Big Tech In Decline?

Massive Shakeup of Major Players Under Way, Especially in Social Media

LarrySanger.org does not usually break news. But since this is such a huge story and no other outlets seem to be covering it, we thought we would do so.

Note: Updated rank numbers (not images), below, with data from Sept. 30.

Sep. 29, 2019 (THE INTERNET) – Many of the websites that have come under attack in recent years for violating user expectations of privacy, free speech, autonomy, and neutrality are now in decline, according to data published by Amazon's web traffic ranking website, Alexa.com. The decliners include many of the best-known names of Big Tech: Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, Instagram, Quora, and more.

LarrySanger.org has been unable to locate any recent articles in the technology and Internet press making similar observations of these startling declines. We rely on our readers to fact-check us. The observations are much in line with declines in downloads of Facebook and Instagram apps, noticed by ReclaimTheNet.org.

Twitter traffic ranking 90-day trend, to September 30, 2019.

Twitter plunged from Alexa rank 11 to 26 in the last three months. The microblogging site, dominated by celebrities and news, now trails Reddit in the rankings. Reddit itself has recently declined from a peak of 12, in July, to 18 today. Twitter was the focus of a "Social Media Strike" campaign last July 4-5. At the same time Wikipedia ex-founder Larry Sanger and others, who organized the strike, promoted a Declaration of Digital Independence.

Facebook traffic ranking 90-day trend, to September 30, 2019.

Facebook slid from Alexa rank 3 to rank 5. This might be significant, though a drop of only two spots, considering that it is within the top five. The social media giant has come under severe attack for its failure to respect user privacy rights, and has been abandoned by millions of users. The two sites that now occupy Alexa ranks 3 and 4 are Chinese sites.

Wikipedia traffic ranking 90-day trend, to September 30, 2019.

Once a mainstay of the top five, Wikipedia, too, has sunk with surprising speed from rank 5 to rank 9—all of this decline just within the last six weeks. Conservatives and libertarians have become more vocally fed up with the website's noticeable abandonment of its neutrality policy, which Sanger originally articulated and still champions. "This is not surprising to me," Sanger said, "considering everything that I have heard from Wikipedia's readers in the last few years. The dominant tone among anyone not on the political left has shifted from grudging respect to outright hostility." A relevant consideration is that the encyclopedia site's traffic can decline over the summer, when school is out, so we will see if it bounces back in the coming months.

Instagram traffic ranking 90-day trend, to September 30, 2019

The Facebook-owned Instagram, which has also come under attack for its privacy and free speech violations, skidded from rank 13 to rank 23 in the last three months. This is in line with a study claiming Instagram engagement declined from May through July this year. As with Twitter, a common criticism of the social photo sharing site is that it tends to induce otherwise quite nice people behave nastily. Left-wing media and activists, as with many others on this list, have pressured the site to adopt policies that disproportionately impact conservative views, leading the right to exit.

Quora traffic ranking 90-day trend, to September 30, 2019

Perhaps the most dramatic decline is that of Quora, which plummeted from the respectable rank of 82—similar to the BBC website's rank—all the way to rank 235, with no sign of a slowdown. The once-dominant social Q&A site has moved gradually left over the last five years or so. The site has shed many disgruntled contributors in recent years, who frequently complain of biased moderation.

Other major recent decliners include Amazon's gaming video site Twitch (slid from 26 to 37), Jimmy Wales' for-profit wiki site Fandom (formerly Wikia; down from 53 to 74), and social sharing site Pinterest (dropped from 71 to 111).

Assuming the data is reliable, it is possible that users of major corporate offerings are finally leaving because they have decided "enough is enough" and that their privacy, free speech, and other legitimate interests will never be properly respected by the Big Tech companies that dominated the scene throughout the past decade. Other explanations are possible, of course.

Not all famous and big brands declined, but it is notable that the English language websites that gained include a few competitors of those that have come under the most severe criticism. Notable gainers include Bing (rose from 38 up to 29, a competitor of much-criticized Google Search), Office (51 to 30, a competitor of Google Docs), eBay (40 to 35), Stack Overflow (50 to 44), Apple (59 to 48), Medium (151 to 93, a competitor of Quora), and some pornography sites.

Some familiar news brands have probably absorbed traffic that might otherwise have gone to the declining social media sites: BBC (87 to 78), ESPN (113 to 85), The New York Times (117 to 103), Washington Post (287 to 178), FoxNews.com (245 to 219), Breitbart (333 to 285), and WSJ (627 to 466).

Some of the risers are of Chinese or Russian origin, the most notable of which is the Chinese TMall (rose from 9 to 4).

It is possible that these are all somehow reflections of some internal changes to Alexa's ranking algorithms; LarrySanger.org has not contacted the company for this report. But this explanation is perhaps less likely since the declines did not happen all at once but have been spread out gradually, over a period of weeks or months.


Toward a social contract for social media

Last week, I led a "strike," or boycott, associated with the hashtag #SocialMediaStrike, directed at the giant, centralized social media services. Though throttled by Twitter and no doubt by others, the brief campaign led to massive use of the hashtag, many people carrying out the strike, as well as dozens of news stories from around the world.

Here I will tell the story of what happened, make some observations about what we might do next, and then make a rather specific proposal, what we might call a "social contract" for social media companies.

What happened

Let me tell the story briefly, from the beginning.

I joined Facebook around 2006 and Twitter in 2008; I never felt quite right about them, and my objections piled up over the years. After I decided to lock down my cyber-life, I abandoned as much of social media as possible. Facebook was a challenge, but I permanently deleted my account, and haven't looked back. It wasn't hard to leave Quora, Medium, and Instagram. But I was still on Twitter for career reasons, and it bothered me that I had abandoned my Facebook friends. I thought, "There's got to be a way to get my friends to join me on some alternative social media network." But how? Then it occurred to me that if somebody made a browser plugin for my friends, that would insert my posts on Minds (for example) into their feeds on Facebook, and which would enable them to reply to me, that would go some way to making different social media networks interoperable. This idea got a lot of play on Twitter.

The more I thought about it, the more I decided that the lessons I had learned as part of a blockchain company since September 2017 (Everipedia) were applicable to social media as a whole: the whole social media system needs to be decentralized. What does that mean, exactly, though? There are several ways to think about it:

  • We should own (ultimately control the distribution of) our own data. Nobody should be able to shut us down, just as nobody can shut down our blogs.
  • We should have total control over our own feeds, i.e., our user experience as we use social media apps. This includes the sorting algorithms
  • Social media apps should not be "silos." They should share data; they should be interoperable; if you post on one, your data should be available on all the others (that do not specifically block you or your post).
  • More than just sharing data, the data they use should be entirely independent of the apps that contain them. That means social media apps become, essentially, social media readers analogous to blog/news readers.
  • To continue the analogy, just as blogs and blog readers exchange data via the common (practically universal) RSS standard, so social media readers should exchange data via a common social media standard.

My employer (Everipedia) kindly supported me as I spent some time developing this idea in speeches and a Wired article. In writing the latter article I hit upon the idea of using social media to organize—ironically, sure, why not?—a social media strike, and to write the Declaration. Whoever I talked to about it loved it. It resonated for people with both left politics and right. That's interesting and perhaps unexpected, because it is an idea that ultimate concerns Internet politics itself. It turns out that when it comes to Internet politics, almost everyone is still essentially "liberal": we all want to be free to publish and to be in control of our own experience. (Matters, of course, are different when we consider whether we want other people to be free to publish and to be in control of their experience. But when it comes to our own, we want to be in control.)

