5 years ago I stated my intention to treat Facebook like a public square, to push back against the commerce and superficiality of the platform and carve out spaces for listening and sharing.
I’m starting to regret it.
Here’s the post I made this day in 2013:
In my little corner of the Big Blue Web I’ve been trying to create pockets for society to sprout in, but now I feel like I’m enabling the most anti-social behaviour. I’m feeding a machine that is out of control.
Somebody check my maths, but I figure they’re now extracting profit at 25 times the rate they were back in 2013: with net income of more than $300M per week. They sit on the most unbelievably valuable resource in modern capitalism: the accumulation of comprehensive personal data of billions of people. They are building extremely high resolution psychological maps of each of us. They sell these maps to companies who specialise in manipulating crowds through an intimate knowledge of and dependable instant access to countless individuals.
Facebook’s revenue model of selling ads was just the warm-up for selling votes.
Despite what Mark Zuckerberg claims, there is nothing they can do to stop this manipulation. So long as there is a massive centralised store of personal data, and a revenue model that allows it to be traded as a commodity, we’re going to be assaulted by any number of innovative forms of propaganda. The innovation is being driven by artificial intelligence with a profit motive, feeding on an exponentially growing dataset.
I feel enraged, but it’s not just because Facebook’s hyper-targeting of sponsored content is designed to trigger my basest instincts. The currency of likes makes me feel I’m being trained in vote buying: I feel encouraged to publish things that will win me favour. We’re normalising a form of public discourse which is optimised for virality, not meaning. The dopamine hit of that notification badge is more addictive than any substance I’ve encountered.
Here I am, touring the world meeting the most incredible people, collecting the stories and insights of African American elders, women, spiritual leaders, Indigenous people, frontline activists and their allies, people gardening the cracks, building a society out beyond patriarchy and colonialism. I take those stories and package them up into like-sized packages, ready for your clicks and shares and follows and ding! ding! ding! that dopamine keeps kicking in like nectar or nicotine and ching! ching! ching! that tiny cabal of wealthy white men keep cashing in, keep pulling further out of touch with the rest of us, so far out of touch that you can start to see why they think it is a good idea to head off and colonise the solar system, leaving the vast majority of us behind to clean up their mess.
So this year I’m looking for a new way. I don’t think I can quit outright: my livelihood depends on my address book, which unfortunately is currently held hostage, only available to government spooks and PR people, not to me. But I’m looking for ways to stop feeding the beast. For now at least, my priority is on writing books (support me on patreon if you want to get early access) and hosting visitors (drop me a line if you want to come stay).
When I need to publish to a social network, I’m going to prioritise the fledgling community over on ScuttleButt. It’s an experimental new decentralised technology for sharing in social networks. It’s the only decentralised tech community I know that prioritises accessibility, that cares about safety. It’s definitely still a place for early-adopters, not for everyone, but you can count on a warm welcome when you put the effort in to explore. It’s mostly tech people, and they’re mostly men, but they’re mostly the kind of people who genuinely care about others, who don’t need to be convinced about the need for diversity and inclusion. They’re building this space for you, and they’ll help you build it too.
So if you’re adventurous, and looking for a better place to hang out with your friends, or you want to experience what the web was like back when it was just people connecting over shared interests, come explore ScuttleButt. I totally understand that most of you won’t make the effort yet, that’s all good. The software is evolving fast: I’ll let you know when there’s the functionality and ease you expect from a social networking tool. In the meantime though, you can count on seeing me a lot less on the Big Blue. Come over to my house if you want to catch up ❤️
Coming to Scuttlebutt when you’re not an engineer
UPDATE — Jan 3: People have been asking for a “non-technical” introduction to Scuttlebutt.
As a community we’re trying to make accessible resources to support people on their way in. But to a certain degree, you have to understand something about the technicalities to use it, or to understand why it is worth using. The architecture doesn’t hide from users, you’re invited to learn a bit about the delivery mechanism as you explore the content you’re interested in.
Scuttlebutt is a fundamentally different technology to just about anything you’ve encountered on the web. There is no central hub, only peers.
Scuttlebutt is a protocol, a way of passing messages around, more like SMS or IP than like Twitter of Facebook. It’s more like a road than a car.
The full name is Secure Scuttlebutt (SSB), because the messages are cryptographically secured: only the intended recipients can read them.
Because there is no central hub, messages are passed like gossip, or like paper notes in the classroom: from friend to friend. There is no phonebook listing all the participants, so to contact someone for the first time, you can only ask your friend “do you know this person?” or “do any of your friends know this person?”
To make this easier, we connect to “pubs”. A pub on SSB is just like a pub in the street: it’s a place to meet your friends and exchange gossip. Because many people congregate at each pub, it’s a good place to meet new people, it makes it easier to extend your social network beyond just your siblings, colleagues and club-mates.
Remember I said it’s like a road, not a car? This is a road with no cops so anyone can do anything they like. Anyone can make any type of message on Scuttlebutt, like a blog post or a financial transaction or a chess move or instructions for a 3d printer to make a gun. People are making different kinds of cars to drive on this new road. At the moment the most popular car for new drivers is an app called Patchwork. Patchwork only pays attention to certain kinds of messages in the network. It displays a feed that’s pretty similar to Facebook or Twitter: there are posts, comments, likes, friends, followers, hashtags, etc.
Remember there’s no phonebook, no register of citizens, so if you install Patchwork, you’ll need to visit a pub where my friends go sometimes if you want to find me. The One Butt pub is a good place to start: ask for @3r4+IyB5NVl2in6QOZHIu9oSrZud+NuVgl2GX3x2WG8=.ed25519 - When we connect, you will probably want to give me a nickname though, because that’s hard to remember. I’d suggest “Dick” or “Rich”, but it’s up to you. Because there’s no cops, no register, no central hub, and that makes everything a bit different from the other places you meet people.
By Richard D. Bartlett / Jan 1, 2018.