The Future of Social Media

Examining the predominance of the social media corporations and the tech giants. What alternative models are worth looking at?

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by Pete Lawrence
Created on 12 Jan 2019

Examining the predominance of the social media corporations and the tech giants. What alternative models are worth looking at? 



Sat, 01/12/2019
Key Interests

We are building a social network that doesn’t mine or sell your data


Security guru Bruce Schneier puts it: "The business model of the internet is surveillance. We build systems that spy on people in exchange for services. Corporations call it marketing."

Hands up who could see this crisis for social media coming?

As Dmitri Leonov argued in Mashable "There’s a lot to be said for creating something of real value and charging money for it. If you’re not charging for your product, then your users are the product. By charging nothing for your service you’re actually anchoring that value in your customer’s mind, making it harder to raise the price later.” 

In the wake of the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica debacle, much of it exposed through the diligent and brave journalism of Carole Cadwalladr, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the wider context. Namely that Facebook is an advertising platform with its core model being about monitising its users data. It knew of developers using its data and chose to look away.

The Frankenstein syndrome has come home to roost. Facebook was surely not fully aware of the monster it had created, a free model that placed at its heart the fact that those users who celebrated its free status were the ones whose information and habits were being used as equity by a huge advertising corporation. Surveillance capitalism, in short.

Campfire Convention is approaching social media from a completely different direction – free of advertising and without algorithms, Campfire doesn’t harvest data and one that is based around a ‘pay what you feel’ membership contribution aimed at sustaining the development of a community working towards social change and building resources together for the good of all. It is clear that the disadvantages of the free model have been laid bare for all to see – with disastrous consequences. One of our ideas is to implement a Kudos scheme which means we're all working to build something great that we all have a stake in - and a rewards input and engagement on the platform with a profit share once we are profitable.

By becoming a member of Campfire you help us take our vision to the next level and maintain our development programme. 

It's about changing the mindset from what we can get to what we can give, to what we can contribute and build collectively as an alternative. 

Do I have some views and opinions, can I enhance the debate, do I have some wisdom to share with others? 

Campfire will be funded by membership, not external businesses and organisations or by selling data in return for a % of sales. It will be financially self-supporting, primarily via membership and events.

  • Your participation and interaction will not be determined by manipulative algorithms.
  • We will not track or sell your data beyond legal requirements.
  • Any major investment will be sought through crowdfunding as the preferred option.
  • Campfire will be an open and transparent organisation.

Your membership / donation will be used only to maintain the Campfire circle and its members. Our aim is to work together to shape the future and achieve some extraordinary things.

In an article on how social media was in need of upping the ‘love factor’ in November 2016, I mentioned the trap of free, with its inevitable consequences of the users data becoming the product.

"How to make a social network work as a sustainable economic model in a rapidly changing world is the challenge. Whereas Google and Facebook created a new way for advertisers to reach highly targeted audiences as they search for and read relevant content, there is an alternative way of viewing this - that formal advertising is outmoded, intrusive and even corrupting in the context of community networks. The same, or similar results can be achieved via nurturing personal relationships, dialogue, interaction and endorsement, empowering others by giving them a collaborative platform from which to do business.

The future is all about sustainable business models for web democratisation, communities founded around a de-centralised network, equitable post-capitalist models rather than shareholder profit-maximising top-down elites.  John Naughton recently looked into his crystal ball and predicts "The rise of ad-blocking will force us to confront the fact that the free lunch provided by advertising is not long for this world. The good news is that the ensuing crisis will compel us finally to look for what we should have invented decades ago, namely sustainable business models for the web. For example, it’s possible that cryptocurrencies might enable the ‘micro-payments' that would make users pay for any article they read. We need more ideas like that, and I’m sure we’ll get them. Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Why not go a stage further - it's one thing to look at micropayment for articles, a wider vision altogether to promote the idea of an ecosystem that creates and defines its own news agenda, becomes a publisher and a broadcaster with a social network at its core, retaining its integrity and working for the benefit of all. That requires belief, trust and love. After all is said and done, that word 'love' has to be on the agenda. It was a comment from my friend Mark Offord “The love factor is missing from social networking” that convinced me, as much as anything, that the time was right to have a stab at creating a social network with that love factor at its heart, one that worked for the good of all and was built on an affordable, sustainable model.” 

