criteria, just as the creators of the world wide web envisioned.

Information there will circulate freely and allow users to process and filter it using their own faculties instead of ingesting regurgitated propaganda coming from both sides of the political spectrum.

Don’t think I’m taking Zuckerberg’s side here. Decentralized online infrastructure and freedom of thought and expression frighten not only the social media giants, but also governments that become increasingly authoritarian and wish to control every aspect of our lives.

This is precisely why open-source creators and independent developers must carry the torch of freedom of information to dilapidated temples of democracy. By building the necessary decentralized infrastructure and educating the masses on its existence and use, they will be able to provide alternative sources of information to the oppressed population of the world.

As long as this potential exists and is being expanded and improved, hope remains. Just like cryptocurrencies, its time will come. Once it does, humanity will have a way to build back not only better, but also a more just, democratic and civilized society.

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