Leaving Social Media (or, The Illusion Of Choice)

I did it! I have detached from social media exactly as planned and on schedule. You’ll recall that I had previously announced that I would be leaving social media on February 1st, killing officially my Facebook account and my Twitter account too. Well, that day came and went and I am no longer on Facebook and my Twitter has been officially purged of all records, save a single tweet.

You may be wondering why I didn’t actually deactivate my Twitter, and the long story short is that two things are ultimately true: (a) I didn’t want to give up my Twitter handle and disabling your Twitter account for more than 30 days officially releases it back into circulation, and (b) it is sadly a principle way to engage in customer support with different brands and I recognize that it may be necessary for me to do that. Despite that, I will not be consistently using my Twitter account and I will also make it a personal policy to remove any and all Tweets once I have engaged in whatever necessary customer support engagement is necessary.

Leaving was an event. I was pleasantly surprised how easy Facebook was to delete. It did take me some time to ensure services like Spotify were fully disconnected and not dependent on Facebook, but having taken care of that the process to download my Facebook archive and deactivate my account was surprisingly simple. Twitter, on the other hand, was no so easy. Short of actually, truly disabling the service or simply putting your account into “Protected Mode” (that mode a PR Crisis firm will tell you to put your account in when you’re the target of the Twitter mob so that only people you follow can see your content), there’s no real option to clear out your account. Moreover, once you engage in the process of deleting tweets, retweets, and likes the service quickly starts to break in very interesting ways.

Perhaps what was most interesting was how Twitter eventually entered an invalid state. I could see tweets which I had retweeted and/or liked and they showed up on counts but the controls across the bottom of the Tweets didn’t reflect their status. So I couldn’t unlike a tweet without first having to like it again. As you can imagine, this lead to some interesting people being alerted to some very old Tweets. Retweets suffered a similar fate as well. In order to un-retweet, I was first required to retweet them again. This proved to be nonviable as I had over 8k tweets, a majority of which were re-tweets. I did eventually get around this issue by applying for developer access and deleting my re-tweets via Twitter’s API using a PHP-based tool I modified for the event.

The Illusion of Choice

Coincidentally, after having left social media there was an article published by TechCrunch which claimed to illuminate “Why No One Really Quits Google or Facebook“. It was funny to me, because I had arguably done just that. It’s worth noting that I’ve also begun distancing myself from Google too by finding substitutes for my personal projects for Firebase and Google Maps and having moved my e-mail off G-Mail and onto a privately paid for and hosted instance of Microsoft Exchange. I do still have a G-Mail account but all correspondence of consequence has been moved off it and now G-Mail is my spam account.

The author makes some interesting observations, though. Namely he claims that users are consistently making a choice. That, despite being presented with alternatives (such as FastMail for G-Mail) that users choose to stay with these platforms.


It’s incredibly condescending, and obscures a far more fundamental fact about consumers: people know what they value, they understand it, and they are making an economic choice when they stick with Google or Facebook

Danny Crichton

I couldn’t agree less. It is certainly arguable whether people truly understand the things they supposedly value or it’s material value relative to the world. I know, anecdotally, that a vast majority of my friends and family likely don’t. Not because they are uneducated, but merely because most haven’t bothered to truly consider it and don’t have enough broader understanding of technology to really make a valid assessment. Moreover, I do not believe that users are necessarily consciously making a choice to stay. They are staying purely because of the cost of switching is so extraordinarily high and the economies of scale shackle them to the services.

The lack of consumer switching or investment in privacy I do not believe is something that can be adequately deduced by simply saying “there are similiar services and they aren’t using them”. I emphasize similar because that’s all the alternatives are. They are similar services which have familiar features but which lack the essential underlying content. This lack of content is the very reason most who attempt to enter the “social” space collapse. A chicken and egg problem sprouts. Your initial users are essentially talking into a very large, empty room. The only options for growth in the early stage for such services is purely organic and organic growth is difficult when those who produce it already have an established foothold somewhere else.

