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    • This opinion piece in New York Times touches on many salient points of possible future outcomes for social media (and has some unexpectedly good commentators such as John Scalzi). I invite you to read it and perhaps discuss here on Cake, as a kind of meta op-ed of sorts :)

    • I can’t agree more with the opening line from the article…

      “Social media is broken. It has poisoned the way we communicate with each other and undermined the democratic process.”

      Although, I would add the web and even communication technology as a whole are broken. I even have to wonder how many times media technology (even from the days of the Gutenberg press) has undermined the democratic process. But this article is a great lens to take on the difficult question of where can we go from here because from this point forward all of media technology will be connected in some way or another so the overarching question is what are we to do about the connection? Social seems to be the canary in the coal mine so it is a great place to center this conversation around. (There are actually quite a few canaries these days)

      What is at the center of all of this then? The following quotes from the article says it all to me…..

      “The problem, as most people know by now, is that tech companies want to grab a ton of private data from their customers without telling anyone why they need it. And this, Ms. Hall says, is bad design for users. It leaves them vulnerable to abuses like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, or to hacks where their data is exposed.”

      “Outrage and deception capture our attention, and attention sells ads. “At a business model level, they are ad networks parasitic on human connection.”

      So how we communicate as an evolved species has turned into a business model to monetize the interests of the participants. This has become more and more apparent since the days of Web 2.0, has it not? With over half of the world’s population connected to the internet there are a lot of legs left on this beast if it is allowed to continue to maintain its course.

      What is the solution then? There are a few offered in the article.

      I wholeheartedly agree with the following sentiment…

      “Mr. Scalzi thinks we should turn the whole system on its head with “an intense emphasis on the value of curation.” It would be up to you to curate what you want to see. “

      I remember when the word curation was all the buzz back in the blogging heyday then social came along and started to do the heavy lifting for us. But I do have a problem with the notion of replacing AI with human curators and "slowing" down the exchange as posited in the article as I believe the cat is too far out of the bag for this to become a reality. Instead, I believe we should focus on decentralized AI outside the control of the providers within a decentralized connection. Decentralization is not a panacea but putting the controls of user experiences back in the hands of the users is a baseline to build more resonant experiences off of in my humble opinion.

      All in all, the only silos of significance should be our own where we allow or invite others into based on OUR interests. Ads could run in our silos but only on our terms and value could be exchanged. We could have app layers interact with our silos allowing us to mash up events with contacts with data with comments with passages from media, etc. And AI could help us tune these experiences to help us discover what serves us the best. Maybe this sounds fanciful but there are technologists working on this.

      Yes social media and the web is broken and WE need to fix it as the amount of untapped potential in the connection is what real progress could be made of. Curious to hear the thoughts of others on this.

    • In the past, ham radio operators required a license, they still do, everywhere in the world, to transmit and establish usually one on one conversations. But of course no restrictions are imposed on listening, under usual conditions.

      Before internet, the only ways comparable as distribution speed were mass broadcasts available over air waves, always one way communication, from a curated source who managed the radio or TV stations.

      By contrast, today any individual with a phone is encouraged to spam the entire world, from 'platforms' who are avid of receiving every brain fart in the universe and most of it is for monetizing it.

      The network technology, back bone of internet works quite well for it's intended purpose and is amazing at the level it has scaled which perhaps was not ever anticipated. But when it comes to social media, just like on any roads where the automobiles need to obey traffic rules and signals, so would a similar law system need to exist in place to regulate what data can be transmitted for masses, and more importantly by whom. Sure there would be some claiming this to be restricted freedom of speech, and am not really sure if it would or not apply. The problem today is internet 'roads' are all paved and ready for high speeds, and far reaching across this planet, and everyone has a Ferrari in their pocket, yet rules are not only almost non existent or unenforceable when it comes to content broadcasting, the wolfs are the only ones herding the sheep because it's their farm. LOL.

    • That’s what I took away too. Annalee Newitz is a respected journalist — she’s written for every pub that matters and she’s involved in good debates like this one. My problem is, like everyone, she can point out how social media is broken, but she’s very vague on how to fix it.