Naughton's influential weekly Observer column was prophetic back in 2014 clearly seeing where things were headed:

The companies that provided the "free" services therefore had to find another business model. And in the end they found one: it was called advertising or, rather, putting advertisers in touch with the users of "free" services. And it turned out that the only way to do this involved intensive surveillance of everything those users did online.

Which brings us to where we are today, a world in which, as the security guru Bruce Schneier puts it: "The business model of the internet is surveillance. We build systems that spy on people in exchange for services. Corporations call it marketing."

 So, as a simple rejoinder to Schnedier’s dystopian vision that has played out, the reaction must be a new business model that breaks the cycnical cycle of surveillance.

John Harris of The Guardian’s 'political commentator of the year' tweeted his suggestion, an idea that completely resonates with the Campfire model “Break it up, charge users small annual fee, decouple it from advertising... mutualise it?” alongside this New York Times article


So what do we now have to contend with? Breaking liberal democracy? Isn't that surely a tad over-stated? Well, not really in the light of recent Cambridge Analytica investigations, which, I fear may prove to be just the tip of the iceberg only hinted at in this Guardian editorial

"Shortly after Facebook became a public company, its founder famously exhorted his employees to “move fast and break things”. It was, of course, a hacker’s trope and, as such, touchingly innocent. What perhaps never occurred to Zuckerberg is that liberal democracy might be one of the things they break. It’s time for him – and them – to grow up.

In last week's Guardian editorial they review Facebook's position :

"Facebook, like Google, is an extractive company, rather like ExxonMobil or Glencore. It “mines”, refines, aggregates and sells its users’ personal information and data trails to advertisers, who then use it to target ads at said users. This data is clearly valuable. At the moment, for example, the company earns nearly $20 per user per year (in the US and Canada, anyway) by monetising their data. The downside – from society’s point of view – is that the targeted system that delivers these revenues is easily manipulated by political actors – as we saw from the way Russian interests used it in the 2016 election.

"Given the largesse that flows from this golden goose, you can see why Zuckerberg is reluctant to do or say anything that might threaten it. That’s why there’s no discussion about alternative business models that might enable the company to survive without undermining democratic processes. One could, for example, imagine an honest business model – in which people paid an annual subscription for a service that did not rely on targeting people on the basis of the 98 data-points that the company holds on every user. All it would need is for Facebook users to fork out $20 a year for the pleasure of sharing LOLcats with one another.

What’s the likelihood of that happening? You know the answer. Which is why Zuck will continue to keep mum about the sordid reality underpinning his money machine."

In case you wondered what the detail was the personal information that Facebook and its apps can collect on us, here is a breakdown of the make up of our personal data points (98 of them) that they are using to fuel their multi billion dollar advertising platform

Devin Coldewey in Tech Crunch has summarised the logic of what has happened :  

  1. “Facebook deliberately allows developers to collect a bunch of data from users who authorise it, plus a bunch of their friends. (But developers have to promise they won’t use it in certain ways.)
  2. Shady people take advantage of this choice and collect as much data as possible for use off the Facebook network in ways Facebook can’t predict or control. (The quiz app in question is surely just one of many — this was an incredible opportunity for data snatchers.)
  3. Facebook fails to predict or control use of the data it released, and fails to protect users who never even knew their data had been released. (It also fails to learn that it has failed to control it.)

Facebook have denied that shared others data is at the heart of their business model. Even if anyone really believes that sharing data about users is not the Facebook business model, one has to wonder if anyone really cares what its business model is beyond a capitalist shareholder-based, profit oriented model. Whatever plausible sounding business model it had before didn’t protect anyone, and didn’t stop rogue developers from collecting and using data in dubious ways.

"Of course there’s every chance that Cambridge Analytica and others misused the data, didn’t delete it as promised, performed unsanctioned analyses on it. That’s life, isn’t it. The real question was what was Facebook expecting when it handed out data on millions essentially on the honour system?

Facebook’s business model is monetising your data (the data you give it, it must be said), one way or the other. It used to be one way, now it’s the other. Soon it’ll be yet another — but don’t ever doubt that’s at the core of every decision the company makes."

That’s the logic behind commercial corporations, with a raison d’etre to make large shareholder profits at its core.

