It’s not just Twitter—the whole internet is down and we’d better fix it soon


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If the debate over Elon Musk’s Twitter acquisition tells us anything, it’s that people — including those in government — don’t understand how the World Wide Web works.

We know that the algorithms Twitter uses to recommend content can guide people further extreme views, but what is considered extreme has changed since Musk took over. Many things to consider freedom of speech would have previously been seen as offensive, belittling, violent, or harmful in other ways.

Many countries, including Aotearoa New Zealand as a co-initiator Call in Christchurchis looking to Twitter and other platform providers to enable analysis of their algorithms and be more transparent about their impact on individuals and the fabric of society.

But what the Christchurch Call fails to address is a much more fundamental question that governments should urgently think about. Is it appropriate that the infrastructure for holding discussions and citizen participation be in the private and profit-driven hands of multinational data monopolies?

Privately owned social media platforms now contain a significant portion of the critical public debates necessary for democracy. They have become the core of the modern public sphere, and as such they must be considered an important part of public infrastructure.

But they are set up to collect and monetize people’s data. It’s time for governments to help their citizens regain control of that data.

Web is broken

The Global network start as a global network with a set of open technical standards to make it easy to grant someone from a remote computer (also known as a client) access to information on a computer under the control of another person (also known as called server).

Embedded in Web standards is a principle known as Hypertextwhich means that readers can choose to follow hyperlinks, browsing the global web of information in a self-directed way.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, people created their own web pages, manually creating HTML pages, and linking to content that others had published. This has been superseded by content management systems and—perhaps more importantly—blogging software.

Blogs unlock the ability to publish content to the masses, but only when social media platforms emerge—commonly known as Web 2.0—can anyone with internet access become a producer. literal content. And this is when the Web exploded, more than 15 years ago. It has been broken ever since.

Social media platforms not only put content beyond the control of its creators, they also serve as a monolithic interface between an entire generation and the actual Web. Generation Z has never experienced the decentralized nature of the technologies that make the apps they use work.

Every social media communication instead try to make the whole World Wide Web just one application on one big server. This principle holds true for Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and all other social media apps.

As a result, platforms collect interactions to profile users and direct them to content through a “referrer” algorithm. This means that people can be directed to products they can buy or behavioral data and insights can be sold to other businesses.

How to fix the network

In response to the disruption from Musk’s Twitter acquisition, we’ve seen governments and organizations set up their own servers to participate. decentralized microblogging system Mastodon. These organizations can now authenticate the identities of the users they host and ensure their content is within their own terms and potential legal requirements.

However, regaining control of microposts is not enough to fix Web problems. Previous social media platforms have tried to consolidate more basic functions like payment and banking. And people have been arbitrarily locked out of platforms with no legal way to regain access.

A broad regulatory review on its own won’t solve the problem in the long term and on a global scale.

Instead, governments will need to assess what digital services and data are currently stored on social media platform are important parts of modern democratic societies. They will then have to build a national data infrastructure that allows citizens to control their data, which is protected by their government.

We can expect a new ecosystem of digital services to grow around such data infrastructures, but one that does not take ownership of individuals or turn them into products of our own. surveillance capitalism.

This is not a utopian vision. The Flemish government in Belgium announced set up a data utility company to facilitate a digital ecosystem based on personal data warehouses. Citizens control these vaults and any digital service need data to interact with them if allowed (for example, a public transport payment system or a content sharing system like Twitter).

Many blockchain businesses want to make people believe that their technology enables “Web3”, but the technologies to achieve this vision are already available and they leverage the original standard of the World Wide Web. Web technologies for decentralization and openness have been called Web 3.0 for about 20 years now. They have matured into powerful products ready for the market personal data store.

Governments must now build a technical foundation with regulatory oversight to ensure algorithmic transparency and trusted digital transactions. We need rich data infrastructure, run by data utility companies.

The technology and expertise is readily available, but we need to be more aware of what technical decentralization really means and why it will protect citizens and democracy in the long run.

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