    • ...she can point out how social media is broken, but she’s very vague on how to fix it.


      I’m afraid the only way to “fix social media” is to change human nature. 🥴 Good luck with that...

    • very vague on how to fix it.

      Ain't we all? :)

      I don't know how to fix things at planetary level either, and I am a bit self-congratulatory on the fact that I am not afraid to say it out loud, instead of pretending to have both the silver bullet and the snake oil to lubricate it.

      The systems and concepts we are discussing here are way too complex for there even to be a way to "fix" them. Discussing them, though, as widely as rigorously as possible, is a good thing and many smaller fixes and ideas leading to fixes of parts of those systems can only come out of such discussions.

      I agree with mostly everything @paulduplantis has written above, with the caveat that he is naturally focusing on things that interest him most. My personal take is a bit more philosophical, in terms that I see and recognise multiple problems in the subject matter, or should I say multiple layers of problems, and I am not sure our society is currently equipped with adequate ways of looking at these layers to begin trying to effectively solve them.

      Let's take the basic statement of that article - that "social media" is broken. It's easy to agree with. However, what is this "social media" we are talking about? It's not an objective atomic entity that exists by itself. I posit that it is not broken. It's a tool, that has multiple design problems, multiple problems with its users not understanding the tool and its usage and safety protocols, multiple problems with its manufacturers not being very good vendors. It is also a business product, too. I could agree with the thesis of privacy-forfeiting, ad-based business model being bad for society, all day long. But in the end, a service is not free neither to produce nor to operate. Vendor must get money from somewhere to at least break even, and if it's a business endeavour, to make at least some profit somehow, Hanlon's razor tells us that it is highly unlikely that there was an actual evil intent to subjugate the human race in the creation of the ad-driven business models. It is there because the googles and facebooks needed to make money, and this way worked (and yes it was later hijacked by various governments and other bad actors for nefarious purposes, cf. what is going on in China).

      Humanity-wise, there is nothing new here at all. Technology outpaces societal development - check. Technological solutions have unintended or overlooked ethical side effects - check. Bad actors leverage technology to their own ends - check (with the sad consequence of bad governance then trying to ham-fistedly ban things causing harm only to law-abiding actors because bad actors don't play by the rules anyway)

      Solutions? I don't have them. I know some directions, where if we move that way, we can maybe get improvements.

      We need better humans - meaning, education. All the time, for everyone. Explain, enlighten, repeat. Make every effort to expose lies, support healthy discourse and discussion, teach fact-checking and scientific method(s), ridicule fear-mongering and quack science. The problem with this is that a) we don't make anywhere close to enough effort on this, on the macro scale and b) humans are much more resistant to change and effort required to get educated than to easy pleasures offered by flawed business models. Again, nothing new here at all, we can read all about it in the Plato and Socrates, and the whole education thing is and will be a Sisyphean task. Which needs to be done anyway, lest we get crushed by the stone.

      We need more and better social systems (not necessarily socialist, and this is another important distinction, because the latter is being used to scare people from the former). It's quite a tipping point on many many issues, from healthcare to the digital realm. If we can agree that digital connectivity is crucial for the development of our society (as e.g. they have done in Finland, if I am not mistaken), then we can work with our governance systems to ensure this is societally recognised and funded, thus limiting the pressure on vendors to procure funding from commercial customers.

      Same applies for developing new technological approaches and solutions. Pioneering work on Solid and other old and new ways of better working with our data is fundamental research. It is being funded by marginal efforts and leveraged power of celebrity status of people like Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Perhaps it should be funded more by our social constructs? Governments? World science organisations. And it has happened before, even if in an ironic way - there wouldn't be any Internet if DoD didn't fund ARPA. Yes, it was military money. But it was also government money, not a product of a commercial business model. (Discussion about whether a government is just an instance of a business model as well is valid but outside of scope of this thread, I believe)

      Let's take an example - there was a pretty interesting project called Diaspora, which aimed to displace Facebook with something much better in terms of privacy and distributedness. But it has ultimately failed, not in the least because it has failed to get money to develop and got eclipsed by the advances and conveniences of Facebook which did get money, yes, from a flawed business model.

