How to fix rogue social media platforms

How does one change a social media platform that has gone rogue? This is a very timely problem. I feel responsible a little to come up with solutions because I “discovered” the way that group-forming networks grow in “value” and “utility” as they scale (Reed’s Law), which leads to monopolization of the market.

To me, Facebook and Wikipedia have gone rogue in severely compromising ways. The first because it adopted Surveillance Capitalism, the second for a variety of things, but mostly because its mission is vague and has been taken over by those who create misinformation, disinformation, and bias.

What I mean by going rogue is that each are not serving users’ interests, and are serving the interests of a powerful set of control forces instead. The source of the control forces differs. But they are powerful and self-reinforcing (partly because of Reed’s Law).

The concept of “monopoly power” is limited to an economic one, not a social one. Monopoly involves customers and vendors in a “market”. [Sometimes a “political” one, when we talk about a State’s “monopoly on coercive corce.”] Market is key to monopolization.

But Facebook and Wikipedia are partly or fully social in their function. That is, they don’t sell anything to their users. The users are not seen as a “market” in the economic sense. But there is a narrowing, centralization of power over who decides what is shown, what is discussed, what ideologies get attention.

FB treats users carrying out their interactions as subjects to be observed and manipulated by FB. Features that don’t enhance them *as subjects* aren’t developed. Data about the subjects are harvested and sold to those who want to manipulate and control the subjects, and in some cases those who want to surveill and manipulate the subjects are encouraged by FB to pay to add stuff to FB. (Political actors, intelligence agencies, scammers).

WP treats most of its users as pawns of a kind, to be fed a stream of articles that privileged users and the staff of WP choose. They have a vague notion of what is true – an Epistemology invented out of citable secondary sources (primary sources are considered untrustworthy because of an assumption of bias) by faceless “editors” who have effective power without accountability. Deletion (reversion) is available to editors who have the time to focus on shaping the epistemic grounding.

There are no effective controls on this rogue activity by the monopoly (other than the weak economic refusal to participate by users). In Wikipedia, passive use very much empowers the bad “contributors”, and fighting bad “contributors” results in discouraging improvement of the content (and raises cost of quality improvement by those who don’t have the private wealth or time to devote to quality improvements via “secondary source” citations).

Worse, founding a competitor is now costly, because the bulk of the cost is acquistion of users, and the users have huge switching costs. Institutions outside FB and WP now encourage their use, placing users into a situation where seeking to replace the role of FB and WP in their lives has very negative consequences.

To me, a solution that appeals is what in the IT business is called “Embrace and Extend” or “Overlay Networking” – a strategy based on building the alternative on top of the existing system(s), but in such a way that the defects of the existing system are hidden from the exploitative tendencies of the underlying system.

The Internet was designed and intended to be an Overlay. The IPv4 and IPv6 protocol layer is defined as an overlay, not as a networking standard. By being an Overlay, all the undesirable features of the underlying services are hidden, and desirable ones are added. I could riff on this for days. The end-to-end arguments (also from me) are how you maintain an overlay on all future networks, by not being tempted to implement functionality in the underlying networks.

The same with Science (an alternative to Wikipedia as an epistemic framework). Science – the process that has been around since Newton’s day – overlays on top of experimental knowledge and theoretical exploratory processes. It’s open, it can’t be edited by reversion of contributions, and it can tolerate multiple contradictory (not just biased) perspectives. Unlike Wikipedia, Science never decides. There is no need for a Neutral Point of View – useless or weak ideas just fade away. Tests of validity are socialized. Criticism is not hidden away.

So, to me, the embrace and extend or overlay construction techniques are potentially wonderful. One doesn’t build an *alternative* but instead uses these techniques to evolve a framework for users, by extending and hiding the underlying stuff.

Doing this over either FB or WP can be worked out – sometimes by kludgery. Just as the Phone Companies tried to fight “dialup Internet” by all kinds of tactics (like asking the PUC’s to give them the right to deny or charge extra for data modems in homes rather than unlimited voice service), FB and WP will eventually fight the extender-overlayer. Just as AOL fought the WWW by attempting to embed “the best pages” in AOL, this technique isn’t trivial.

Anyway, I wonder why no one is pursuing this – other than the obvious reason that Venture Capitalists won’t fund anything that doesn’t recreate the exploitative aspects of WP and FB, nor will PR and propaganda outlets not attempt to take over the epistemic aspects that make WP so problematic.

Focusing on “what users really want” and “what they barely tolerate” can achieve this shift.

Stalin failed to create Soviet Science by applying Marxist dialectic (a flawed approach to epistemic construction), even though he tried hard. Science was too robust to be dialecticized, because scientists were better served by the non-dialectic system.