Looking at today's revelations, another whistle blower has emerged in the form of former Facebook employee Sandy Parakilas in The Guardian

'Friends Permission' was the feature that may have led to much of the damage, in the hands of rogue developers.

“Parakilas, 38, who now works as a product manager for Uber, is particularly critical of Facebook’s previous policy of allowing developers to access the personal data of friends of people who used apps on the platform, without the knowledge or express consent of those friends.

That feature, called Friends Permission, was a boon to outside software developers who, from 2007 onwards, were given permission by Facebook to build quizzes and games – like the widely popular FarmVille – that were hosted on the platform.

The apps proliferated on Facebook in the years leading up to the company’s 2012 initial public offering, an era when most users were still accessing the platform via laptops and computers rather than smartphones.

Facebook took a 30% cut of payments made through apps, but in return enabled their creators to have access to Facebook user data.

“It was well understood in the company that that presented a risk,” he said of the Friends Permission feature. “Facebook was giving data of people who had not authorised the app themselves and was relying on terms of service and settings that people didn’t read or understand.”

It was this feature that was exploited by Global Science Research (GSR), and provided to Cambridge Analytica in 2014.GSR was a company run by a Cambridge University psychologist called Aleksandr Kogan, who built an app that was a personality test for Facebook users.

The personality test automatically downloaded the data of friends of people who took the quiz, ostensibly for academic purposes. Cambridge Analytica has denied knowing that the data was obtained improperly and Kogan maintains that he did nothing illegal and had a “close working relationship” with Facebook.

While Kogan’s app only attracted around 270,000 users (most of whom were paid to take his quiz), the company was then able to exploit the Friends Permission feature to quickly amass data pertaining to more than 50 million Facebook users.


Social networking is 

  •  - Evolving fast : There is a rapidly growing desire for less throwaway, more considered posts with potential to establish new, fresh journalistic voices.
  •  - Democratising news and politics. Young voices look increasingly to social media for their connections and news integrity now, over mainstream media outlets.
  •  - In need of a reality check. Looking for face-to-face connections.
  •  - Totally in hands of mega-corporations, geared towards maximising shareholders profits and data monetisation. More independent, community-based alternatives are a vitally important future option.
  •  - At its lowest ebb so far as it reels from this latest Facebook debacle. If needs a fresh injection of ‘love-factor’.

Campfire's membership model is based around an exchange - members coming together to create a community of common benefit for the good of all. Members can contribute and benefit. To make this work, the mindset has to be "together we can create something magical" not "what can I get out of this?"


Campfire offers :

  • A community of like-minded people with an amazing skills set, wisdom and life experience.
  • Member Portfolio, Project collaboration and Guilds-based common interests.
  • Real life events - Priority invites to Campfire Beacon Conversations all over the UK (and beyond), Conventions and Circle meetings.
  • Strictly no advertising and data mining.
  • A Kudos scheme that rewards input (proposed)
  • A flexible ‘pay what you feel’ membership blueprint.
  • An opportunity to get involved in the running of Campfire via Circle teams


Members offer :

  • Time and energy.
  • Expertise and skills, whether organisational, writing, photography, video production, event co-ordination...
  • Events initiatives.
  • A mindset of sharing and mutual benefit.
  • Pay as you feel input, to sustain the community and its development. 

What I’m suggesting is that another model is possible - a social enterprise model where the community can benefit and have a stakeholding and won’t be concerned about exploitation or monetisation of data.

Can we do this together?






David Pinto

" So, as a simple rejoinder to Schnedier’s dystopian vision that has played out, the reaction must be a new business model that breaks the cynical cycle of surveillance."

Nice. We might have one at Ecosquared.


Pete Lawrence

We certainly have one at Campfire, @David Pinto!


David Pinto

Apologies, I didn't mean to suggest you hadn't. I know you have because I have helped fund it :) Only a trickle, but it is how rivers form.


Nadia Chambers

3 comments and a couple of likes?
Where is everyone on here?


Kate Edgley

It's an exciting time for Campfire... people should be joining in droves...


Nadia Chambers

Steadfast! @Kimm Fearnley xx


Pete Lawrence

Perhaps most people are perfectly happy with Facebook as their sole social media fix...


Nadia Chambers

I dunno @Pete Lawrence - I suspect many people don’t give it a second thought. Sigh