It is for this reason, that you cannot simply look at there having existed alternative services and draw the conclusion that those services have, at best, survived but not thrived (or worse, failed altogether) on the premise that consumers have chosen to not care about privacy. Even if they want to make that choice and they want to leave, there are multiple steps necessary to complete it and leaving will frequently abruptly sever the tie to a multitude of long-standing social connections. That is not something many people can or want to afford. So they remain, forced into submission and abuse by a company who’s moral rot at the top is abhorrent.

The reality is that the only way we make this better and bring change to social media is through one of two choices: (a) another service has to enter the market which competes with Facebook and is more altruistic and steadfast in it’s values and also provides an even greater incentive than simply being the same platform with better leadership, or (b) significant government oversight and accountability in how the leaders of companies like Facebook and Google handle information about their customers. This would, arguably, need to go further than even GDPR. GDPR, while a good place to start, does not go far enough in making the complexities of how data is collected, used, and subject to abuse clear and accessible to consumers nor does it do enough to sufficiently hold companies who fail their customers accountable. Nevertheless, it would be a good place to start in lieu of the former option occurring. Realistically, however, option a is more likely to come first.

Re: Immigration

This post represents my general thoughts on the topic of Immigration and is meant to serve as a “work in progress” of what an ideal immigration platform or policy proposal would look like to me. I am by no means an immigration expert and I am certainly open to feedback by those who certifiably are… as well as those who just have other good ideas.

Immigration seems to be the topic of the year so far in 2019. Arguably, it’s been one of the biggest topics since Donald Trump announced his intent to run for the Presidency in 2015, spewing racist and xenophobic propaganda in the process. There’s a lot of misinformation about the topic and a lot of people wringing their hands and expressing concern, but nobody seems to be offering genuine and comprehensive responses to the problems we face. That needs to change.

Our immigration system is genuinely broken. There are reasons to be concerned both for it’s effectiveness in keeping us safe and the moral ramifications of cruel, inhumane policies and practices at the border and beyond. If we want to truly grow as a country, keep our citizens safe, and “secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity,” as the preamble to the Constitution states, then we must be aggressive in our reforms and rebuild the system from the ground up.

I believe that the goal of any immigration system should be to encourage people to visit our country and patronize our businesses, grow the strength of our country by attracting those who support our democratic values, and protect our country by promptly removing and preventing entry to those who have shown to be a threat – either by their own documented behavior or the behavior and ideologies of those whom they are known to associate. Our current immigration policies fail to deliver on that goal across the board. Immigration can be an expensive, confusing, and time consuming process that envelops a majority of a person’s life. They routinely fail to keep us safe by focusing too often on low risks matters and not paying enough attention to the real threats. Worst of all, enforcement of our broken policies routinely cause collateral damage as the lives of low-risk individuals and families are torn apart for petty and insignificant reasons.

My proposal for how to move forward is comprehensive and boils down to the following key-objectives:

  • Abolish ICE and specialized immigration courts
  • Citizenship for all DACA recipients
  • Completely end family separation policies
  • Establish a three tier visa program that is affordable with clearly defined processes and terms and a definitive path to citizenship
  • Complete reformation of policies dictating the handling of unaccompanied minors
  • Establish common sense, humane policies governing the handling of illegal crossings, visa overstays, and criminal activity by visa holders or other undocumented persons

By taking these bold steps and implementing the necessary changes to institute them we can make our country more secure and increase our strength economically and geopolitically. These changes create a sensible and accessible route to citizenship for the best and brightest minds of future generations in addition to the most dedicated individuals who seek for themselves and their families a better life that our own ancestors sought when they arrived. By using humanistic policies and creating a welcoming society for immigrants we can build investment in our principles and ideals and use it as confirmation and leverage of our ideals across the world.

The United States has long been regarded as a premier world power, but in recent times we have fallen into disregard due to our xenophobic and racist attitudes that are reinforced and perpetuated through a broken immigration system. In pursuing the approach described here, we correct our trajectory and return once again to be a beacon of hope and opportunity for people all around the world.

Common Sense Immigration

Abolishing ICE

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or ICE) is a specialized federal law enforcement agency that was created in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks during the massive government restructuring which also created the Department of Homeland Security. While, conceptually, there was reasoning behind creating a specialized agency to handle immigrant related matters uniformly across the country, they have evolved to be an unethical agency and common enemy of the public.

