I’m taking my leave of algorithm-based social media. And I do not plan to return.
The reason I say algorithm-based is because of how obvious it has become that my attention is to a worrying extent controlled by proprietary code. The code is not predictable and it is designed to steal and hold attention. It steals this attention by exploiting user-created content, using it to elicit strong wayward emotions, as well as the illusion of significance and approval by numbers.
The way algorithm-based social media works also means that humans time and time again try to game that elusive algorithm. To be seen. To market. To be validated.
Despite not understanding it fully, words, images, films and other techniques are designed to maximise visibility. Because follower counts do not in any way guarantee an audience. To the detriment of accessibility, photos and links are often ”strategically” designed to maximise views rather than to make them easy to find, understand and activate.
And this is all by design. As Kara Swisher likes to phrase it: "Enragement equals engagement."
New behaviors becoming normalised
Boundaries for what is okay to do to be seen are constantly being pushed. In desperate attempts to make their own content more prominent, people send private messages asking and urging others to like and share. Companies and organisations, in bold examples of power abuse, ask of employees to boost operations-related social media content in their private spaces.
To add injury to pain this all happens while users themselves give away their own content to commercial companies to do with as they wish in their attention-stealing endeavours. And the complexity of the algorithms is now often so elaborate that few humans even working at these private companies can predict how data is collected, used and impacting the lives of the users and wider society.
When you take a step back and look at the playing field of an algorithm-controlled society and how it influences people, the view is absurd. It’s not inclusive, it’s not equitable and it’s not in any way attentive to human wellbeing.
The opposite of my goals
In fact, many of these things are opposite to what I want to work for. They are contrarian to my values. As I am privileged enough to be able to do so, I am removing my endorsement of the status quo by stepping away. But it would also be an act of privilege to stay and ignore the problems.
Of course I'm aware of the irony. I myself have often used these platforms to boost my own voice, to be seen and create a recognisable brand. I can only express regret that I have participated in this way. My participation has itself endorsed and fed the growth of the giants.
But while I am moving forward I am also returning to something that already existed. I was in the early 2000s very much involved in what was a more open form of learning and growing together, exemplified by the blogosphere. In writing, sharing, pingbacks (precursor to Webmention) and a multitide of different sharing platforms grew unique communities curious to learn from one another.
My presence on the web will continue in these "old" ways of the web. Through open technologies, through RSS feeds, through the Fediverse and the W3C ActivityPub standard. It's not perfect. But it's independent and gives immense power back to the people who participate. In my case it's truly also bringing an overwhelming sense of relief.
I started down one path almost fifteen years ago and and it took me a bit too long to recognise how I was misled, as platforms grew into inevitable surveillance and influence machines. But now I am course-correcting and finding my way back towards a path I believe in.
Am I worried? Perhaps somewhat. They say this presence on big tech platforms is required if you're a small business owner. I don't really think it is anymore.
Am I sad? Mostly about the amazing people whose thoughts and ideas and wisdoms I will likely miss out on. But I'm also seeing myself enjoying this idea of consuming chronological content from select sources in my feed reader and on Mastodon. Content and people I've been missing out on for a long time. All attention in one direction means something else receives less. I'm looking forward to better controlling who and what gets mine.
If you're willing to reward me with your attention, you can still consume my content here on my blogs and through the newsletter. I'm also available on e-mail. You may know of email. It's like direct messaging, but you can send a message to anyone whatever e-mail platform they're using ;)
My content is much more open and available than it would be on a private platform behind a login. But ironically, the way the web works today, this can make it harder to find.
If you choose to not follow my content there are of course no hard feelings from me. Just the sincerest of respect for doing what makes you feel better. Only you can know what that is.
Take care. Truly. There are some profiteers out there working hard to take advantage of your devoted participation, produced content and personal data. You will receive no judgment from me whatever path works for you right now. We are all in different situations and contexts and I have no way of knowing the full extent of yours. In the end, the judgment I listened to was my own.
P.S. Yes, I'm aware there are a few things left to rid myself of. It will all be set in motion. :)
P.S. 2 Yes, as some people have noticed, the accounts are still there. I'm somewhat of a believer in permalinks and not deleting content that other people are using and linking to. The accounts will continue to exist (for now) but I've blocked myself from logging in so I will not be able to respond to mentions. Hopefully my profile page helps people understand.
Links for people who want to try something different
- Good Reports - alternative tools/sites
- Switching Software - alternative tools/sites
- Grow Your Own Services
- IndieWebify Me
- Clean Up The Web
- Elementary OS
- Purism - security focused products and services
- Small tech is...
- A Brief Mastodon Guide for Social Media Worriers
- Five reasons why I deleted my Facebook account