There’s a distinction between the social internet and social media.
The social internet describes the general ways in which the global communication network and open protocols known as “the internet” enable good things like connecting people, spreading information, and supporting expression and activism.
Social media, by contrast, describes the attempt to privatize these capabilities by large companies within the newly emerged algorithmic attention economy, a particularly virulent strain of the attention sector that leverages personal data and sophisticated algorithms to ruthlessly siphon users’ cognitive capital.
I support the social internet. I’m incredibly wary of social media.
Newport has made a good distinction here. He goes on to propose a solution:
One Possible Solution: Social Protocols
The tricky question, of course, is how exactly one enables a useful social internet in the absence of the network effects and economic resources provided by the algorithmic attention economy.
One intriguing answer is the idea of augmenting the basic infrastructure of the internet with social protocols.
In short, these protocols would enable the following two functions:
- A way for individuals to create and own a digital identity that no one else can manipulate or forge.
- A way for two digital identities to agree to establish a descriptive social link in such a way that outside observers can validate that both identities did in fact agree to form that link.
There are few serious technical obstacles to implementing these protocols, which require only standard asymmetric cryptography primitives. But their impact could be significant.
Keybase comes to mind.