Social Media Solutions
Because of some concerns about existing social media services explained below, I’ve setup the following alternatives that I find are more effective:
- Blog. On my website, I share photos, videos, articles, and personal updates. Unlike Facebook, I can link to these stories, and anyone can search my blog to find specific content. For smaller bits of news, I use Twitter.
- Email. Using email is my preferred method of communications. Unlike text messaging or Facebook messenger, email makes it easy to search and find previous exchanges. Multiple email threads of discussion can be reviewed and organized. Groups of people can be brought into a discussion, making email similar to forums.
- Groups. Yahoo Groups and Google Groups offer the ability to have public and private groups. These are nice if you want to have an open and inviting public discussion of various topics.
- News. Rather than following news stories on social media, which can be from untrustworthy sources, I subscribe on YouTube directly to Al Jazeera, CBC, BBC, PBS, Vice Media, and other providers. This way I get mostly in-depth first-hand reporting on news stories. I can watch full unedited speeches rather than reading selective sound bites.
- Reader. WordPress.com offers a reader service that lets people follow recent posts for this and other websites. It’s similar to the “Home” news feed on Facebook.
- Text Messages. As an alternative to Facebook Messenger, I use text messaging. Text messaging works well to get a quick message to someone that requires a timely response. For other communications I prefer email for the reasons mentioned above.
- Twitter. I find Twitter to be the most effective and least invasive way to offer people small bits of news. When I write an article, I typically announce it on Twitter. I can also post smaller comments that don’t require a full article.
- YouTube. Rather than sharing videos on Facebook, I post videos to YouTube. These are more likely to be discovered and have better controls.
I don’t plan to abruptly disconnect from Facebook and other social media. Instead, I’ll be giving preference to the above options, and using existing popular social media as a platform to encouraging the above systems.
Social Media Benefits
Here are some of the benefits that social media can offer which should be offered by any future alternatives:
- Accountability. The use of an anonymous online persona was romanticized in the movie You’ve Got Mail. Not being identifiable or accountable online sometimes results in people behaving in rude, insulting, abusive, or inflammatory ways. With services like Facebook, the rules of use are such that people are supposed to use their real names and identities. This hopefully results in more civilized online behavior.
- Ease of Entry. Because the platforms are free of charge and easy to use, just about anyone can join and participate.
- Media Sharing. In the past services like Flikr or Picasa let people easily share photos on the Internet, but they were limited in other ways. Social media platforms have better integration of tools for sharing audio, videos, and photos.
- Transparency. In the past, the culture of chat rooms and forums resulted in people typically communicating in private and using a pseudonym — like closed door meetings with everyone wearing masks. The nature of most social media systems is that people use their real identities and have conversations in public. This usually results in greater transparency, civility, and accountability. Although sometimes people use the public forum as a place to insult others.
Social Media Concerns
Most social media service providers are enhanced by tracking your browsing history and uploading all your contacts to their servers. This helps the providers learn more about you and your contacts to connect you with your friends and stories or advertising of interest to you. This applies to services like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, and others.
In addition to the invasiveness required for basic operational improvements, companies like Facebook have been careless with user data, and are also in the business of selling user data to the highest bidder. Such data can be used for political campaigning, hacking, personal attacks, or identity theft.
Services like Nextdoor require that users prove their identity by providing SSN, Bday, and other information as well as answering certain (somewhat spooky) identity questions like identifying previous addresses or employers from a list. These are presumably pulled from credit bureau reports. If such services were hacked into, it would be a very significant data breach.
What Makes Facebook Unique?
Services like Twitter simply ask for a name and email address, which can be an alias or anonymous persona if you wish. By contrast, Facebook acquires information about our previous employers, educational institutions, family members, interests, organizational affiliations, friends, personal messaging communications, and more information. At one time, users were asked to provide copies of their photo IDs to prove their identity. That information was presumably retained on Facebook servers. This makes Facebook uniquely dangerous if it were to be hacked.