That was last March. I had several months to organize something bigger and more formally, by reaching out to a lot of influencers and get them on board as early signatories of a Declaration of Digital Independence, but whenever I started to make cursory movements in that direction, I frankly lost heart. The reason, as I eventually realized, was that the only way I was going to do this is by reaching out to regular people through normal channels, out in the open—you know, real grassroots organizing. Everything else felt (and might actually have been) philosophically inconsistent. So a little over a week before July 4, I got to work.

I cleaned up the various documents and started pushing them out on various channels, but especially on Twitter.

At first it looked like it was all going to be a dud. Then, slowly but surely, different "blue check marks" and then news outlets started showing interest. When the BBC and Fox News' Tucker Carlson took an early interest last Monday (July 1), that really opened the floodgates. Here's a list of coverage a colleague collected:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nK6BHGu9SD4 (Tucker Carlson interview)
  2. https://twitter.com/questCNN/status/1147240877892481031 (CNN interview)
  3. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/05/wikipedia-co-founder-larry-sanger-slams-facebook-twitter-social-media.html (widely distributed and discussed)
  4. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/wikipedia-founder-calls-for-social-media-strike-to-protest-power-of-giants-like-facebook-184501284.html
  5. https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-48825410 (ditto; first major coverage)
  6. https://www.newsweek.com/reddit-technology-social-media-strike-larry-sanger-facebook-twitter-1447549 (ditto)
  7. https://nypost.com/2019/07/02/wikipedia-co-founder-calls-for-social-media-strike-over-privacy-issues (ditto)
  8. https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-06-29/wikipedia-co-founder-unveils-declaration-digital-independence (first coverage by anyone, I believe)
  9. https://thenextweb.com/tech/2019/07/04/reddits-r-technology-goes-dark-as-part-of-socialmediastrike (/r/technology's blackout in support was widely reported)
  10. https://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/web/larry-sanger-wikipedia-mitgruender-ruft-zu-social-media-streik-auf-a-1275236.html
  11. https://www.elpais.com.uy/vida-actual/motivos-cofundador-wikipedia-llama-huelga-redes-sociales.html
  12. https://www.repubblica.it/tecnologia/social-network/2019/07/01/news/wikipedia_lancia_sciopero_social_stop_il_4-5_luglio_per_un_sistema_piu_libero_-230074747
  13. https://thehill.com/homenews/451471-wikipedia-co-founder-wants-two-day-social-media-strike-to-highlight-privacy-issues
  14. https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/07/01/wikipedia_founder_calls_for_social_media_strike
  15. https://observer.com/2019/07/wikipedia-founder-larry-sanger-july-4-social-media-strike
  16. https://www.salon.com/2019/07/03/wikepedia-co-founder-plans-social-media-strike-will-it-work
  17. https://www.marketwatch.com/amp/story/guid/D29FC838-9D0E-11E9-956A-E9AF1A718551
  18. https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2019/july/wikipedia-co-founder-calls-for-social-media-strike-july-4-5
  19. https://siecledigital.fr/2019/07/01/le-cofondateur-de-wikipedia-invite-a-la-greve-des-reseaux-sociaux
  20. https://www.rp.pl/Spoleczenstwo/190709913-Tworca-Wikipedii-wzywa-do-strajku-w-mediach-spolecznosciowych.html
  21. https://fossbytes.com/wikipedia-co-founder-social-media-strike
  22. https://twitter.com/BBCTech/status/1145654230558134274
  23. https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1205730/greve-facebook-twitter-larry-sanger
  24. https://twitter.com/JeanneCBC/status/1145723863210352641
  25. https://twitter.com/GarethM/status/1145712804118351874
  26. https://pawoo.net/@masterq/102365444906120134
  27. https://gizmodo.com/wikipedia-co-founder-picks-a-nice-day-to-log-off-1836017140
  28. https://www.presse-citron.net/quand-le-cofondateur-de-wikipedia-appelle-a-la-greve-des-reseaux-sociaux
  29. https://libertysentinel.org/wikipedia-co-founder-boycott-social-media
  30. https://themerkle.com/can-a-social-media-strike-be-pulled-off-in-2019
  31. https://samnytt.se/social-media-strejk-utropat-den-den-4-och-5-juli
  32. https://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/c7g36c/social_media_strike_proposed_for_july_45_by
  33. http://mugayir.com/wikipedia-ceosundan-sosyal-medya-boykotu-icin-cagri
  34. https://actualidad.rt.com/actualidad/320005-cofundador-wikipedia-convocar-huelga-redes-sociales
  35. https://elpais.com/tecnologia/2019/07/03/actualidad/1562153010_528990.html
  36. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/07/01/demanding-users-fight-data-and-privacy-protections-wikipedia-co-founder-calls
  37. https://www.observalgerie.com/style-de-vie-et-loisirs/hitech/cofondateur-wikipedia-appelle-greve-reseaux-sociaux-4-5-juillet
  38. https://www.reddit.com/r/tech/comments/c7ipl7/social_media_strike_proposed_for_july_45_by
  39. https://twitter.com/thehill/status/1146384654578196481
  40. https://wnd.com/2019/07/wikipedia-co-founder-urges-social-media-strike
  41. https://www.numerama.com/politique/530423-le-cofondateur-de-wikipedia-vous-invite-a-faire-greve-avec-lui-contre-facebook-twitter-et-youtube.html
  42. https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/c8s87d/im_larry_sanger_wikipedia_cofounder_everipedia/
  43. https://www.newsmax.com/newsfront/wikipedia-social-media-data-privacy/2019/07/03/id/923114/
  44. https://www.verdict.co.uk/decentralised-social-media
  45. https://twitter.com/PrisonPlanet/status/1147122675917185024
  46. https://summit.news/2019/07/05/wikipedia-co-founder-slams-zuckerberg-big-tech-for-appalling-internet
  47. https://twitter.com/bitchute/status/1147336649883283456
  48. https://reclaimthenet.org/larry-sanger-twitter-facebook
  49. https://reclaimthenet.org/larry-sanger-declaration-of-digital-independence
  50. https://twitter.com/svbizjournal/status/1147558662950592519
  51. https://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2019/07/05/larry-sanger-wikipedia-social-media-strike-fb-twtr.html
  52. https://www.standard.co.uk/tech/social-media-strike-larry-snager-internet-dark-a4183046.html
  53. https://www.cnet.com/news/reddits-rtechnology-goes-offline-for-july-4-social-media-strike
  54. https://www.curvearro.com/blog/why-social-media-is-ready-to-go-on-strike
  55. https://tribetica.com/can-a-social-media-strike-be-pulled-off-in-2019
  56. https://uk.news.yahoo.com/social-media-strike-why-favourite-083241784.html
  57. https://world.einnews.com/article/489949068/7umkU6G_w9ukLXsk
  58. https://inside.com/campaigns/inside-social-2019-07-05-1568KII3/sections/wikipedia-co-founder-calls-for-social-media-strike-121855

There was probably more. Despite this amount of coverage, I don't think the story ever trended on Twitter or Google News.

That the effort was throttled by Twitter is obvious. Tweets were placed behind "sensitive content" warnings—never with any explanation, but often with high irony—even when I merely shared one of Twitter's own memes with the #SocialMediaStrike hashtag. There also seemed to be games going on with the hashtag itself.