      Finally, a thing that gives me hope is that there is always this leading edge of underground cultures and countercultures that always find a way to seep through the cracks, to use and abuse new technologies in unforeseen ways, to cut these private, invisible to larger public (at least for a time) spaces where new things bloom and develop, both bad and good ones. That's where the growth comes from.

    • A side note, but did you notice the way article unfolds? Cool. I just want to point out the fact that NYT is killing it when it comes to web programming. They really push the medium of online publication forward.

    • Yes, today's "we hate social media" trope reminds me of the "kill your TV" cry decades ago. Now we are glued to TV and knocking the Internet. Perspective is everything and process is necessary for discovery and discarding.

      Social media itself isn't so horrible and it really hasn't been around that long. I remember how awesome it was to connect with like-minded strangers using early IRC. Now we have beautiful platforms like Cake (thanks to you!)

      That we ushered in Big Brother with such open arms makes me shake my head. I am fierce about privacy and sad we have given up so much because of a relatively small amount of bad actors. Worse than sharing every meal and cute pet tricks on social media are the devices people bring into their homes with live cameras, video monitors on practically every street, and apps we use to record every purchase. I think in many ways with technology, we've lost more than we've gained. Still, I have high confidence that if homo sapiens figured out a way to form meaningful communities that thrived in the first place, we'll continue to improve on that basic instinct.

      Two takeaways from the article that have promise for me were:

      - Your online profiles would begin with everything and everyone blocked by default.

      - People who aren’t willing to meet up in person, no matter how persuasive their online personas, simply won’t be trusted.

    • Am I wrong in thinking that all social media in the Western world was started by young white male programmers in the Silicon Valley who were mostly libertarian? It sounds awful to say it that way and I don't mean to imply they are evil, just that it must have been hard for them to imagine how their software would play into the Arab Spring, ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, or the rise of state actors seeking to seed discord among us.

      I know, Reddit and Facebook technically started in Boston, but they got traction in Silicon Valley. One exception is Reid Hoffman, who started LinkedIn. He was a history major with more experience under his belt before starting.

      Another interesting partial exception is YouTube, which has been run by Susan Wojcicki since 2014. She too was a history major. Since taking the helm, I think she's done a good job reigning in the darker elements, which has to be pretty insane considering they get 400 hours of content a minute from all over the world.

      Personally, I think YouTube is one of the greatest inventions of the modern age and it is the largest social network. Sure, it's not perfect, but what is?

    • I have to say Youtube is the strongest of the bunch when it comes to content when I know I am interested in a subject. But I do think their AI for monetization and discovery playing to the lowest common denominator is troublesome but I have found amazing content too many times to count. The most vanilla out of the bunch is LinkedIn to me. Microsoft just sanitized it. Of course I haven't been a recruiter for 7 years so I don't have the same type of utility out of the usage but as a tool I am receiving more spam requests than spam phone calls these days.

    • I do get where you are coming from but Tim Berners Lee is a bit more than just a celebrity in my estimation. Granted his baby, that indeed did come from government money, went off course but there is a substantial amount of work going into the Solid Framework which was born from his work at MIT and Inrupt which is a commercial venture. He is also the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which is a non-profit organization where they are working to build new standards for the web which will help it become more open and private at the same time.

      But certainly there are concerns. Mozilla has not signed off on the Contract for the Web proposed by Tim Berners Lee as they want to wait to see how the A level tech companies who are signatories of the contract will be held accountable for what they say vs. what they do. To my understanding Inrupt will not own the Solid Pods that will be built. The code will be open for developers to build and lease to users. I think they are going to make their money off the app community.

      I do agree though as we move through this long arc of the next phase of the web, we should find ways to take the wholesale ownership out of the hands of the corporations. Maybe the government should be more involved but which one? We are already moving toward different countries looking to setup their own web. Of course we won't have all the answers but if we don't continue to ask all the questions I am fearful where it will all go. Weaponized AI is not longer just stuff of fantasy.

