If you hadn’t yet realized, this post will have profanity in it… A lot.
Seriously though. The internet was, at least in my memory, a place where we could go and find new things made by people and not by all 5 of the corporations that own fucking everything. (Ok, maybe 5 corporations that own fucking everything and the 50 more that are collecting and selling your personal data). The world wide web, since web 2.0, is a cesspool.
It’s all traceable back to some pretty key events in recent history that turned the web of the netizens of old to a mindless consumptive engine designed to feed and sell to everyone, not just netizens. On one hand it came with a lot of benefits: accessibility on the internet, multimedia sharing tools, and other such utilities. What we lost, however, was the humanity and inspiration that came from customizing and making our own site , our own zines, or our own blogs. Before the world of CMS’s, when the MySpaces, Xangas, and Livejournals reigned supreme. When surfing the web meant taking some time to find creators you liked. Building a custom home page to make getting to all of those creators’ sites much, much , easier. You would find fun little banners and badges on websites, and join/browse webrings and neighborhoods. Surfing the web was a matter of taking a series of coordinated steps.
The way people use the internet now is much less personal, much less enjoyable, and reflects capitalist values. It’s all about efficiency of action, encouraging consumerism, and destroying everything good about the world. Browsing the web now is, for many people, either making a very well crafted google search, finding the single nugget of info they need without context, and moving onto the next one; or going to one of the many social networks to scroll the Feed. The feed, brought to us by Facebook™ around 2005 to the dismay of the internet to the end of time. Both of these, however, end with the same result: You get a set of information and data curated for your personal profile. Google, Facebook, and all the others track the ever loving shit out of everyone.
This data is used to give you exactly what you want to see. They give you results that will make you happy in your microcosm: they don’t give you what you really need to see. You don’t get the best information, or the right answer. You get Satisfaction™. The feed gives you posts that will engage you (often this involves just the right amount of negative posts in ratio to positive ones to keep you scrolling. People tend to engage more with negativity than positivity… That should tell you all you really need to know, but let’s keep going!), the search results give you results that will keep you searching, viewing, and shopping in trackable ways. But trust me, you will be better off to break this cycle.
TL;DR: The internet is fucked y’all. It’s being fed to us a la Wall-E. We need to mindfully consume the internet. Just like eating a whole bunch of junk makes you physically not well, ingesting a whole bunch of mental junk makes you mentally not well.
Alright, y’all: Flashback time. It’s 2004-2005, you’re a older-teen/young-adult. Think about how you used the internet.
It probably went something like this:
- Turn on Computer
- AIM, MSN, YIM, Trillian, ETC. load.
- Any OIMs you got are now bombarding you
- Email Client? Get ready for the messages!
- Log into Myspace
- Check your friends (ARE YOU STILL THE TOP FRIEND, OR AT LEAST IN THE 8?!)
- See who changed their profile
- Read the Blogs/Bulletins of friends and groups you actually care about
- Check out your RSS feeds
- Check out your other Aggregators
- Go to some forums and read up on the latest gab at groups and websites you care about (I miss the old Beyond Unreal forums…)
- Read some news
- Maybe login to an MMO and play with some friends (For me, this was Neocron and Everquest.)
This was, generally, mindful. You had to seek out specific chat rooms to talk to people. You had to find or stumble upon the content you wanted to read/see. You had to seek out new life and new subcultures. You had to go boldly into the internet, and hope you didn’t get lost. You communicated by sporadic comments on variant websites, instant messengers, IRC, and forum posts. WE controlled our online existence, and we controlled all of it.
At this point, memes, that existed, came from blogs and forums. Friends would share things on the various instant messengers. Then came the dark times.
This is where 2 things kind of started happening in confluence, and in opposite directions. On one hand you had the *chans, on the other Facebook, Google, and the start of forced centralization.
One of those paths was better than the other. They both had problems. What this comes down to, is, really, the ultimate struggle between Anarchy and Fascism.