Anonymity, Safety, and Free Speech
Online services like Facebook and LinkedIn requires that users use their real name and photo and provide all information to truthfully represent who they are. This can have benefits in making people more civilized and accountable, but it can also present safety and free speech issues. Some people feel they need anonymity to voice their true opinions and avoid retaliation. The lack of anonymity, and the sharing of personal information online, can endanger people’s physical safety or risk loss or damage to personal property. A person posting online anonymously can talk about their plans to be on vacation for three weeks without worrying that someone might break into their home while they are away.
- Anonymity encourages free, honest speech. That speech may offend us or we may approve of it, but either way the point is that we find out how people *really* feel.
- Forcing the use of true identity can lead to stilted, insincere posts/comments. On forums the require true identity, people frequently post what they think others — particularly the moderators and/or owner(s) want to hear. They often post/write what they think will put them in the best light, not how they truly feel. The result is the equivalent of polite but useless cocktail party chatter.
- As abhorrent as racism and xenophobia are, when people are allowed to post anonymously we get a better sense of how much of a problem a community has. If everyone is forced to use their real name, very few racists and xenophobes will express their true feelings. It would then be easy to get the sense that the community is some sort of Shangri-La when in reality there might be serious issues.
- Without anonymity there would be very few whistle-blowers, and a lot more harm would be done to people and the environment.
- Another concern with posting photos, whereabouts, and personal data is that there are instances where women and children get stalked or pursued by predators. So anonymity can be a protective measure.
Below are some reference materials for those interested in learning more.
- “Cambridge Analytica Could Also Access Private Facebook Messages,” Wired, Issie Lapowsky, 10 April 2018. Excerpt: “Users had to agree to give apps access to their inboxes, but that request for highly personal information would be bundled up with a list of other more benign data points, including birthdays or profile pictures. It’s possible some users approved this access, never knowing how much of themselves they were giving up, not just to Cambridge Analytica, but to every app that requested these permissions until 2015.”
- “Do social media threaten democracy?,” Economist, 4 Nov 2017. Excerpt: “The social-media companies should adjust their sites to make clearer if a post comes from a friend or a trusted source. They could accompany the sharing of posts with reminders of the harm from misinformation. Bots are often used to amplify political messages. Twitter could disallow the worst—or mark them as such. Most powerfully, they could adapt their algorithms to put clickbait lower down the feed. Because these changes cut against a business-model designed to monopolise attention, they may well have to be imposed by law or by a regulator.”
- “Facebook investigating more security vulnerabilities with third-party logins,” Digital Trends, Hillary Grigonis, 19 Apr 2018 at 9:51 AM.
- “Privacy concerns with social networking services,” Wikipedia.
- “Privacy Risk with Social Media,” Huffington Post, Sam Cohen, 17 Nov 2017.
- “No boundaries for Facebook data: third-party trackers abuse Facebook Login,” Freedom to Tinker, Steven Englehardt, 18 Apr 2018. Excerpt: “Facebook Login and other social login systems simplify the account creation process for users by decreasing the number of passwords to remember. But social login brings risks: Cambridge Analytica was found misusing user data collected by a Facebook quiz app which used the Login with Facebook feature. We’ve uncovered an additional risk: when a user grants a website access to their social media profile, they are not only trusting that website, but also third parties embedded on that site.”
- “The Guardian view on Facebook’s business: a danger to democracy?” The Guardian, 17 Apr 2018 at 1:33 PM EDT. Excerpt: “Facebook sees itself as a commercial firm, not a social institution, and behaves accordingly. It makes money based on the depth and scale of its users’ data. That is why no one should be surprised that a former executive from the controversial data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica claimed in parliament that it had used harvested data from a much greater number of people than the 87 million users previously thought. If data is the new oil, then Facebook has one of the biggest reservoirs of black gold. Cambridge Analytica, it might be argued, tapped a rich well of information. Yet the scale of the data that was extracted without anyone noticing exposed as hollow the idea that users could control what was done with their personal details.”
- “We’re Keeping Track of All of Facebook’s Scandals So You Don’t Have To,” Fortune, Aric Jenkins, 6 Apr 2018.
- “Why Are We Just Finding Out Now That All Two Billion Facebook Users May Have Been Harvested?,” Forbes, Kalev Leetaru, 5 Apr 2018.
Note: Thanks to Sherman J. for offering materials used for the section above under the heading “Anonymity, Safety, and Free Speech.”