the fight

You’ve probably heard about the “Facebook Papers”, a massive leak of internal documents, and a related lawsuit. The allegations are that Facebook and Google rigged the ad exchanges thru which most money on the Internet flows. In short, that they are utterly corrupt monopolies illegally colluding to maintain their position.

Which, of course. When someone finally says the truth out loud, it’s obvious.

The Web is perhaps the most powerful invention in human history. The world of today is so radically different from my childhood in every way it’s difficult to even draw comparisons. There’s no “golden days” of the Web — it’s always been infested by bigots and trolls — but there was a dream. As the power of the Web grew, we allowed that power to become concentrated in the hands of a very few. And unregulated power invariably corrupts, and corruption kills dreams.

In the ’00s and ’10s it was a dream to get your humble website listed as a top result on Google, and later shared of Facebook. We spent countless hours figuring out how to play their game, how to get a tiny sliver of the pie they’d amassed. Begging for table scraps at our Internet overlords’ table, praying we didn’t run afoul of their capricious rules and whims. And we were delighted for the opportunity.

All those tools and toys, all those technological delights they gave us for free, have turned into pumpkins at the stroke of midnight. They were an illusion, only designed to get what they wanted: hegemony over the Web. To become the valve thru which all pageviews and dollars must flow. And they did it. Here we are. They won.

We’re all poorer than when we started, having invested so many years building things on land owned by them. To build back our Web better requires care, and it requires ideals. And maybe a bit of ruthlessness to keep the monopolies at bay.

What should those ideals be? It’s pretty simple:

  • First, build on and contribute to the commons. Value labor over ownership, and contribute to the group so others have opportunities too. There aren’t individuals 10x more productive/amazing than others, but there are 10x teams.
  • Second, value safety and preserving context over scale. This means defaulting to privacy and safe spaces, not giant public forums. Protecting people is more important than likes and reach. You can do both, but only if you don’t reverse the order.
  • Third, practice inclusion and embrace diversity. Empower structured, diverse groups. As Rachel Happe says, all management is community management. If you haven’t figured out that existing power structures are creating exactly the problems we need to solve next, it’s time to catch up.

Was that always the dream? Frankly, no, I know it wasn’t; we weren’t that mature back then. We didn’t know what we know now; we hadn’t seen what we’ve seen now. But the good parts of the Web changed us and, I hope, changed a generic dream of platitudes by the privileged into a very concrete one of action and inclusion.

As 2021 fades, it’s clear the lines have been drawn. Make sure you know where you’re standing. Make sure you know what you’re helping to build.