Woah, woah, woah. How the fuâ€¦? Anarchy and Fascism? I hear you cry. Anarchy: A World Without Authority or Moderation
The *Chans were/are the ultimate expression of Libertarianism (Anarchy) on the internet. Anyone is allowed to participate for any reason, and only the community has the right to do full moderation (yea, I know, the admins and mods do exist, they’re just very sparing in their use of power.) This means that you can equally go to the *Chans to express your opinions on Human Rights regardless of what side of the issue you come down on. This was OK in the early days. Most people self regulated. It rapidly became a cesspool, and by the time I was reaching my heyday of using the *Chans the /b/ board of 4Chan proudly proclaimed itself the â€œAsshole of the Internetâ€, and it spawned a fucking movement. This is where Anonymous came from, just about, as well. We were all a bunch of nerds and, to use the parlance of the day, weebs who had grandiose ideals about how the world should be vice how it was. We were all to young and naive to realize we didn’t all have the same grandiose ideals. This caused problems.
Now, Anon, pseudoAnon, and semiAnon image boards deffo have their place in ethical consumption of the internetâ€¦ If you can find a decent one. It really all depends on the how it’s being used. The issue is that the predominate use of the boards tends to be problematic; consuming problematic content is a complex issue, and I’m not going to get into it here, but tread carefully, or find a relatively safe imgboard. Fascism: A World with Total Control
Now, with the imgboards, I took a more general look. Most people reading this blog probably know something about what the *Chans are/were. This I’m going to break out a little more cleanly. Both because I think it’s less well considered, and because if anything drew someone new to this post, it was probably the point I’m about to be making.
This is going to be the long part.
- Creating dichotomy of social groups, and echo chambers.
Facebook started in 2005. This would be a long winding road to the Facebook we know today. OG Facebook was a lot like Myspace, (they were competitors). Facebook had two big features that distinguished it, both would become our biggest social and ethical problems on the internet in 2021: The Feed, Broad SSO. In 2006, just after opening to all users over 13 with a valid email address, they announced the News Feed. This would be heralded as an algorithm that will show you all the things you care about. In the beginning, it prioritized friends you interacted with more, showed posts with more interactions to others, and deprioritized things you didn’t like, and friends you didn’t interact with often.
- Forced Centralization for data gathering and control.
Now, in 2007 they announced the App development framework. This was the start of the rest of the end. This would allow developers to make apps, games, surveys, etc. that would use Facebook credentials to login. Shortly thereafter we got â€œLogin with Facebookâ€.
- Data Tracking
As Facebook grew, they used common tools of the day (most oft used by admins to control data flow and optimization) to start tracking where users went when they were not on Facebook this started allowing them to control the Feed a little better, and start gathering obscene amounts of data on individuals for advertising purposes.
Now, let’s break these down a bit. 1 gives us something that it takes a little unpacking to figure out why it’s wrong, and epistemologically it’s a fucking nightmare, but ultimately Facebook controls what you see, read, believe, and your social group. That might sound weird, and even a little conspiracy-driven, but it’s kind of the point. For instance, in early 2021 Facebook began â€œcombating extremismâ€ on their platform, both by marking posts, and by deprioritizing users it thought was extreme. When The Feed deprioritizes someone, it sends their results to the bottom. This means they get fewer interactions. This leads to them being deprioritized. (Protip: If you have any friends who have such radical beliefs as posting on Facebook about how maybe Universal Healthcare is good, check on their Facebook. Find out how much they posted that you haven’t seen. Also: yes, they do consider that extremism). Now, that’s a controllable problem, right? Wrong.
If you look at problems 2 and 3, in context this becomes a truly horrific outcome. A single website can now present to you only the content it wants you to see, when it wants you to see it. It knows your browsing patterns, (by about 2011) it knows your social groups, and you’re using their service to log in to other things. They can now see what you’re doing, and if they want to, say, change your mindâ€¦ wellllllll. Just read this:
It’s from 2014. If you had a Facebook, there’s a real chance you were inadvertently emotionally controlled by Facebook. They say for Science, and maybe that can be justified. But I firmly believe that ex scientia pax not ex scientia valeo. This was a study to determine limits of control and power. It worked.
For about 7 years since, people are still chugging along on Facebook. It’s kind of terrible. (Disclosure: I still have a Facebookâ€¦ and I use it for more than just my Oculus access.) The Dichotomy
Neither of these paths have the right answer. The *Chans have near 100% repudiability; almost everything you do is completely anonymous, when they do track data they track IPs which are not particularly useful evidence in a vacuum. Facebook, on the other hand, got so in the everyone’s business that they were literally emotionally controlling users for giggles.
