Centralised vs. Decentralised Social Media


In our time and age, that is the year 2019, a large majority of people that have access to the internet also have an account on one or more of the most diffused social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the first place.
According to the statistics, at the end of December 2018 there were 2.32 billion monthly active users (MAU) on Facebook, 1 billion MAU on Instagram and 326 million MAU on Twitter.
This situation, which is rather new in human's history, rises a lot of old problems, some of which are making it to the news' headlines while some others are more subliminal but exist nonetheless.

Private data harvesting

The recent (and frequent) data scandals that involve Facebook can't be easily ignored. They say "data is the new oil" not by coincidence, the collection of personal data is the way which the big Silicon Valley companies are able to make their big profits (by reselling your personal data to whomever might need them for advertising or surveillance purposes).

Moderating millions of users

Another news that made it to the headlines more than once is the nazis/white supremacies accounts moderation problem on Twitter.
Apparently there's really no way to moderate all the content generated by millions of users under a single centralised service. There are too many side effects if a company like Twitter tries to apply some moderation rules to its huge bulk of users. And so, some quite controversial groups are free to express some rather harmful ideas alongside a lot of other people that consistently don't agree with these ideas or are even harmed by them. A lot of minorities on Twitter have had a really hard time using the service and they have just been forced to leave it completely in the face of constant harassment, discrimination and overall violence towards them.

Personal filter bubble

Another side effect of centralised social media is that a large part of these people experience the internet only through these services, and therefore most of their perception of the web (and its representation of reality) tends to be limited and deformed by it. Also the algorithms used to personalise your experience with the services are a major cause of this perception bias; in other words, trying to stick to your habits and taste as much as possible they end up wrapping you in a plastic bubble made of the redundant things you always look for and therefore already know.

New and old solutions

As I've mentioned before these aren't really new challenges. The first is the centralisation of resources and power in the hands of a few individuals and/or institutions. The second are the issues of governing and moderating big crowds of people. The personal filter bubble is somewhat an inherent issue to these new technologies and therefore new itself.

As these issues seem to be timeless, some solutions have already been tried in the past. One that relates well to the modern social media situation is the constitution of federations. In a sense we could define a federated system as a way to have people below the same umbrella of creeds, traditions and beliefs but dealing, at the same time, with different flavours of these creeds, traditions and beliefs. Avoiding so lots of conflicts and giving the chance to this "countries" of being governed in a more democratic way, so that the basic human rights can be maintained and reinforce
In this sense a federation is a decentralisation of power to make governing easier and to keep intact the specific traits of a certain group of people. In the Fediverse there is no "owner". There's no business model, no market rules to respect and fulfill, no share holders to keep happy. And therefore no data harvesting and no advertising in any form, no algorithms to determine your likes, dislike and create a profile of you to be sold.

Rockers vs. Nightclubbers

Let's say you like music. Specifically you like rock music. More specifically you like some kind of rock music that is best appreciated when listened in a live contest. Let's say you are in a centralised type of society where you can like music, but then you are forced to both listen to your favourite band in a club and also to go dancing some techno beats in another club. You like music, you gotta have both, that's how it works, sorry!

Instead in a decentralised system you are not forced to hang out with those fancy pants disco people, but you can stay with your black leather dressed friends and enjoy your life and still accept the existence of different cultures because you are not both forced to like one another.

Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are centralised places where you might have some tools to avoid dealing with people you don't fit well with, but still you are forced to share the same space. The Fediverse (which stands for "federated universe") instead is a federation of many places with different flavours and opinions that are still all interconnected but they are not forced in doing so. And they all have a unique flavour and different points of view. Of course, you can still hang out at the dance club if at some point you feel like it.

I ain't no miracle worker

Of course there are no magic solutions to this kind of issues. And the decentralised services on the internet come with their new sets of problems and challenges. But, at least to me, and to an increasing number of people that everyday are becoming more aware of the importance of online privacy and the overall influence of technology in our lives, the Fediverse sounds like a really sane alternative that bears hope for a more civilised future on the web and in our everyday "real" life.

Photo by Ludovic Toinel on Unsplash.

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