By Scott Hamilton
I wanted to talk this week about the uproar going on across social media networks in the past week. I have seen several announcements from people, primarily in support of the Republican Party, stating that they are staging a mass exodus from Facebook and Twitter on Nov. 15, 2020. This is not the first time people have threatened to leave the social media giant. The reason for leaving is always the same. They are tired of being censored and having posts flagged and fact checked.
There are two main platforms being recommended for people leaving Facebook, and I have created an account on both just to be able to give a review and thoughts about them. The first one, MeWe, makes a valiant attempt at providing a Facebook-like interface, but seems lacking in the ability to easily find and connect to your friends. Unlike Facebook’s friend import feature that invades your privacy, with permission, by searching through your e-mail and phone contacts to see available matches on Facebook, MeWe refuses to gather your personal information in this manner, making it a lot more difficult to connect with others, unless you know their MeWe handle.
The only way I have found, so far, to find others that I know on MeWe is by looking on their “I’m leaving Facebook” post and finding where they shared their MeWe handle. This, of course, will not work once a person leaves Facebook, so handles will have to be shared via text message, e-mail, phone call or face-to-face contact. In my opinion this kind of defeats one of the purposes of social media, which is to reconnect with people from your past. The only contact information I have for a lot of Facebook friends is their Facebook page and I would likely lose contact with them completely by leaving Facebook.
The second recommended platform is Parler, which reminds me more of Twitter than Facebook. However, I must say the interface to Parler is much cleaner and crisper looking than Twitter. I found it much easier to navigate than Twitter or Facebook, but it was also lacking a lot of the functionality. Just like MeWe, the friend search needs a lot of work. I guess it is a sacrifice you must make if you want more privacy online. There are two features of Parler that neither MeWe, Facebook, nor Twitter offer, which is the ability to filter and block posts based on a variety of criteria. Facebook and Twitter only allow you to block a user or single post. Parler allows you to filter posts by keyword or topic, so you could, for example, block all posts discussing COVID-19, Trump, Biden, politics or any other topic.
The biggest problem I found with Parler was the fact that it seems to be run by right-wing political views, as a majority of the major contributors and posts are heavily right-wing agenda based. This is not unexpected, as most of the people threatening to leave Facebook share these views. However, it creates a worry in me, that though Parler claims not to censor posts, it has become an echo chamber of right-wing activists, and, as a result, just as dangerous as the current censorship of right-wing views on Facebook.
In conclusion, in my opinion, leaving a social media site that has the best tools for contacting others and spreading your views, just because you are being censored by the operators, is like running and hiding in your own little echo chamber. There is only one true method of free speech on the internet and that is to create your own website or blog where you freely own the content. All of the above social media sites have clauses that grant them rights to your content, meaning they are free to censor, edit, repost, reprint and make profit from your content. Once you post to any social media site, you grant them a license to use your copyrighted material for their financial gain. It is a tough situation because the social media sites are required by law to protect the public from illegal activity, which grants them the rights to remove posts that violate their standards, and as a result they can change policies to allow for censorship.
The protection of the public from illegal activities creates a loop-hole that makes free-speech on social media impossible to achieve, because they will always have the right to edit and remove posts. My advice is if you enjoy using Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site and are willing to accept their terms of service, keep using and expect that from time to time you will be censored. Their funding sources come through advertising and they collect the most money when you click on an ad from their site, so if your purpose of leaving is to shut down Facebook, the faster way is to ignore their advertising and never click a sponsored link or ad while on Facebook, and if you are a business owner, stop advertising on Facebook.
This week take the time to learn something new by reading the terms of service for your social media site and make the decision for yourself if it is something you can live with. For me, I may continue to see you on Facebook; feel free to look me up. Stay safe and learn something new.
Scott Hamilton is a Senior Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to email@example.com.