What inroads did the effort make? There were a few notable "blue checkmark" supporters, but on the whole the result was a creature of grassroots efforts and direct reporting on those efforts. No major politician supported it; no A-list conservative or libertarian YouTube star or pundits supported it; no high-ranking lefty, rightly complaining about "surveillance capitalism," joined; none of the leading Silicon Valley darlings, often critical of social media, joined; etc. In short, the Establishment pretty much uniformly took a pass—except, oddly, for the massive amount of news reporting as I said, and despite that reporting.

The lack of Establishment up-take I chalk up to the fact that it was started as a grass-roots effort and thus was beneath their notice; presumably, their support would need to be courted in advance. But as I said, I specifically decided not to court their support in advance. I'm not particularly sorry I didn't, even though clearly it would have been a bigger deal if I had. It would have been bigger, yes, but the rank and file would be wondering much less about the genuineness of the movement. Besides, I'd have to worry about movement politics and personalities. What we've demonstrated is that this movement has legs without any A-list endorsements. And I don't count myself in that group. I'm a B-lister at best. Heck, I've only got 6,000 followers and Twitter gave me my own blue checkmark only a couple months ago. My interest will continue to be that of a disgruntled social media user who also happens to be a casual Internet theorist.

Next steps: some notes

After announcing that they were back from the strike, many people asked what the next steps were. Some suggested we do another, longer strike; I'm not opposed to that. Many suggested that we start new social media networks; I think some of these people really didn't realize that there were plenty under development. Representatives of several alternative social media networks reached out to me, including CEOs of two or three well-known ones. It's all been quite confusing and so you'll have to give me time to get it sorted out, especially since I'd like to be doing other work too, of course. Helping to organize this effort is at best a temporary sideline for me.

First, then, let me make a few observations about future strikes:

  • We still haven't shown the whole world that there is a massive latent demand for decentralized social media and data self-ownership.
  • Simply doing another strike (perhaps a longer one) might be more effective than last week's strike.
  • But a similar strike anytime soon would almost certainly be ignored by the press and many potential participants. It would be better to plan any follow-up strike for some time months from now—even next year on the same days.
  • There doesn't have to be a centrally organized strike. You can declare yourself to be on strike on any social network you like, and maybe repeat the message daily or weekly, and then don't interact except to promote your strike.
  • Here's the thing. If there's going to be another big organized strike, I'm not going to be the one to organize it. I'm a reluctant organizer of this sort of thing, to be honest. As I said, I'm not a specialist or working full-time on this stuff. So someone else, or some other organization, would have to organize it. I might well participate, though, if someone else organizes it.
  • Another proposal I saw is to have regular planned strikes, like once a month. This strikes me as unlikely to make big inroads, but of course it all depends on execution.
  • There's a whole aspect of any such effort toward data ownership, privacy, and decentralization that might need special attention, I think: teaching the ignorant. A common reaction to the strike was, "Wait, why should we care about privacy again?" I explained that before, even why we should be hardcore about privacy, but much more needs to be done on this. Similarly with free speech. So many people, especially younger people, have never learned why free speech is so important.

But there are maybe more important issues aside from any strike:

  • I'm not aware of anything like an industry-wide agreement or commitment to interoperability and to settling on common standards. I'm interested in helping to broker that or to kick it off, although I probably wouldn't want to participate, as that is not my area.
  • I'm not interested in endorsing or joining any social media companies as an adviser. Though I am often asked, I am an adviser to almost no one. Thanks for asking.
  • In my Wired paper, I describe "mass try-outs," i.e., as many people as possible descends en masse on one particular social media alternative, then another one a week later (or whatever), for as long as necessary.
  • Here is a message for alternative social media CEOs: there is strength in numbers. If you fight each other for the giants' table scraps and leftovers, you'll get nowhere. If you join forces to make each other interoperable and to organize mass try-outs, you'll not only get a massive amount of publicity, you'll get a massive amount of new users. A rising tide lifts all boats. Please act on this observation.
  • I'm happy to try to bring you together for these purposes, if you're not already making satisfactory headway, but I don't want to be part of the organization. That's your business, not mine. I have no interest in being an interloper. This is not just because I don't like to be rude, it's because I don't know you or trust your organizations (yet), and I would like to stay independent of the fray.
  • I do have one piece of advice for such an organization: you can't include all alternative social media organizations in the biggest, most serious mass try-outs (I think), like every little Mastodon instance. Some will not make the cut, because they're not big enough.
  • That said, if you (social media companies wanting to organize mass try-outs) want massive grassroots support, the best way to organize which sites to follow is to use some objective and publicly-verifiable metrics of engagement, such as Alexa or Quantcast, number of social media mentions, or something else like that. Another option is to agree on a list of judges, and they democratically determine a list of n networks to do a "mass try-out" on.
  • Of course, the also-rans should also have their (perhaps briefer) day in the sun. But the main event will feature some of the unquestionably leading alternative social media networks and will have more days and more publicity, naturally.
  • That is, as long as they really are provably committed to decentralization, self-ownership of user data, and interoperability. But we would have to determine their bona fides.

So what should we do next?

Proposal: A social contract for social media

Here is a proposal that I would like your feedback on.

I'm thinking of trying to get the CEOs of alternative social media companies—and then, perhaps, the big ones—to agree to a set of principles.

Once agreed and signed, I would be happy to help broker an announcement that a deal, along these lines, had been reached.

And then we could do some "mass try-outs" of at least some signatories, in conjunction with a new social media strike. But I think the first step is to get the alternative networks on board.

What principles? I don't think the Principles of Decentralized Social Networks is specific enough. What we really need to do is to operationalize those very general principles. So, something like this:

  1. We, representatives of social media networks agree to work with each other to adopt, adapt, or create a single, commonly-used, commonly-developed, and mutually satisfactory set of standards and protocols for making our networks interoperable, regardless of what other and underlying technologies we may use.
  2. "Interoperable" networks are those in which, at a minimum, posts that appear on one network can appear on other networks of a similar kind. Thus if one network supports microposts only, then microposts that originate on other networks can appear there. Similarly with longer posts, images, videos, and so forth.
  3. We will make diligent efforts support what might be called personal social media accounts as soon as available, so that there is support for peer-to-peer social media that does not require any networks or instances at all. In other words, these would be user-owned social media accounts, made according to standards that enable a person to post a social media feed entirely independently of any social media network. We will work diligently toward offering full technical support for users to post directly from feeds they directly and individually control onto our networks.
  4. As we become more fully decentralized, we will make user data fully portable. In other words, when a fully decentralized and interoperable network comes online, we will enable users to export their data in a format that allows them to host the "ur-version" of their data elsewhere.
  5. There is no requirement that our networks must carry all types of social media content; we may restrict what we carry by medium. Some networks may focus on microposts, others on blogs, and still others on photos or video. The standards and protocols should cover all uses of all these media, sufficient to specify how they are used by the big social media networks. As distinct new kinds of social media are invented, these too should be specified as well.
  6. It is also to be expected that we will support all features supported by the standards and protocols. For example, while some networks might support a wide variety of "reaction" features, others might have just "like" or "dislike," and some might have none at all.
  7. We, the social media networks that are party to this public pledge, each retain the right to moderate all content that appears on our networks. Neither any central body nor any specially commissioned organization has the right to determine what may and may not appear on our networks. We may be as open, or as restricted, as we wish.
  8. We acknowledge that there are other serious problems associated with decentralized networks—such as, perhaps especially, spam and problems associated with real-world identities. We will work diligently to solve these problems in a way that does not create a potentially corruptible system, or an ideologically-driven system of viewpoint-based censorship.
  9. Whether or not our own projects will support a private messaging service, the standards and protocols we support will include end-to-end, strong encryption for individual private messaging as well as private group chats.
  10. The only requirements for a network to be join this decentralized system are neutral technical protocols; the only requirement for a person to create an account will be purely technical ones. There will be no application or vetting process, any more than there is for the registration of a new domain name, blog, or email provider or address.
  11. The standards and protocols we adopt will be open source, not proprietary.
  12. We will create or place our trust into, and continue to support, an open and democratic organization that manages these standards and protocols. We may and should be expected to object if we notice that biased or corrupt procedures, particularly those operating behind the scenes, are shaping the development of these standards and protocols.
  13. We will particularly resist incursions by governments and giant corporations that attempt to hijack the standards and protocols for purposes of censorship, surveillance, or profit-making opportunities not open equally to all.
  14. We are committed to ease of use—so that people can enjoy the full benefits of owning their own data and participating in a decentralized social media system without installing their own server or doing anything else that requires technical skill beyond that of the plain non-technical person.

