Decentralizing Social Networks
Social networks as part of the technological revolution that happened in the last few decades have been more and more involved into our lives on daily basis.
We use social networks today for almost everything. We connect to our family and friends; we sell and buy things and we advertise and share our thoughts all on social media.
But social media platforms today have been involved in some severe violations to basic human rights like privacy, experimentation without consent and more recently free speech.
For instance, social media platforms today use every single action you take on the platform to build a model about you, so they can predict what kind of things that would trigger you to do a certain action or buy a certain product.
Getting you addicted to the platform, then having you invite your family and friends to also be addicted so you can all be sold as products to 3rd parties who will use that data to sell you more things, run scientific experimentation on you, your children, family, and friends to build a bigger mind-controlling machine.
Once your mind becomes their puppy – now they can make you do anything they want. Buy products, nudge into one direction or another to form your political thoughts and then use your very posts to control the minds of your family and friends.
In other words, on social media platforms, you are a lab rat, a zombie, and these algorithms that they call “growth techniques” are simply the pills they feed your psyche to get you more addicted and controlled to just do what you’re told without questioning.
More recently, social media platforms now have been emboldened to claim themselves as the saviors of people – deciding what’s best for you to see and what’s not. It is very common for two people living in the same household to see completely different set of news to better manipulate them and make them do what they’re being told.
So, we have identified a problem – the way social media platforms are engineered today are headed in the wrong direction. They have caused younger generations more depression, more anxiety, and more suicide rates than ever before.
In Engineering terms, social media platforms today are monoliths that needs to be broken down into smaller communities giving the control back to the people to decide what to do with their data and who can and cannot view their information.
For parents especially, it is your responsibility to protect your children. Allowing children to be on social media is just as bad as allowing them to do drugs and fall into addiction.
Allowing your children to be on social media is like handing over photos of them to the most unstable, violent criminals in the world.
As complex as the problem is, given that social media is very severely involved in our day to day lives. Some of us use their social media information to login into other platforms – so now even if you want to opt out, you can’t. Simply because if you give up your Facebook profile for instance, you’d be giving up your access to all the other platforms and services that you use to deliver your food, pay your bills, and run your business all at once.
Some groups have started calling for cutting out the use of social media all at once. Which requires a lot of discipline and dedication with no alternative.
I’d like to think that this is the wrong way to approach the problem. Just like in most of the wellness centers around the world, they’d mention the detoxification process where your system is still suffering from addiction but headed towards the right direction to get rid of it.
The Warm Turkey approach, as apposed to the Cold Turkey approach. Slowly but surely changing your level of involvement on social media. For instance, instead of sharing personal life things, use social media to share educational materials – informative public and general information that is useful for the people.
Share things that are more for the people and less about your or your personal life.
The less your share about your personal life, the less these systems can predict what your next move is – for instance, if you share or write something about farming. Then in the next post you share something about vaccinations, the algorithms will have the hardest time predicting your next move.
It is also important to turn off all personal information permissions. Don’t allow the social media app to access your location, photos, contacts or lists of friends in any way share or form.
Some of the popular apps won’t even allow you to proceed without giving them permissions to access your devices and personal data – this is a huge sign for you to uninstall immediately and find a better alternative.
But going warm turkey also means that you have to understand your weaknesses and identify your purpose on social media platforms. For instance, every time you decide to click on a suggestion in your Facebook or YouTube feed you are letting these platforms know that their prediction models have successfully identified your interests, and now they are ready to build a better model to get even more addicted to their feeds until every single data point on your feed is of interest to you with 100% probability that you will click on it.
With a better understanding of your interests, or even worse, making you interested in something you didn’t care about before. With a better understanding of all of this, they can now sell you anything they want and make you do whatever they want, you sit when told to sit and speak when told to speak without questioning – you think you are in control of your own actions, but in reality, your actions are heavily influenced by these platforms.
Using these existing platforms today to help and educate people is highly encouraged. You have to be in the Matrix so you can unplug people from the Matrix. We use vaccination that are made from the very same virus we are trying to fight to develop the cure for it. It’s exactly the same thing, turning these systems into mere newspapers that can’t track you, influence you or tailor it’s content based on your location.
It is important to understand that technology is just a tool. This tool can be used for both good and evil. As engineers, it’s our responsibility to build a better alternative to allow them to use technology to feed their social needs and connect with their families and friends.
