Protecting our voice by building a Distributed Social Networking future
We live in an era where social networking is providing a new avenue for inter-human connectivity. It is becoming our material extension of our collective consciousness; a layer on-top of the Internet itself which provides a real voice to people, by the people and; in many ways, bypasses the traditional media.
When we witness the ability of countries like Egypt to overthrow its rulers in 2011 with the use of Twitter and Facebook alone, we can see just how powerful this voice is for the people to have.
However, at the moment the very tools we use to spread our voices, are also congregated in single systems. We use facebook to talk with our friends, twitter to follow common threads, and you tube to share our videos. It reminds me the days of when Napster was king.
If you were on the net in 2000, and you had any musical-internet know-how, you would have known Napster [link: wikipedia]. Napster was the be-all-end-all place where you could log in, search for music, and download it. Literally everyone used it, and thus it became the mass-library for any and all kinds of music that there was. The saying at the time was "if it ain't on Napster, it probably doesn't exist!". There was a mass-potential with the system, consolidated, centralized, it was in effect the worlds library for music.
But it was free, and this was a problem, because according to the corporations and music industry, blatantly illegal. What happened next is predictable, they shut the system down, and everyone who was used to finding music in seconds, from any genre they could imagine... scattered. To many it seemed like the end of something new that would never return.
But what happened instead was innovative, people came back to share music together, some tried to set up smaller versions of Napster, but among the evolutionary ideas a new concept emerged: Distributed peer-to-peer networks.
The real revolution was the removal of a centralized system, now everyone was the server and everyone was the user... if the government stops one person 100,000 others are still left to share their music uninterrupted. Like a swarm of ants, you just can't step on them all. And some would say thus, for better or for worse, the era of inherently uncontrolled file sharing was born. Like a virus that you just have to accept, people through their own numbers, ensure the survival of the sharing network.
I firmly believe that the same will, and must happen with our social networking systems. We currently are heavily reliant on single-systems for our needs, but this will only last until it is clear that these single-point systems either fail us, because they are shut down and limited, or are clearly censoring our voices as much as the media services did before them.
You might think this may never happen to us in the west. "It's only in dictatorship countries like Egypt!" surely... but really, is this true? If the media is so strongly bent on painting the Occupy Wallstreet movement as confusing, fringe and disorganized, what is to make us think that the websites that we run our commentaries on are not also trying to work against social-movements too? And while we might say that at the moment the censorship is minor, I think that the very fact that there are attacks being made on perception itself are critical. If the censorship is being done subtlety it is very hard to know to what extent your voice, and the messages you are giving, are being manipulated.
Rather than cut-out all of the media coverage and turn off Facebook, the USA has instead decided to use value-smearing, fringe-painting and left-right rhetoric as its tools to deconstruct the opposition.
Here is just one example: Occupy Wall Street - Chris Hedges shuts down CBC Kevin O'Leary
And various cartoon representations that have been traveling the net:
If the media "conveniently" modifies its messages to uphold the status-quot, what is to make us think that large entities like Google, Facebook, Youtube, Yahoo and Twitter might not, at a certain point, also do the same? Maybe they already are but we just can't tell?
And on You tube:
These are all examples of potentially dramatic problems with freedom of speach. But remember that no single company on the web that provides you a service is bound by any freedom of speach laws. They provide you a service, just like a grocery store, and if they don't want you to use it, they have all their rights to kick you off or delete your content. The only reason they don't do it, it because you "assume" that they should give you freedom of speach, and because they don't want to be percieved negatively, but in reality, there are no laws that prevent them from just shutting anything down. Or, potentially even more dangerously: slightly filtering your content, so that certain information appears lower and less frequently than others.
Some of you may be aware of filter-bubbles [link: beware filter bubbles, TED talks],
but for those of you who are not, they are a powerful means by which subtle censorship can take place. It is easy to protest against China when they remove postings about Tibet, or against Egypt when they just turn off the Internet. But is it easy to protest against Libya when they turn down the Internet speed rather than turn it off? And how do you protest if Google starts putting "controversial" results on the 2nd page of their results instead of the first? It becomes very hard to tell if it is intentional censorship or just selection algorithms.
Faced with the growing need for the Internet to be protected against power being collected into the hands of the few who control the channels we use, I believe the time will come, hopefully sooner than later, for the birth of a distributed-social-networking system.
In the not-so-far future, my personal computer will be the one that stores status updates, videos, interesting links and commentaries, and we together will all collectively share little pieces of each others data to ensure that all of our data, collectively, is redundant. If people share and like videos, they get copied like torrents over the net, and people who want to archive important elements for the future can chose to retain those items and seed them for others in the future, just like some people do today with important documentary films and historical music.
I would say thus, that this post is a call to action. A call to the collective consciousness of mankind who might hear this call. Someone needs to start working on a distributed social networking tool. We need to start working on it today so that tomorrow, when we really need it, it will already be ready for us to use. Maybe that someone is you?
No more advertising, no more big brother watching over our data and deciding how and what we can see in our filter-bubbles, instead we will all become self-empowered to view, filter and select what it is we wish to share with the world. How can we truly know that Facebook [or any other website] is coded with moral ethics? And even if it has that code today, what is to say that that code will not change again tomorrow?
A self empowered true democratic system where the power of "the one" is ensured so that collectively we can be the voice of the uncensored many.
This day will come, it is my prediction. And sooner than you may think. Our governments are aware of the power of the Internet, it is your voice; and you should be aware of it too. Let's make sure we still have one in the future.