by Luis de Sousa
Sun Feb 28th, 2021 at 06:04:05 PM EST
The ruse between the two most powerful people in the world, Mark Zuckerberg and Rupert Murdoch, recently got a bit out of hand. Perhaps it was just a choreography mishap, but Zuckerberg became upset with the preference shown by the Australia government towards its countryman media mogul. The parry was nothing short of spectacular, for almost a week Facebook blocked all news websites in Australia and many of the government's pages, including those from health authorities publishing information on the COVID pandemic.
Frontpaged with minor edit - Frank Schnittger
The Australian government yielded a week later, striking a new balance between the old and new media empires. But during this short period the helplessness of a sovereign state was in full display, government and citizens appeared entirely at the mercy of the American media giant. Perhaps it was just a warning from Facebook, a pre-emptive strike of sorts, reminding every democratic government of the world who is now in charge.
This tussle between Australia and Facebook happens little over a month after a number of individuals were suspended, or terminally blocked, from using American social media platforms. Most notably the former President of the USA, Donald Trump. Many complain of an attempt on the freedom of speech. These event bare a profound transformation in democratic societies, many citizens and institutions now rest their freedom with private companies, entities with little to no abidance to democracy.
In fact freedom of speech is forgiven by the user as soon as he or she opens an account with one of these commercial platforms. From then onwards, whatever information that user has access to, and whomever has access to the information shared by the user, is controlled by a third party whose methods and intent are obscure in the least.
The power of companies like Facebook rests solely on one thing: the number of users. A bloated, fully centralised system than knows everything about everyone and does not avast from diverting public opinion and behaviour to its own ends. And it is so out of citizens' own fruition. They were never forced to it, they chose to gave such immense power to Facebook. Traditional media use Facebook as means to reach readers by option. Governments and politicians connect with citizens through Facebook because they so decide. It follows that it is entirely in your hands to change this state of things.
Social media needs not to depend upon a colossal centralised system. It also works in a federated fashion, in a network of computers that communicate with each other. Each user connects to a single node, but through it gains access to the information shared across the whole network. For the user it looks and functions as a centralised system, but under the hood it is completely different. A network is more resilient and can not be influenced by a single entity.
The Fediverse lays the ground for such a network. In layman terms, the Fediverse has at its core a language that everyone understands and everyone can use. It is a communication protocol, an open source standard, that allows different computers, different servers and different programmes to work together in a network. They all speak the same language.
The Fediverse as a cartoon. Credit: Mastodon.
So came on and join the Fediverse. Join any node you like, with whatever Fediverse software you prefer. I use Mastodon, but Friendica and Pixelfed are also popular, among many others. You will be able to follow any other user in the network, no matter where they are or what software flavour they prefer. It does not need to be a revolution, you may still enjoy the convenience of commercial platforms, but your account with the Fediverse is one first step to protect your freedom and our democracies.
Joining the Fediverse by yourself might not be that interesting if none of your friends use it and your interests are not present. In my case it was not so hard, there is much information about technology that I appreciate. But I was also unexpectedly attracted to other kinds of content, as many artists prefer to share their work on the Fediverse to protect their intellectual property. In any event, it is much easier to join in with a small community, with a group of family members, your running club, or your favourite political discussion forum.
And above all, our leaders have a major role in the rise of the Fediverse and the release democracy from the shackles of Facebook et alia. By opening Fediverse accounts they would create an alternative for journalists and citizens following them. Leadership by example. This would have been the proper reaction by the Australian government to Facebook's broadside, but other interests seem to have prevailed.
Wouldn't it be awesome if our MEPs joined the Fediverse? The European parliament easily has the resources to set up its own Fediverse server, say europarl.social, from which MEPs and other institutional staff could share information. They could still maintain their arrangements with the commercial platforms, but would provide for an independent, open source and truly free alternative.
Facebook may be more powerful than the Australian government, but it is not more powerful than you. It is all in your hands.