Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Note on Free Speech and Social Media


In addition to returning to FirstNerve, I’ve been re-evaluating my participation in social media. I’m a big believer in free speech and in freedom from being tracked and monetized by tech monopolies and their billionaire owners. So I’ve made a few changes in my life.

First off, I shut down my @scienceofscent and @scentofweed Twitter accounts. I will not be part of a platform where Jack Dorsey and his minions can arbitrarily shut down people, organizations, and viewpoints that they dislike. 

My disenchantment with Twitter had been growing for years. That’s why in August 2016 joined GAB as @Avery. Although I found a few people to follow, it wasn’t easy to get much traction there in the early days. Few of the big-name bloggers and pundits had joined, and those who had didn’t post much. This has changed dramatically in the past few months. There is a steady stream of big-name refugees from twitter and a ton of new subscribers. GAB has increased its server capacity big time and the user experience and speed are now excellent. I encourage you to join. 

Of course, I also had an account at Parler before it was thrown off the internet by Amazon Web Services. (“If you don’t like Twitter, go make your own version.” OK, they did. “If we won’t host you on our servers, go make your own.” OK, they’re trying to do that.) 

What about the journalists, pundits, and commentators I used to follow on Twitter? Simple: I subscribe to their email notifications directly or I sign up to follow them on Substack. Substack is an interesting model—it’s a free blogging platform that also allows you to monetize some or all of your content. In other words, you can offer some content for free and reserve other content for subscribers who pay a monthly subscription to get it. This might be a way to restore the independent blogging voices that were so great in the early years of this century. Stay tuned. 

I’ve also grown weary of Google. (Yes, I know it owns Blogger and therefore enables FirstNerve.) Over the past year or so the results returned by its search engine have become . . . less useful. The first page or two of results are from a limited group of news providers and websites. Image searches are biased to stock photo companies. (Do they pay for placement?) This is not the freewheeling Google search of old—it feels rigged. Plus, Google tracks and monetizes the search histories of everyone who uses the service. Who wants that? My solution is to use DuckDuckGo for searches: it works well and it doesn’t track you.  

Then there’s the matter of Gmail. I’ve had a “throw away” account there for years. That means Google bots finger through my correspondence looking for trends the company can monetize (never mind sorting my mail into categories whether I want it to or not). When the auto dealership reminds me it’s time for an oil change, Google knows my identity, the dealer’s identity, and the make and model of my car. The hell with that. I’ve now switched all those threads to my privately hosted email. 

Google also owns YouTube where it has been behaving badly—demonetizing and banning people, organizations, and views that it would rather not hear from. The good news is that there is now an alternative: It is clean, easy to use, and easy to monetize (if that’s your thing). I’m signed up as AveryGilbert, and am already seeing the service being populated by journalists and videographers with large following. Have a look and join in! 

Then there’s the other distasteful Silicon Valley tech oligarchy—Apple. The Messages on my iPhone are encrypted only went sent to other iPhone users; those exchanged with non-iPhones (the texts in the green bubbles) are not. So for peace of mind I’ve signed up with Signal, a service that provides end-to-end encryption of all your texts, voice calls, and video chats. It’s super-intuitive and fast. What’s not to like? Go get it. 

Bottom line: I sense a coming re-alignment in social media. The dominance of today’s tech oligarchy is beginning to slip. They could become tomorrow’s dinosaurs. It’s happened before (MySpace, anyone?). And high-tech is all about being “disruptive”, is it not?

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