    • Another interesting partial exception is YouTube, which has been run by Susan Wojcicki since 2014. She too was a history major. Since taking the helm, I think she's done a good job reigning in the darker elements, which has to be pretty insane considering they get 400 hours of content a minute from all over the world.

      Personally, I think YouTube is one of the greatest inventions of the modern age and it is the largest social network. Sure, it's not perfect, but what is?

      I wonder if YouTube can really be considered a social network? It definitely is social media (as in "users can create content and share it with others"), but the underlying social graph that is created by the relatively clear distinction of who is a content "creator" and who is a "consumer" is, in my opinion, too degenerate to group the product with others that focus much more on the network aspect.

      For example, just yesterday I learned that YouTube recently got rid of its direct messaging functionality:

      So, perhaps YouTube is as great as it is because it does not force all of its users into behaving the same?

    • I do get where you are coming from but Tim Berners Lee is a bit more than just a celebrity in my estimation

      Just to clarify, celebrity status mention was there not to in any way to disparage his contribution, but rather to illustrate the skewed effort, where the promotion and fundraising efforts for a very valid cause is very much powered by (it's an overstatement, but still) a single individual, instead of a much wider societal support.

    • I guess I should be more specific on my critique of Youtube. But to be fair this is a greater problem across the web so maybe I should not be so harsh on the lowest common denominator comment. On Youtube use the keywords Joe Rogan Elon Musk and see what populates the top results. Mainly the reference to Elon smoking a joint. I watched the entire episode and found so many interesting subjects covered yet this is what trends. This is playing to our lowest common denominator but it seems to be baked in to search in general. I get it - popularity is easier to monetize than depth. Just unfortunate that is all.

      Wouldn't it be interesting if since Youtube allows the linking within sections of video, if users were able to like their favorite spots within the video. Then as opposed to displaying all of Joe Rogans podcasts as the recommended videos after watching the initial video, sections voted by the users were presented to encourage deeper dives into the content. Maybe this could be set as an optional view. I think we would be surprised to find a varied interests of the users. Just dreaming!!!

    • I thought this was a Monty Python production until I saw the smartphones and the yellow hair covering the Earth.

      I demand the real thing 👇. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

    • My son forwarded this article to me (A Socialist Plan to Fix the Internet) which I feel is an interesting take on some of the comments made by @mbravo on this subject. Especially in his observation on the term "Socialist" and the perceptions thereof. But I believe what is covered here does cut to some of the core concerns brought up in his commentary. I have been thinking quite a bit about his statements on the current fandom and capital attached to the quest for decentralizing the web and do see his point. In this article there are a number of ideas shared on the role of public ownership and cooperative ownership that speak to foundational ideas of how the user could be put back in control of social media and the web in general. So at the very least - interesting points to chew on. Maybe if the article was called "A Social Program to Fix the Internet" it would be more accessible by a larger set of readers but these are problems way beyond the scope of semantics in my estimation.

    • Some interesting ideas there, for sure. But I'm having trouble imagining how would you go about getting from here to there. Especially bearing mind that internet companies have global reach, so regulating them is an incredibly thorny problem, involving many jurisdictions with often very different outlooks on freedom, ownership and state influence. Could we be headed into the future with a bunch of separate 'internets'?

    • these are problems way beyond the scope of semantics in my estimation.


      I have two large problems reading and comprehending discourse (usually labeled "socialist") similar to the one prevalent in the article you linked. Me having been born and raised in Soviet Union and engineering education.

      So when I see well-meaning theories starting with "let's give everyone what they need, for free", I can't help but ask:

      - how do we determine who needs what and how much?

      - where does it come from?

      - what gives the sudden assurance that everyone suddenly becomes a 100% good person, nobody hoards, nobody steals, there are no bad actors, and everyone chips in gladly and of their own volition?

      I have never been able to get even a semblance of a beginning of a coherent answer to these questions.

      And on the other hand, for all the talk of evil corporate power, for the last 20 years all I see is a tightening, crippling hold of nation-states on those mythical zaibatsus. Which leads to stupid fragmentation problems and e.g. inability to pay with money you earned for things you need, only because you have made a mistake of moving between countries after having spent some time on a particular platform.