Some people spend their time fighting with the big social media platforms. They think it’s important to move as many people as possible from the mainstream platforms to the smaller, more independent and more moral ones.
I don’t see the point of this fight. People do not want to move platforms, people do not care about platforms. People care about feeling part of something, people care about community. And they’re not going to move from WhatsApp to Signal, they’re not going to move from Twitter to Mastodon as long as their community is there. We’d have to move whole communities, and I’m not sure that’s feasible.
But the real question remains unanswered.
Is this the battle we want to fight? Is there any point in fighting with big tech if other people, the majority of people, don’t want to fight with us? Should we fight in their name, for their benefit, when they won’t recognise our efforts and – what’s worse – they will be angry if we succeed?
This fight seems already lost.
We can educate, however. We can and should speak out loudly about the sins of big tech and never allow anyone to silence us. There is a subtle difference between pushing people to change, fighting for a case, and simply being coherent and open about our doubts and their flaws and accepting that we have already lost.
Because we have already lost. We lost the moment we allowed big techs to dictate the terms of their existence, we lost the moment we decided that convenience was more important than privacy and freedom, and we lost the moment we silently accepted everything moving to closed platforms.
It’s been a slow process, it’s taken years, but we’ve seen it and we’ve done nothing. Now the battle is lost, and yet I believe we cannot retreat. But I’m an idealist and a dreamer and I love fighting for the lost cause.
But I am also a realist. I know, I can see, I see it every day, that people would rather use broadcast-like social media than make the effort to talk to each other. That’s the way the world works at the moment. It doesn’t matter whether I’m watching real people in the offline world or online people in the virtual world, it doesn’t really matter because the phenomenon I’m seeing is the same.
People prefer to stand in the middle of the crowd and speak or even shout their point of view rather than take their time and have a slow and steady discussion. People prefer to have listeners rather than friends, and I don’t think you can change that. Social media wasn’t created in a void, it fits into our natural characteristics like the desire to be the centre of attention and the desire to have power over others.
It’s not a generalisation, power degrades everyone over time. And yet everyone wants power. Everyone except a few enlightened individuals who are supposed to lead and who reject the idea of leading. But this column isn’t about the leadership crisis, it’s about the lost battle for human souls.
No matter how much we miss the good old days of the non-commercial internet, open forums or free communication, it’s not coming back because the alternative is too convenient for most people. And then there is the biggest factor that influences people’s decision-making process. Habit. Have you ever tried to break a habit? I have. The cost of doing so is so great that the motivation to do so must be even greater. No, I don’t think it’s possible to convince people to give up social media and move to smaller, more private, safer and more ethical solutions.
But I do think it’s important to keep trying, because it’s our moral obligation. I repeat what I wrote at the beginning: I see no point in this fight. But not everything has to make sense. Some things are simply our moral duty, whether they make sense or not, whether they can succeed or not.
This is what distinguishes us from those who would enslave us – we can act on the values we believe in.