What if social media companies paid us? Instead of mining our data and using our diligent posting as fodder for increasing their ad revenue by allegedly restricting the reach of algorithms from those who they can target to sign up to paid content.
Vanessa Baird, in her recent article for New Internationalist poses this very pertinent question at a time when Facebook's core mission is being exposed in company memos and its attitude to dealing with both its highly questionable behaviour in relation to erroneous sharing of its members data and in dealing with accusations of bias and interference in key elections around the world.
And yet we still use the platform. The Facebook habit is widely being recognised as highly addictive and all our friends and family are on it.
So what can break the mould? Baird suggests that "exploitation by tech firms is not inevitable". We've effectively being fooled and reeled in by the 'free' model all along. "We are data serfs, enthralled to surveillance capitalism by companies that have sneakily and ingeniously extracted vast amounts of raw material from us and are exploiting it for all it’s worth." says Baird.
Baird quotes Jaron Lanier, techie, musician and visionary author of several books including Who Owns the Future? in calling upon the tech giants to do the right thing and ‘pay people for information gleaned from them’. To social media users he says: ‘You ought to be owed money for the use of that valuable data. It would not exist without you.’
This movement to hold the tech giants to account is now being placed centre stage by some governments who recognise that the non location-specific nature of social networks and global tech has provided huge loop holes to accountability in both a financial sense and in terms of data accountability at all levels.
As social media users become increasingly disenchanted with being spied upon and exploited by the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google, more radical and ethical initiatives are gaining traction. Baird sights minds.com
Most people are generally time poor (but still easily reigned in by Facebook at all) especially since massively increased mobile phone usage has led to the nature of social media becoming much more byte-sized, ephemeral and visual based. Those trends have resulted in a barrage of timelines updates, each of which has considerable capacity to affect our moods which in turn has lead to many more people talking about the destructive addictive aspects of phone usage.
In my recent experience there seems to be a move towards deleting Facebook apps, which has resulted in a more mindful exploration of how social media might be used to best advantage. Alongside this are emergent notions that we need social media that works for the good of all, not just the good of shareholders' profits at big corporations.
It’s part of a wider resistance movement, Jaron Lanieris quoted in Baird's article: ‘It’s not just that you’re making people rich even if you are not getting rich yourself, but that you are accepting an assault on your own free will, bit by bit. In order to make tech into something that empowers people, people will need to be willing to act as if we can handle being powerful... We must demand an information economy in which the rising tide raises all boats, because the alternative is unbounded concentration of power… A surveillance economy that is neither sustainable nor democratic.’
Whilst minds.com isn't yet able to reward its members with money payments (bitcoin ledger is used to record social transactions), much thinking is being done about the future shape of a more distributed, decentralised and open source social media and how it might look. Campfire too is aiming to play its part in these changes
New social media goes much deeper than just payments and rewards – fake news, social media addiction, mood manipulation, surveillance, cyberwarfare, subversion of democracy are all very real and immediate concerns .
We need other measures, such as tougher data privacy regulations and support for ethical platforms, communities where people feel something of value can be built collectively that can benefit all participants, platforms that can make a difference and change society for the better.
it might get us on the road to a fairer, more transparent, democratic and people-powered digital economy.