The reality is, there is no need for a specialized force that enforces immigration law. The duties currently designated for ICE can be thoroughly carried out more appropriately through local courts and law enforcement. Rather than devoting enormous amounts of money to a specialized agency which, in a strive to justify their existence, consistently overreaches and abuses their authority and duty we can route the funds into supporting local law enforcement agencies and courts across the country.

Further, abuses by agents of ICE over the past decade MUST be investigated. In the course of abolishing ICE, all cases previously handled by ICE should be collected and reviewed by legal counsel. All abuses, misconduct, or overreaches of authority should be brought to account.

Citizenship for Dreamers

The Dreamers, more formally known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, are outstanding individuals who arrived in this country at various young ages and who have been in this country for some time. They live and work among us today but are in a constant state of limbo. Under this proposal for immigration reform, all DACA individuals should be granted immediate citizenship given their status as already thoroughly vetted, high performing individuals with a long established history in the country.

Ending Family Separation

The practice of family separation at the border is an affront to the values and morals of this country and must be ended immediately. The only conditions in which members of a family which arrive together shall be separated is for initial evaluation only to ensure any woman or child arriving with an adult male is not being trafficked or in an abusive/risk situation. Once an adult male has been cleared as a non-threat to an arriving woman and/or minor, they shall be immediately reconnected and be detained as a family unit in a designated facility equipped to support families.

Establishing a Three Tier Visa Program

Current visa programs are bloated and ineffective. They are expensive to obtain and confusing to manage by the businesses who seek them and the people who hold them. This leads to people who either can’t afford to financially or don’t have the time to wait due to their own safety in their home countries going to desperate measures to cross the border.

The problems with a complex and expensive immigration system can lead to increased illicit human trafficking as individuals pose with good intentions and recruit into sex trafficking, indentured servitude, or drug trafficking innocent individuals in exchange for helping them enter the country. This does more harm than good and could be avoided if the process for entering and staying in the country were easily affordable, timely, and easily navigable.

Thus, I provide the three tier visa system as a means to simplify and streamline the process for gaining entrance and citizenship to the United States according to the person’s needs, background, and talents. The visas provided all have very clear and attainable conditions which protect our existing populations and grow it by providing opportunities to others.

Class T (Travel / Tourism) [Tier 1]

The Class T visa would be offered to individuals who only seek to visit the United States for a limited time, such as for a vacation or for business reasons like attending a trade show or conference. This would be the one most widely available and easily accessible. It would be granted automatically to anyone with a valid passport from an Allied country. This would include all of our NATO allies and other select countries which we have strong, trusting relationships with. Meanwhile, citizens of other friendly nations which are not NATO or other trusted allies could still apply for a Class T visa, but they would be required to do so manually as it is not automatically afforded to them by their passport.

Class T visas would come with stipulations that grant legal presence in the country for up to 30 days from initial entry, but no more than 90 total days in any 18 month period. Someone who violates these conditions would be subject to immediate removal, fines, and revocation of privileges. The specifics of these punitive measures would be left to the judicial system and would consider the circumstances of the violation and the history of the individual.

Individuals who are inside the country on a Class T visa may, during their presence in the United States, apply for a permanent relocation visa (Class A or Class B as described below). If the individual applies for a permanent relocation visa, they must do so within 20 days of their initial entry as the application to a permanent relocation visa while holding a Class T visa will grant an additional 20 days presence while their application is considered.

Class B (Basic Relocation) [Tier 2]

The Class B visa would be available to individuals who seek to permanently relocate to the United States, but who’s skills or career industry are not considered a priority. This would primarily apply to unskilled laborers who wish to relocate, but also any individual wishing to relocate but who’s career or background does not make them highly desirable.

Class B visas would require that individuals establish residency and gainful employment, or enrollment into an accredited university or technical school program within 90 days of their arrival. They would be subject to check-ins every quarter and must provide ongoing proof of their compliance with the terms of their visa. A Class B visa provides legal residency for 5 years as long as the individual continues to comply with its’ terms.