Please read that over and let me know what you think.

I propose that social media CEOs negotiate with each other on some such set of principles, then all agree upon them. The benefits of doing so would be tremendous:

First, this should light a fire underneath all and create a mutual, shared understanding about the ultimate goals of the new social media architecture. It would constitute a "Manhattan Project" for redesigning the Internet (or, as one organization has it, "redecentralizing" the Internet).

Second, it should also give users enthusiasm about alternative social media, by giving them some assurance that networks they reward with their participation today will remain true to certain basic principles. This is, as Internet entrepreneurs can surely agree, very important.

Third and finally, this will also give journalists, commentators, and technical professionals commonly-agreed grounds for criticizing the big social media networks. Perhaps they will want to claim to be moving toward decentralization; but if they cannot satisfy the requirements of this agreement, we can deny that they actually are decentralized. If the public shows tremendous support for decentralization in the sense that is agreed to, this will make it ever harder for social media giants to resist moving toward a decentralized future.

I know I haven't come to grips with all the issues involved here, and I know there are real experts who have. So help me to edit (or completely rewrite) the above so that it is something that we should expect social media networks to accept—assuming they really do take decentralization seriously.

The above is a very rough first draft at best. How should these principles read? Please discuss below.


Thanks for striking

Let me express my extreme gratitude to everyone who signed the Declaration of Digital Independence and went on social media strike July 4 and/or 5. I'd also like to thank the many reporters who picked up this story.

I'm cognizant that this attention represented some trust of me, i.e., that I wouldn't hijack this movement for selfish and profit-making ends. I've been a heavy social media user since the late 2000s and I'm basically just a disgruntled customer. Since from my small platform I can help organize people online, I thought it was my duty to try to do so. Let me reiterate that I don't want to start or join an organization or represent any social media company, etc. My interests lie 100% with the users. It is now easy to see the massive latent user demand for decentralized social media, and I want to keep pushing into motion its mass adoption.

Tomorrow or the next day I'll have a couple new posts for you with a more detailed debriefing and suggestions for next steps. If you want to give me (and everyone reading) some advice, please feel free to use the discussion below for that purpose!


#SocialMediaStrike resources

Here I will try to maintain a complete page of links to the main #SocialMediaStrike resources. Includes media to share, below.


Social Media Strike! (larrysanger.org)
Basic info on the social media strike:

On July 4 and 5 (at least one day), people with serious grievances against social media—including you?—will go on strike. You could, but obviously don’t have to, announce that you are one of the signatories of the Declaration of Digital Independence. [more]


Declaration of Digital Independence (larrysanger.org)
Articulates our basic digital rights; explains how the social media giants have systematically violated them; proposes some Principles of Decentralized Social Networks, according to which social networks should be decentralized, with the data being owned by individual users rather than corporations:

Humanity has been contemptuously used by vast digital empires. Thus it is now necessary to replace these empires with decentralized networks of independent individuals, as in the first decades of the Internet. As our participation has been voluntary, no one doubts our right to take this step. But if we are to persuade as many people as possible to join together and make reformed networks possible, we should declare our reasons for wanting to replace the old. [more]


FAQ about the project to decentralize social media (larrysanger.org)
General background info in FAQ format; explains my motives among much else.

What is the Declaration of Digital Independence?

Here it is. It is not meant to be a general bill of digital rights. Rather, it has the very delimited purposes of (1) declaring that we have the digital rights to free speech, privacy, and security, (2) enumerating the ways in which Big Social Media has violated those rights, and (3) articulating some Principles of Decentralized Social Media Networks, which together define the requirements of a better system of social media.


Principles of Decentralized Social Networks (vuild.com)
A clever disappearing copy of just the above-mentioned Principles.

We free individuals should be able to publish our data freely, without having to answer to any corporation. [more]


Proposing a 'Declaration of Digital Independence' (wired.com, March 12, 2019)
Longer background document explaining the essential problem with social media—centralization—and how to achieve decentralization. This is where I first articulated the plan I'm pursuing now (the combination of the Declaration, a strike, and some later-planned mass try-outs of alternative social media networks that are more committed to decentralization).

THIS MESSAGE IS mainly for the leaders and enthusiasts of the broad-based movement toward decentralizing content, but especially social media. I’m not trying to start a new project or organization—after all, decentralization is what I am encouraging. I’m partly trying to start a conversation among individuals, to get them thinking and talking—but on a massive scale. But I’m also trying to inspire people to action, to come together and go the last mile to achieving robust and extremely widespread decentralization. [more]


How to decentralize social media, according to Wikipedia's co-founder (thenextweb.com, Feb. 20, 2019)
The first article I wrote on this idea is relatively short and to the point:

The problem about social media is that it is centralized. Centralization empowers massive corporations and governments to steal our privacy and restrict our speech and autonomy. [more]

Some of the first copies of the Declaration

Vuild.com (just the Principles) - ZeroHedge (complete) - ReclaimTheNet (summarized)

The Declaration is shareable under the CC-by-sa license. I'll make an effort to add your copy/version here if you'll let me know about it.

Media to share

I didn't make these...thanks to the awesome people who did.

Here's a fantastic short video to use on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/SEDart4/status/1146517273617850372

and elsewhere (Google Drive link).

See also this image that you can use for your profile pictures.

Essentials: Declaration of Digital Independence -- Social Media Strike! -- FAQ about the project to decentralize social media -- Resources


Declaration of Digital Independence

Version 1.3 (June 29, 2019; version history)

See also: Social Media Strike! -- FAQ about the project to decentralize social media -- Resources

Humanity has been contemptuously used by vast digital empires. Thus it is now necessary to replace these empires with decentralized networks of independent individuals, as in the first decades of the Internet. As our participation has been voluntary, no one doubts our right to take this step. But if we are to persuade as many people as possible to join together and make reformed networks possible, we should declare our reasons for wanting to replace the old.

We declare that we have unalienable digital rights, rights that define how information that we individually own may or may not be treated by others, and that among these rights are free speech, privacy, and security. Since the proprietary, centralized architecture of the Internet at present has induced most of us to abandon these rights, however reluctantly or cynically, we ought to demand a new system that respects them properly. The difficulty and divisiveness of wholesale reform means that this task is not to be undertaken lightly. For years we have approved of and even celebrated enterprise as it has profited from our communication and labor without compensation to us. But it has become abundantly clear more recently that a callous, secretive, controlling, and exploitative animus guides the centralized networks of the Internet and the corporations behind them.

