I’ve been thinking a lot about the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook controversy lately. In light of the revelations about how Facebook has used our data and allowed others to use our data, movements to #DeleteFacebook, #LeaveFacebook, #QuitFacebook, and #DumpFacebook have started. Some have pointed out that it isn’t particularly easy to leave Facebook. Others have pointed out that the problems with Facebook are not issues of individual consumption. That is, Facebook has become entrenched in our culture in ways that make it difficult for us to leave. For example, for some small businesses, Facebook represents their only digital presence. But my bigger concern is that focusing on Facebook misses the real problem.
The real problem is the ad-based business model used by many social media sites. We rely on these sites to help us connect to others, to build community, and we pay with our data. In other words, these sites make money by collecting our data and selling it to advertisers…and to whomever else will pay for it. Like the Trump campaign. This was not a new phenomenon in the 2016 presidential campaign. Shoshana Zuboff wrote about this in The Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization. Nate Couldry wrote about it in The Price of Connection: ‘Surveillance Capitalism’.” Neither of these articles are about solely about Facebook. So where are our #LeaveGoogle, #DeleteInstagram, and #DumpTwitter campaigns?
As I said, I’ve been thinking about this issue for a while now. One of the main reasons that I personally would find it difficult to get rid of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter is because of the community that I find there. From Facebook and Instagram, I learn about the lives of friends and family that I don’t see everyday. And Twitter helps me connect professionally with colleagues whose interests are similar to mine. Some of these colleagues are people that I know in real life. But many are people that I’ve never met. I learn a lot from Twitter about my fields of interest. Five days ago, my friend Robin liked a tweet from someone I had never heard of: @jgmac1106. He asked:
Why do we need a platform at all? Ca’t we use our own websites, #oer markup, and a variety of tools like rss or #indieweb tools while connecting everyone together without the need of any centralized repository? #oer18
This is exactly what I’d been wondering myself and so I had a ready answer. I tweeted:
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I think the thing that a centralized platform gives you that the tools you mention miss is a way to easily discover other people you might want to connect with.
In fact, this short exchange is exactly the kind of discovery and connection I was talking about. I began to follow @jgmac1106 because he was talking about issues that I’m interested in. So I stay on these sites for the community they provide. If we all only published content on our own individual web sites, we wouldn’t be able to easily find others interested in the things we are interested in.
A bit later, he told me about a community that is working on an alternative to the surveillance capitalist online culture–IndieWeb. This community builds tools that allow people to engage with the various social media platforms while owning and controlling their own content on the web. The IndieWeb is a people-focused alternative to the “corporate web”. The IndieWeb web site says:
Your content is yours
When you post something on the web, it should belong to you, not a corporation. Too many companies have gone out of business and lost all of their users’ data. By joining the IndieWeb, your content stays yours and in your control.
You are better connected
Your articles and status messages can go to all services, not just one, allowing you to engage with everyone. Even replies and likes on other services can come back to your site so they’re all in one place.
You are in control
You can post anything you want, in any format you want, with no one monitoring you. In addition, you share simple readable links such as example.com/ideas. These links are permanent and will always work.
For example, @jgmac1106 is Greg McVerry and he owns a web site called http://jgregorymcverry.com/. On this web site, he has a microblog that is also connected to his Twitter feed. The content on his microblog is duplicated on his Twitter feed. Through the use of some plugins on his site, he can interact with Twitter but capture the content on his own site. Through some other plugins, he can register his site on Micro.blog which is an open web site designed to pull together independent microblogs like Greg’s.
I have spent the last five days working on my own web site (which I’ve owned for a long time) to IndieWebify it. Check it out at cathieleblanc.com. Be warned that I’m in the early stages of setting my IndieWeb site up so things will evolve. This work has inspired me and I’m sure I’ll be writing about these efforts and my thoughts about them as I move forward.
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.