A social media platform can save lives by allowing someone to call for help when needed. Social media platforms can help us advertise for our businesses, educate people, and spread a good word to gather donations to help the less fortunate.
But social media platforms are also very personal. They call for sharing some of your most inner thoughts and share some of your most personal interests so one could feel appreciated, valued and the feeling of belonging and sharing interests with other groups.
In order for social media platforms to work only for the good of humanity and civilization, it must be decentralized and re-designed humanely.
There are multiple attempts out there today that try to offer decentralized social media platforms such as Mastodon on a practical level, and more generally for the web like the Solid project (Social Linked Data).
But the problem I’ve seen with most of these platforms is that they lack the right marketing, usability, and ease of use. A lot of the advocates of these platforms have divorced themselves from the existing social media platforms so they won’t feel or be called hypocrites. But as I mentioned earlier, you have to be inside of the Matrix to be able to unplug people from the Matrix. People in the Matrix won’t come to you, they don’t know you or your platform, how possibly can the conversation about decentralization begin if you and everyone else are not sitting in the same room?
A new approach, engineered humanely to allow people to connect to each other, decentralized and following a human-first (not profit-first) approach is what the world may need at the moment.
Let’s talk about the ideal social network…
The Ideal (Also Possible) Social Network
A human-first approach where social networks are more invested into the mental wellness and happiness of its users rather than profiteering off of them is a better approach. Let’s talk about specific initial characteristics of a better social network:
Users should be aware and in control of who can or cannot see their information. Including the hosts and the developers of the platform. This can only be achieved by offering an open-source free software that allows people to host and manage their own social networks and communities.
Community boundaries is a top priority. Every self-hosting community should be in full control in who can connect to them, ask to join or even be aware of their existence or not. Communities that allow open connections can also connect to other community, where the contents of both communities connected can be shared and found as if it all were just one community.
Accountability. Every community is accountable for the content that is being posted on that community. Every community therefore should be responsible for allowing or disallowing people from being a part of that community.
Every community should have the ability to allow or block advertisers from advertising for information or products and the community members only should be the ones profiting from the advertisement.
Communities are like cities or states, a single individual can register themselves and ask to join any community they like. Or they can build their own one-man community where they connect to other communities without having any concern about losing their data in case they get blocked out.
There are no centralized regulations, simply because there is no center. Every community should have its own rules, and they are responsible for enforcing their own guidelines for memberships and they are also responsible for any content posted on their community with accordance to the laws and regulations of the country where the community is hosted and managed or operated.
Every member of any community should have the power to delete all of their contents, their membership information and everything else related to them without requiring any permissions or pre-approvals by anyone.
With a social media that has these guidelines and characteristics, and the source code being out in the open where people know exactly what the system is doing with their data, and the option they have to completely delete their existence from these communities.
Users joining communities may request to validate the authenticity of the community deployed compared to the actual open-source code to ensure the code hasn’t been modified to manipulate user’s data or by simply offering a trusted provisioning platform that allow up-to-date versions of the platforms to be deployed and updated with the latest versions of the decentralized network.
The decentralization efforts also decentralize the profits gained from advertisers back to the communities instead of one single entity in one corner in the world.
Preventing social network from being centralized and federated allows less likely security disasters where millions of people’s data are stolen for one single security breach. Because now for hackers they would not just need to find a security flaw. They need to find the communities which are distributed and published and deployed all over the world with no centralized point to find them.
A simple family in Nebraska could have their own little community, for themselves and children and grandchildren without having their personal lives exposed to some profiteer in the Silicon Valley to use their information against them.
My research and study for a decentralized social network will continue, as this issue becomes more and more urgent by the second. The artificial intelligence behind the popular social networks today becomes more and more intelligent, and it’s capabilities for manipulation and control of the human mind is already at a critical point.
For that I’m starting a new project Taarafo (https://github.com/hassanhabib/taarafo) – an open-source free social media platform aims to make creating your own social media community so simple, a grandma in Nebraska would be able to do it in less than 3 minutes.
The project is also open for contributors, I was very overwhelmed by the amount of support I received from technologists and engineers around the world as soon as I posted my first video about he project named (Engineering Free Speech) and for that I’m very glad and grateful.
I have always called upon engineers to use technology for good. To purpose their engineering skills for the greater good, and I believe that Taarafo is just that. A chance to ensure the survival of our humankind and it’s evolution from an existential threat like what social media are doing to us on daily basis. the records of suicide rates and depression caused by social media in the younger generations could testify to that.
Let’s do something about this.