The long train of abuses we have suffered makes it our right, even our duty, to replace the old networks. To show what train of abuses we have suffered at the hands of these giant corporations, let these facts be submitted to a candid world.


They have practiced in-house moderation in keeping with their executives’ notions of what will maximize profit, rather than allowing moderation to be performed more democratically and by random members of the community.

They have banned, shadow-banned, throttled, and demonetized both users and content based on political considerations, exercising their enormous corporate power to influence elections globally.

They have adopted algorithms for user feeds that highlight the most controversial content, making civic discussion more emotional and irrational and making it possible for foreign powers to exercise an unmerited influence on elections globally.

They have required agreement to terms of service that are impossible for ordinary users to understand, and which are objectionably vague in ways that permit them to legally defend their exploitative practices.

They have marketed private data to advertisers in ways that no one would specifically assent to.

They have failed to provide clear ways to opt out of such marketing schemes.

They have subjected users to such terms and surveillance even when users pay them for products and services.

They have data-mined user content and behavior in sophisticated and disturbing ways, learning sometimes more about their users than their users know about themselves; they have profited from this hidden but personal information.

They have avoided using strong, end-to-end encryption when users have a right to expect total privacy, in order to retain access to user data.

They have amassed stunning quantities of user data while failing to follow sound information security practices, such as encryption; they have inadvertently or deliberately opened that data to both illegal attacks and government surveillance.

They have unfairly blocked accounts, posts, and means of funding on political or religious grounds, preferring the loyalty of some users over others.

They have sometimes been too ready to cooperate with despotic governments that both control information and surveil their people.

They have failed to provide adequate and desirable options that users may use to guide their own experience of their services, preferring to manipulate users for profit.

They have failed to provide users adequate tools for searching their own content, forcing users rather to employ interfaces insultingly inadequate for the purpose.

They have exploited users and volunteers who freely contribute data to their sites, by making such data available to others only via paid application program interfaces and privacy-violating terms of service, failing to make such freely-contributed data free and open source, and disallowing users to anonymize their data and opt out easily.

They have failed to provide adequate tools, and sometimes any tools, to export user data in a common data standard.

They have created artificial silos for their own profit; they have failed to provide means to incorporate similar content, served from elsewhere, as part of their interface, forcing users to stay within their networks and cutting them off from family, friends, and associates who use other networks.

They have profited from the content and activity of users, often without sharing any of these profits with the users.

They have treated users arrogantly as a fungible resource to be exploited and controlled rather than being treated respectfully, as free, independent, and diverse partners.


We have begged and pleaded, complained, and resorted to the law. The executives of the corporations must be familiar with these common complaints; but they acknowledge them publicly only rarely and grudgingly. The ill treatment continues, showing that most of such executives are not fit stewards of the public trust.

The most reliable guarantee of our privacy, security, and free speech is not in the form of any enterprise, organization, or government, but instead in the free agreement among free individuals to use common standards and protocols. The vast power wielded by social networks of the early 21st century, putting our digital rights in serious jeopardy, demonstrates that we must engineer new—but old-fashioned—decentralized networks that make such clearly dangerous concentrations of power impossible.

Therefore, we declare our support of the following principles.


Principles of Decentralized Social Networks

  1. We free individuals should be able to publish our data freely, without having to answer to any corporation.
  2. We declare that we legally own our own data; we possess both legal and moral rights to control our own data.
  3. Posts that appear on social networks should be able to be served, like email and blogs, from many independent services that we individually control, rather than from databases that corporations exclusively control or from any central repository.
  4. Just as no one has the right to eavesdrop on private conversations in homes without extraordinarily good reasons, so also the privacy rights of users must be preserved against criminal, corporate, and governmental monitoring; therefore, for private content, the protocols must support strong, end-to-end encryption and other good privacy practices.
  5. As is the case with the Internet domain name system, lists of available user feeds should be restricted by technical standards and protocols only, never according to user identity or content.
  6. Social media applications should make available data input by the user, at the user’s sole discretion, to be distributed by all other publishers according to common, global standards and protocols, just as are email and blogs, with no publisher being privileged by the network above another. Applications with idiosyncratic standards violate their users’ digital rights.
  7. Accordingly, social media applications should aggregate posts from multiple, independent data sources as determined by the user, and in an order determined by the user’s preferences.
  8. No corporation, or small group of corporations, should control the standards and protocols of decentralized networks, nor should there be a single brand, owner, proprietary software, or Internet location associated with them, as that would constitute centralization.
  9. Users should expect to be able to participate in the new networks, and to enjoy the rights above enumerated, without special technical skills. They should have very easy-to-use control over privacy, both fine- and coarse-grained, with the most private messages encrypted automatically, and using tools for controlling feeds and search results that are easy for non-technical people to use.

We hold that to embrace these principles is to return to the sounder and better practices of the earlier Internet and which were, after all, the foundation for the brilliant rise of the Internet. Anyone who opposes these principles opposes the Internet itself. Thus we pledge to code, design, and participate in newer and better networks that follow these principles, and to eschew the older, controlling, and soon to be outmoded networks.

We, therefore, the undersigned people of the Internet, do solemnly publish and declare that we will do all we can to create decentralized social networks; that as many of us as possible should distribute, discuss, and sign their names to this document; that we endorse the preceding statement of principles of decentralization; that we will judge social media companies by these principles; that we will demonstrate our solidarity to the cause by abandoning abusive networks if necessary; and that we, both users and developers, will advance the cause of a more decentralized Internet.


Please sign if you agree!

You can also sign on Change.org.

 

Signings

0

Goal

0

https://widget.civist.cloud/?api_url=https%3A%2F%2Fapi.civist.cloud%2Ft%2F9caa1a6e-1152-4277-b5b4-2bd8cbb855e2%2F#/RW1iZWRkaW5nOmY0OTVkZjBiLTUxMjgtNDk0Mi1hM2UyLThlOTM2MjAyODg4MA==

I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing...

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, Paris, January 30, 1787. Jefferson was the author of the original Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776.

Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's residence)
Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's residence)
(c) 2019 Larry Sanger


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Social Media Strike!

Short URL for this page: tiny.cc/july45

See also: Declaration of Digital Independence -- FAQ about the project to decentralize social media -- Resources

On July 4 and 5 (at least one day), people with serious grievances against social media—including you?—will go on strike. You could, but obviously don't have to, announce that you are one of the signatories of the Declaration of Digital Independence.

This means we will not use social media on those days, except to post notices that we are on strike. We’re going to make a lot of noise. Nobody will be able to ignore what’s happening. We’re going to flex our collective muscles and demand that giant, manipulative corporations give us back control over our data, privacy, and user experience.

Who: You. The more, the merrier! We’re urging you to go on strike with us. (“We” means nothing more than “all the rest of us who have serious grievances about social media—privacy, free speech, or something else.”)

What: A
collective pause in our use of social media, except to post notices
and memes that:

  1. Declare that we are on strike. Use hashtag #SocialMediaStrike.
  2. (Optional.) Point to a copy of the Declaration of Digital Independence (preferably, your own; see “How” below). Invite others to sign the Declaration.
  3. Urge others to join the strike. Ask your friends, family, and followers to sign and strike.

