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Wikipedia cofounder urges people to go on strike from social media

02 Jul 2019
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Wikipedia cofounder Larry Sanger is encouraging every internet user to go on strike from social media on July 4 and 5.

The strike is to send a message to corporations that it’s not okay to steal control of users’ data. Or in Sanger’s words, “We’re going to flex our collective muscles and demand that giant, manipulative corporations give us back control over our data, privacy, and user experience.”

Sanger and his fellow strikers are also encouraging developers to work on a new decentralised social media system, in which social media services follow the same rules, share the same information, focus on the best user experiences, and most importantly, let every user individually own their data.

“In this way, social media would work the way websites, email, text messages, and blog hosting and readers work: as neutral service providers,” says Sanger.

The strike centres around the Declaration of Digital Independence, which includes nine principles relating to decentralised social networks.

According to Sanger, those principles are:

  • We free individuals should be able to publish our data freely, without having to answer to any corporation.
  • We declare that we legally own our own data; we possess both legal and moral rights to control our own data.
  • Posts that appear on social networks should be able to be served, like email and blogs, from many independent services that we individually control, rather than from databases that corporations exclusively control or from any central repository.
  • Just as no one has the right to eavesdrop on private conversations in homes without extraordinarily good reasons, so also the privacy rights of users must be preserved against criminal, corporate, and governmental monitoring; therefore, for private content, the protocols must support strong, end-to-end encryption and other good privacy practices.
  • As is the case with the Internet domain name system, lists of available user feeds should be restricted by technical standards and protocols only, never according to user identity or content.
  • Social media applications should make available data input by the user, at the user’s sole discretion, to be distributed by all other publishers according to common, global standards and protocols, just as are email and blogs, with no publisher being privileged by the network above another. Applications with idiosyncratic standards violate their users’ digital rights.
  • Accordingly, social media applications should aggregate posts from multiple, independent data sources as determined by the user, and in an order determined by the user’s preferences.
  • No corporation, or small group of corporations, should control the standards and protocols of decentralised networks, nor should there be a single brand, owner, proprietary software, or Internet location associated with them, as that would constitute centralisation.
  • Users should expect to be able to participate in the new networks, and to enjoy the rights above enumerated, without special technical skills. They should have very easy-to-use control over privacy, both fine- and coarse-grained, with the most private messages encrypted automatically, and using tools for controlling feeds and search results that are easy for non-technical people to use.

Sanger hopes that people will promote the strike to the point where social media is flooded with strike notices, thereby showing that there is support for decentralising social media.

Of course, Sanger encourages people to go on strike (i.e. actually do it, not just pretend) on July 4 and 5. 

“Those two days would be excellent days to check out the alternative social media sites of your choice, ones that are committed to privacy, security, and free speech,” he says.

He suggests that developers could write strike bots to help people post their strike notices. Developers should also converse about ways of getting social media apps to use the same standards; and they should participate in open source social media projects.

Here’s more on what Sanger and the idea of decentralised social media is aiming for:

  • Each of us individually owns our own data. Each of us individually controls it, just as we have control over our email, text messages, and blogs. It can be totally private, courtesy end-to-end encryption, or totally public; the choice is up to us.
  • Social media services stop acting as silos but become interoperable. If we make a post on one service, it can appear on another service.
  • Instead, social media services compete to create the best user experiences for a common pool of data.
  • Social media services agree upon and use a common, universal set of standards and protocols. This is how social media should have been developed from the beginning, rather than walled off in separate, competing networks.