We consumed the internet more safely, and more ethically, when there was more thought involved. Having 100 different accounts with 100 different passwords in the days of yore was inconvenient, sure (With modern password managers it’s trivial). In a work environment, so professionally, we centralize accounts and systems for 1 ultimate reason: Control. We want to be able to control what the account can do when, where, and how, and we want to control each and every system on our network with utmost granularity. This is a terrible, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing. In a professional environment we do it because of Risk and Responsibility. We have responsibility for the data and information in our custodianship, and we take seriously our responsibility to protect it.
In the personal life, the data and information are you, and it is your responsibility to keep it safe. Facebook not only does not want to keep your data safe, it openly admits to wanting to be able to sell the data you give it. You are the product, if you haven’t yet heard that or figured it out. The *Chans are less of a risk here. They don’t have your data, they don’t want your data. But you’re very likely to come across indoctrination, radicalization, and straight up illegal content.
Having all of those different accounts was, oddly, a way to keep us safe. Even when one of the sites did want to sell your data, it was sold piecemeal, and only the parts of it they had. More websites were independent, and more websites were genuine. Think, really hard, when is the last time you went to, found, etc. a website that was not trying to sell you something, a news article that probably had a paywall, reddit (without Facebook being involved in the internet session, I’ll talk about how supplementing can be damaging), or anything else that was not Facebook.
It was probably a couple of days at least. There are some folks who that’s pretty much just how they consume the internet. Breaking out of the Feed
I’ve been thinking about this a shit ton lately since I found a whole bunch of alternatives finally, but for years less intensely. The Feed is a problem. It’s controlling, it’s manipulative, and it’s already being used in espionage and law enforcement activities. We are all getting wrapped up in MISO and Nation-State actions all the time. Don’t think about that part, but like, it’s there.
When we used the internet more mindfully, it also tended to be more ethically. We had identity. We wanted to maintain that identity. I’ve broken it down into the following categories:
Profiling and Identity building - These are our social websites. Using them correctly is to have a limited interactivity profile that showcases who you are, and who you want to be. SpaceHey is one of the only ones I can think of. Darkstarlings, VampireFreaks, MyYearbook, are all defunct. Most social networks have taken on the Facebook Feed mentality in a bid for profit.
Blogging - This is where we share our thoughts, opinions, fun cat pictures, etc. These tend to have more interactivity, but the people who come to read it come to read it. Self-hosted blogs, wordpress, blogspot, blogger, livejournal, xanga, Tumblr, etc.
Aggregators - Memes. We need them. New Stuff. We need it. These are link aggregators, RSS feeds, podcasts, etc. This category includes Reddit (almost as bad as Facebook), Digg, Lemmy, etc.
Image sharing - Microblogs with images. Oddly, Facebook actually shines as a platform here if not for their other issues. Instagram is also owned by Facebook. This part of the internet is not my forte.
Forums - These are special built websites were people come together to post about a specific topic.
Personal pages - These are like Old Geocities. Just a website someone is serving about themselves or a passion project. Web Comics fall into this category.
Outside of these categories we have some more fringe type things. We have the pubnixes, smolnet sites, gopher, i2p, TOR, etc. Those are outside the scope of this article dedicated to the average internet user. But I did list these here so they can be googled if you want to know more.
I also have the following recommendations:
Only have 1-2 blogs, 1-2 profiles, 1-2 personal pages. These can be broken out because you maybe want to maintain two identities? More likely that you want a blog for personal stuff, and a blog that you can share more openly that might have some professional stuff on it.
For the rest of the categories, make lists. Pick the sites you like. Keep it manageable. Follow the things you care about.
News, read news from as many sources as you can. This will help you pinpoint and weed out bias.
Never. Trust. Anything. Verify, verify, verify. (INCLUDING THIS. YES, READ UP, CALL ME OUT IF I’M WRONG. It’s one of the best ways we learn: being corrected.)
What does this mean to me?
To be frank, I have no idea. Maybe you wanted to learn more? Maybe you’re going to go use the internet more ethically and mindfully.