Hashtag:
#SocialMediaStrike

When:
July 4 and 5. At least one
day. Striking on both days
is likely to be more effective.

Why:
We, the strikers, urge the global developer community to perfect a
new system of decentralized
social media.
This
strike, if
successful,
will raise show
the world—Big Tech corporations, governments, developers, and
social media users—that there is a massive demand for a system in
which

  • Each
    of us individually owns our own data. Each of us individually
    controls it, just as we have control over our email, text messages,
    and blogs. It can be totally private, courtesy
    end-to-end encryption, or totally public; the choice is up to us.
  • Social
    media services stop acting as silos but become interoperable. If we
    make a post on one service, it can appear on another service.
  • Instead,
    social media services compete to create the best user
    experiences
    for a common pool of data.
  • Social
    media services agree
    upon and use a common, universal set of standards and protocols.
    This is how social media should have been developed from the
    beginning, rather than walled off in separate, competing networks.

In
this way, social media would
works the way websites, email, text messages, and blog hosting and
readers work: as neutral service providers.

What
we hope will happen:

  • Your
    followers will start seeing strike notices in their feeds on July 4.
  • Probably,
    most will
    ignore the
    first messages.
    But more and more notices will be appear. Strikers will start
    calling out scabs for posting when they should be striking.
  • With
    luck, by
    sometime on July 4, feeds will be absolutely flooded with strike
    notices.
  • When
    that happens, the
    news media at all levels will have to report on it.
  • Similarly,
    Big
    Social Media will have to issue statements responding to the
    Declaration and to any
    public
    criticisms from many quarters.
  • By
    the end, everyone will have learned how much support there is for
    decentralizing social media, taking the control out of the hands of
    Big Social Media, and returning ownership, control, and privacy to
    the ordinary user.

How:
It
should be fairly simple:

  1. Optional, for those signing the Declaration:
    1. Make your own copy of the Declaration: If you have time, energy, and ability, make your own copy of the Declaration. (It’s Creative Commons so this is 100% OK.) I would love for there to be a million copies of this document floating around. If you agree with everything except a few points, fine: make your own edits to your copy. Note: If you do make your own edits, please list them in a Proposed Changes section. If you copy somebody else’s text, clearly link to the version you’re copying.
    2. Sign the declaration. Please at least sign mine. But sign lots of copies (assuming you agree with their changes); I will.
    3. Encourage others to do the same.
  2. Set up a posting bot, if available. Hopefully, a programmer or several will create bots (browser plugins or apps) you can quickly and easily set up to post notices of the strike, links, memes, etc., for you on the appointed dates. Note: I’m not responsible for anything anyone else creates. Please check out any such service’s privacy policies before using it.
  3. Actually go on strike. Don’t post anything on your Big Social Media accounts on July 4 and/or 5 (preferably both days), except posts of the sort described under “What” above.
  4. Feel free to explore alternatives on those days. Those two days would be excellent days to check out the alternative social media sites of your choice, ones that are committed to privacy, security, and free speech; please give your full attention to sites/apps that support the Declaration.

What coders can
do to help:

Here
are some ideas:

  1. Write
    a strike bot. This would be a browser plugin or app that posts for
    users every hour (say) according to their specifications.
  2. Organize
    and participate in a conversation (I won’t be organizing it
    myself) to get all social media apps using the same standards.
    Critique code, in particular on APIs and implementations of existing
    standards. Help place geek pressure on social networks to adopt
    common standards.
  3. Help
    out with open source social media projects. Lots of them can use
    your help. We need to make them better
    than the Big Social Media offerings. Working together, FOSS
    developers can do it!

What
bloggers/webmasters of all sorts can do to help:

  1. Host your own copy of the
    Declaration.

  2. More
    generally, set up your own websites devoted to the Strike and
    decentralized social media. Host links to resources. Host memes
    and images people can share during the strike on social media.

I
want this effort to be entirely decentralized. I don’t want it to
be centered on larrysanger.org, which
I’m using just because it’s my own site and I don’t want to set
up a new one.
I want it to be decentralized—centerless.
So please, start something similar on your own blog.

More questions? Read the FAQ.

For a deep dive, see the list of resources.


FAQ about the project to decentralize social media

See also: Declaration of Digital Independence -- Social Media Strike! -- FAQ about the project to decentralize social media -- Resources

General questions

What is the Declaration of Digital Independence?

Here it is. It is not meant to be a general bill of digital rights. Rather, it has the very delimited purposes of (1) declaring that we have the digital rights to free speech, privacy, and security, (2) enumerating the ways in which Big Social Media has violated those rights, and (3) articulating some Principles of Decentralized Social Media Networks, which together define the requirements of a better system of social media.

Can you summarize the latter principles?

I'll try. Essentially, social media should be decentralized. Our data should be owned and served by ourselves, just as we own and host our own blogs: it's BYOD, or "Bring Your Own Data." Social media services like Facebook, Twitter, and their smaller alternatives and successors should aggregate the data from many different places, just as blog readers aggregate blogs. In short, they should be fully interoperable not just with each other but with their many smaller competitors.

If you do happen to stick with Facebook or Twitter, your data should be able to be exported to and synced with an independent data repository they don't control. This would take the pressure off of conservative and libertarian calls to regulate the Social Media Giants: they could still censor whomever they like, but unlike at present, your followers would be able to find the unexpurgated versions of your feeds elsewhere, and you'd be able to follow them without joining censorious networks. If you wanted to use a freer social media reader that is plugged into a broader, more neutral, all-encompassing social network, you'd be able to do so.

In addition, social media readers would, to be competitive, have to give users much more control over their feeds and what they're capable of seeing (and what is hidden from them).

Where can I read more about the idea in general?

Aside from the Declaration itself, see this long Wired article I wrote and a blog post (which appeared on TNW) that sort of kicked off this effort.

Is this a new idea?

No, it isn't. People have been discussing how to "decentralize social media" (as I put it) since the 2000s and have proposed social media standards. Another term for it it is distributed social network, although my take might be a little different from older ideas.

What are your goals? What are you trying to achieve?

Ultimately, all I personally am trying to do is to help usher in a new system of decentralized social media and, in general, a newly decentralized Internet. I'm basically a dissatisfied customer. I don't have any project I'm pushing. In my day job I'm working on an encyclopedia project.

In the short run, however, I have much more delimited goals:

  1. Get many signatures on the Declaration of Digital Independence. I want it to go massively viral. I want millions of signatures. I want everyone to become aware of decentralized social media as an option.
  2. Make the social media strike on July 4-5 a roaring success. Create a massive media event that forces the social media giants, as well as the commentariat, to start discussing this seriously. Nothing would do that better than flexing our collective muscle.
  3. Divert traffic to social media alternatives, especially ones that are committed to decentralized social media rather than building yet more silos. They need all the help they can get, and I want to see what they're like at scale.

My medium-term goal is to get all the social media players into one room, at least metaphorically speaking, under tremendous public pressure to adopt common, open, and fair standards so that the various networks become fully interoperable (and thus open to broader competition from smaller players).

What is the biggest problem standing in the way of decentralizing social media?

It's actually a problem that is at once technical and social: we must get all the players on the same page, not just using some open standards or other, but the same standards. You can't have blog readers without all those blogs publishing feeds using the RSS standard (another, lesser-known but common blog standard is Atom).

What reason is there to think that Twitter, for example, would choose to support a more decentralized system? Seems crazy!

Well, that's what I thought too, until I asked Jack Dorsey point-blank:

(1) Once the standards for microposts are properly settled on, will you, Jack, enable Twitter users to incorporate Twitter-style microposts that are hosted elsewhere inline in their Twitter feeds?

Jack answered:

Yes. If we want to serve the public conversation (our purpose) we need to be more expansive than just what’s on Twitter. There’s real work here of course.

I also asked:

(2) Will you create tools to let people export and sync their tweets with microposts from outside of Twitter? [Jack prompted me to clarify "sync" some more.] Since people might want to post using different services but to the same personal micropost feed, a syncing process would have to occur to avoid forking/conflicts. An important part of the request here is that the exporting is done not just via Twitter's API (already in place) but via a standard, like an RSS feed, or even perhaps to a separate data storage (e.g., maybe I'd prefer to serve my own data from my personal cloud).

Jack answered:

I don’t see why not. ... [And in response to the "syncing" clarification.] Ah yes. I can see that.

Finally, I asked:

(3) And will you give users a lot more control over their feeds?

Jack replied:

Yes. We took a tiny step with the switch at the top of the timeline. Realize it’s small. But points to direction.

Much to my surprise, Jack then reached out and we discussed some details of Twitter's plans, which (without giving anything away) sounded excellent to me. He liked my Wired article; the description he used over the phone was "spot-on." So we'll see.

Even Mark Zuckerberg, whom I don't trust as far as I could kick him, paid lip service to neutral technical protocols and touts encryption which he finds "decentralizing," even while he backs away from firm commitment to end-to-end encryption. Because we need to protect your safety, of course. He also pays lip service to "data portability." So who knows?

About me (and my nonexistent organizational motives)

Who are you?

I'm Larry Sanger, currently CIO of Everipedia, the blockchain encyclopedia startup, and in 2001 I co-founded Wikipedia. It was my idea to apply wiki tech to the problem of creating an encyclopedia. I named the project and led it and its predecessor for a couple of years. It wouldn't exist if I hadn't have shown the world how to use wikis to write encyclopedias. I have a Ph.D. in philosophy from Ohio State (2000) and have spent most of my career after academia starting or advising a variety of other reference and educational websites. I write and speak on a wide variety of themes about the Internet, philosophy, technology, education, etc. I've been steadily online since about 1992 or 93, although I first accessed the Internet via a dialup modem in the early 80s.

Are you trying to start a movement?

No. I am trying to call attention to one that already exists.

But you want to start decentralized social media networks, right? Or what is your angle, or your goal?

I don't want to start a new social media network. (I am not interested in quitting my job. I'm CIO of an encyclopedia network.) I'm also not affiliated with any social media company or project. I'm not angling to be. Finally, I'm not a member of organizations devoted to decentralizing social media; apart from my recent efforts, I don't think I'm particularly well-known to the people who are in such organizations. I'm also not angling to infiltrate or take them over.

But I'm a fan of what they're doing. I want them to be more successful so I can start using their excellent hard work more actively.

I'm deeply upset with Big Social Media, and that is ultimately why I posted the "Declaration of Digital Independence." I'm just a dissatisfied customer with a blog and a modest following.

A few months ago on this blog, I stumbled upon a common and obvious idea, i.e., that we should decentralize social media. I ran with that in a couple speeches and a Wired article, and here I am, executing something like the plan I set out there.

What sort of organization are you starting here?

I'm not starting an organization at all. I have no committee or inner circle (this bit is contrary to plan; I'll explain why I changed this strategy in a bit). It's just me. And you. I want this to be really grass-roots. And if it doesn't take off, too bad—I don't really want to join anything more formal.

Organizations devoted quite explicitly to social media decentralization, data self-ownership, and related causes already exist. I lack the time and energy to work within those organizations. Those who are more professionally and exclusively committed to the cause should seek out those organizations and join them.

Why not work within (or start) an organization?

I find organizations to be limiting. I want to drive forward not an organization but a pre-existing movement. The movement, after all, is to decentralize social media. That means there's no center. Or if there is one kinda-sorta, I'm not that interested in being part of it. I'm a cat who wants to be a cat herder.

But aren't you organizing people who support your effort?

Not really; I don't want that role. I don't have "an effort" beyond cheerleading for something we all seem to want. I have a day job. I hereby disavow any role as the leader of any organization. I just want lots of people to republish the Declaration, or if they don't like it, come up with their own. I just want to persuade developers and investors and nonprofits and yes, maybe even governments if they can not try to take things over, to usher in a new age of decentralized social media. I want to do whatever I can individually to start a grassroots movement to get coders working on, and to get users switching to, any networks that respect the "Principles of Decentralized Social Networks."

Maybe you don't want to call it an organization, but isn't there a lot going on behind the scenes here?

No, not really, not as of this writing, there isn't much that I haven't shared quite openly. I'm not pulling strings anywhere, and nobody is pulling my strings. What you see is what you get. That's how I like best to operate.

So-and-so claims to be part of your organization or to speak on behalf of the Declaration. Is that right?

No it isn't. I don't have an organization, therefore nobody is part of my organization.


Version history for "Declaration of Digital Independence"

1.3 (2019-06-29) Added CC-by-sa license (thought I had done this earlier but apparently not).

1.2 (2019-06-29) Added a quote from Thomas Jefferson, author of the original Declaration, and a picture of his Monticello.

1.12 (2019-06-26) Bolded the words "We, therefore, the undersigned people of the Internet".

1.11 (2019-06-25) In the preamble, to "centralized architecture of the Internet", add "at present"; also, changed "exploitative spirit" to "exploitative animus".

1.1 (2019-06-25) In the catalog of outrages, changed "privacy, security, and free speech" to "free speech, privacy, and security". Moved "They have practiced in-house moderation..." to the first place. Added in the second place this new point: "They have banned, shadow-banned, throttled, and demonetized both users and content based on political considerations, exercising their enormous corporate power to influence elections globally." Added in the third place this new point: "They have adopted algorithms for user feeds that highlight the most controversial content, making civic discussion more emotional and irrational and making it possible for foreign powers to exercise an unmerited influence on elections globally."

1.02 (2019-06-10) At the end of the preamble, expand "But it has become abundantly clear more recently that a callous, secretive, controlling, and exploitative spirit guides the centralized networks of the Internet" by appending "and the corporations behind them." This is to clarify the meaning of "they" in the catalog of outrages. This is also why in the next paragraph we add, to "To show what train of abuses we have suffered", the clause "at the hands of these giant corporations".

1.01 (2019-06-09) In "Principles of Decentralized Social Networks" 4, append to "Just as no one has the right to eavesdrop on private conversations in homes" the clause "without extraordinarily good reasons".

1.0 (2019-06-09) First posted version.


Some thoughts on the new Voice.com project

This evening we finally learned what the #B1June hype was all about: among other things, a new social media system called Voice.com, built by Block.one, the company behind the outrageously well-performing EOS token. (Full disclosure: Everipedia, where I am CIO, is built on EOS and is the recipient of a major investment from Block.one.)

The site isn't operational yet, and I couldn't find an app in Apple's App Store, but you can sign up for the beta on Voice.com and view a very interesting-sounding rundown of features.

In their introduction to the project this evening at a very glitzy gala event at the D.C. Armory in Washington, D.C., CEO Brendan Blumer and CTO Dan Larimer said that there were huge problems with existing social media giants. The small changes Big Social Media is likely to make won't solve the root problem: you are the product. As long as the social media giants make their business the collection and sale of data about you, you will lack control over your data and your user experience.

They also find a serious problem in fake accounts. Certainly I wonder how many accounts upvoting my posts on Twitter correspond to at least one person, and some responses one sees there sound mindless and robotic enough to have come from bots.

The fact that Block.one has got that much right makes me optimistic about what will be eventually released.

The coming features they advertise:

  • Voices.com will confirm that every user is a real person. I pressed Block.one engineers for information on how this would work, but they remained mum.
  • The Voice network features a new token, the Voice token (I think it's officially rendered as $VOICE). The only way to create the token is when others upvote your content. There will be no ICO or airdrop. And you can't purchase Voice tokens. That's kind of neat. No word on whether you can cash in your Voice in dollars or EOS somehow. A fair bit is rather vague at this point, to be honest.
  • If you have a message you want to get out, you can spend Voice tokens that you have legitimately earned to boost it, even to the top of a queue (not sure which queue). If others agree that your post is important and upvote it, you can get your Voice back and then some. That's kind of neat.

To my mind, there are as many questions raised as answered here. Anyway, I had two thoughts I wanted to pass on to Block.one and to the Internet void.

First, getting "one person, one account" correct and operational is very important and very hard, and I'll be watching closely to see if they've done it. As I explain in a requirements paper I'm at work on, there are at least four requirements of such a system:

  1. That a person with some essential uniquely identifying information (such as, perhaps, a name, a birthplace, and an email address) actually exists.
  2. That the person thus uniquely identified is actually the owner of a certain account on the network (and thus bears that name, has that birthplace, and owns that email address).
  3. That the person is not in control of some other account. (This is particularly difficult, but it is required if it is one person, one account.)
  4. That the person remains in control (and has not passed on or lost control of the account).

This, or something like it, I want to propose as the gold standard of online identity. I take an interest in this because we need to verify that Everipedia accounts are "one person, one vote" (OPOV) accounts for purposes of voting on encyclopedia articles.

Let's see how many of these requirements the new EOS identity protocol can satisfy.

Second, since Everipedia is built on EOS, I very much hope Voice.com ends up being fully decentralized. The first requirement of a fully decentralized system is to use open, common standards and protocols needed to publish, share, and give all users control over their own social media experience, regardless of which app they use. But I heard nothing about open, common social media standards this evening, and while the Block.one engineers I spoke to this evening did say they were considering adopting some such standards, it didn't sound like that would be part of the upcoming launch. I could be surprised, of course.

Another requirement is that posts from outside of the network should be readable (if a user so desires) inside Voice.com feeds. Otherwise, each social media ecosystem is its own silo—and not decentralized. I'm not sure if Voice.com is working on this.

Actually letting users export their Voice.com data very easily (i.e., with RSS-like feeds) so that their friends outside of the new social network can view their posts on other networks is another crucial requirement the new project will have to tackle, if they want me 100% on board.

Finally, lots of fine-grained control over how the user's feed works will all by itself go a long way to convincing me that a company is serious about letting users take back control. No word yet on whether this is in the works for Voice.com, although I did see a nod in that direction.

I would encourage Block.one to consider adding these features so that I can get behind them in the upcoming push for a Declaration of Digital Independence (about a month away), accompanied by a social media boycott and, eventually, mass alternative social media try-outs.

One last thing. I would like to know whether Voice.com will have an end-to-end encrypted messaging system. This isn't easy for anyone to build, but if you want to go head-to-head with the big boys and demonstrate commitment to privacy, it's a very good idea. Maybe Sense Chat can help, since they're moving to EOS. I am thinking more about the importance of this, being already very convinced of the importance of privacy; in fact, I'm increasingly hardcore about it. (I'll be very curious to read Voice.com's new privacy and community policies. Minds.com just updated theirs, y'know.)

But Block.one does seem to be on board; after all, they gave every attendee a hardware security key, something I was going to buy soon anyway. Thanks, guys!


Talk back: Why should we have more restrictions on "harmful" speech on social media?

Dear all,

This is a different sort of blog post.

Rather than me writing yet another essay to you, I want to open the floor to you. I want you to answer something for me. It's like the subreddit "Change My View."

This is aimed specifically at my liberal and progressive friends who are very upset at the social media giants for letting things get so out of hand. See how much of the following applies to you:

You have become increasingly aware of how awful the harassment of women and minorities by the far right has become. You are really, sincerely worried that they have elected Trump, who isn't just a crass clown (many people agree with that) but basically a proto-fascist. You are convinced that Trump must have gotten elected because of the growing popularity of right-wing extremists. They engage in hate speech. Not only is this why Trump was elected, it's why people are constantly at each other's throats today, and why there has been domestic terrorism and mass murder by the right. Therefore, all mature, intelligent observers seem to agree that we need to rein in online hate speech and harmful speech.

I've heard all of this a lot, because I've sought it out in an attempt to understand it—because it freaks me out. Here's the thing: I think it's mostly bullshit. Yes, people (of all political stripes) have gotten nastier, maybe. I didn't vote for Trump and I dislike him. But beyond that, I think the entire line above isn't just annoyingly wrong, it's downright scary. This is largely because I have always greatly valued free speech and this above-summarized mindset has put free speech (and hence other basic liberal democratic/small-r republican values) at risk.

But I'm not going to elaborate my view further now; I mention it only to explain why I want your view first. I'll save an elaboration of my view in a response to you. What I hope you'll do, if you agree with the bold bit above, is to explain your sincere, considered position. Do your best to persuade me. Then, sometime in the next week or two, I'll do my best to persuade you, incorporating all the main points in your replies (assuming I get enough replies).

So please answer: Why should we more aggressively prevent harmful or hate speech, or ban people who engage in such speech, on social media? The "why" is the thing I'm interested in. Don't answer the question, please, if you don't agree with the premise of the question.

Here are some sub-questions you might cover:

  1. Did you used to care more about free speech? What has changed your mind about the relative importance of it?
  2. Do you agree with the claim, "Hate speech is not free speech"? Why?
  3. Exactly where did my "Free Speech Credo" go wrong?
  4. If all you want to say is that "free speech" only restricts government action, and that you don't think corporate actions can constitute censorship, but please also explain any thoughts you have about why it is so important
  5. If you're American and you want Uncle Sam to restrict hate speech, why do you think the law can and should be changed now, after allowing it for so many years? (Surely you don't think Americans are more racist than they were 50 years ago.)
  6. Does it bother you that "hate speech" is very vague and that its application seems to have grown over the years?
  7. If hate speech on the big social media sites bothers you enough to want to get rid of it, what's your stance toward blogs and forums where racists (or people who want to call racists) congregate?
  8. Where should it end, generally speaking? Would you want the National Review banned? Don't just say, "Don't be ridiculous." If that's ridiculous, then where do you draw the line between, for example, banning Paul Joseph Watson from Facebook and using government power to take down a conservative opinion journal?
  9. By the way, do you think it's possible for conservatives and libertarians to be decent people? Honest? Intelligent? Do you think they are all racists? Do you think that articulating all or many conservative or libertarian positions is essentially racist or harmful speech?

Basically, if enough people answer these questions (one or all), I think that'll give me an idea of how your mind actually works as you think this stuff through. This will enable me to craft the most interesting response to you. I want to understand your actual views fully—i.e., not (necessarily) some academic theory, but your real, on-the-ground, down-to-earth views that results in your political stance.