Successfully fulfilling the terms of the Class B visa for the full 5 years would place the individual in “Long Term Resident” status, providing to them today’s equivalent of a “Green Card” and making them eligible to apply for citizenship. During this phase, they are not yet citizens and must complete an additional 3 year phase where they are subject to annual check-ins and must continue to show regular employment, though the employment requirement would not be as stringent as during the initial 5 years.

Class A (Accelerated Relocation) [Tier 3]

Class A visas are for high achieving or highly skilled individuals who seek to permanently relocate to the United States, and who’s background or skills are highly sought. These might be individuals who have graduated top of their class from secondary education or undergraduate institutions in their home country and who seek to relocate to the United States and enroll in a university, or other individuals who are established in specific careers where the United States seeks to recruit talent – such as doctors, nurses, and engineers.

Class A visas would offer a fast-track for citizenship. The terms of the visa would stipulate that the individual must remain gainfully employed in their authorized industry for 3 years, or start and complete an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral program within 5 years. During this time, the individual would be responsible for attending a check-in meeting twice per year for the entire duration of their visa and provide evidence that they have complied with the terms.

Completion of the terms provided by the Class A visa would make the individual immediately eligible for citizenship upon completion. There would be no further waiting or evaluation period. If they complete the terms of the Class A visa they can apply for citizenship immediately, be reviewed by the court, and granted citizenship

Asylum

Asylum represents a special type of immigration. The granting of Asylum would happen exclusively at the discretion of the Secretary of State or other designated individual. Asylum would primarily be granted to those who are originating from recognized crisis areas and who are either identified by government agents (such as Diplomats, Intelligence Agents, or Military Commanders) operating in those crisis areas OR upon referral through select allies.

Priority for grants of asylum would be known figures or groups suffering from political oppression or violence, or local at-risk populations who have materially assisted the United States in carrying out it’s mission. An example would be local translators and their families who assist our military abroad.

Receiving Asylum would be the equivalent of receiving a Class B visa and would be subject to the same conditions once granted. However, the application/selection process is different, as is the evaluation process for eligibility. Asylum seekers would be subject to more scrutiny during research on their background and identity in order to establish eligibility. Asylum is the only status available to citizens or individuals who originate from enemy or otherwise high-threat countries and regions where the identity, motives, and background of the applicants is not reliably and readily attainable.

Applying for Visas

The application process for Visas should be simplified and the cost burden reduced to those who seek them. As it currently stands, applying for a visa can be a tedious and costly process, particularly if you’re doing so for reasons of permanent relocation.

As mentioned above, the Class T visa would be the easiest and most accessible. For individuals coming from our NATO allies or other select countries which we have a close relationship a Class T visa is automatically provided through the presentation of a valid passport at their port of entry. Assuming they have not previously been found in violation of the terms of their Class T visa, they would be granted entry immediately. If, however, they have previous violations of their term which have resulted in their suspension of privileges they would be turned away immediately at the border and denied entry.

For individuals originating in friendly nations that aren’t a NATO ally or other select allies, applying for a Class T visa would be done through the closest United States embassy or consulate or similar designated authority for their region. The application must be submitted 30 days in advance and include a verified travel agenda (plane tickets, hotel reservations) and any necessary documents to prove their identity. Once this information has been cleared, they will be provided a paper visa which must be provided with their passport at their port of entry.

Meanwhile, for any individual seeking to relocate to the United States permanently, they would need to apply for their visa at least 30 days in advance through their country’s United States embassy or consulate or other designated authority. Class A visas would be the most restrictive and require additional documentation to support the merits claimed in their application. This might include letters from various authoritative or academic bodies and institutions as to their achievements or may include government documentation of their career of work and referral letters from their superiors in their careers. Applying for a Class A visa would also count as an application for a Class B visa, which may be granted in lieu of a Class A.

For most individuals, applications for a Class B visa would be approved assuming the individual’s identity can be reasonably verified and a simple background investigation does not reveal any concerning associations or significant criminal history.

Individuals originating from hostile or otherwise high-risk nations are not eligible for any visa classes. They may, however, seek Asylum as previously detailed.

Dependents

Families are important to American culture. All Class A and Class B visas shall include authorization for the legal presence of one recognized spouse and up to 5 minors with valid legal guardianship. All dependents of a visa holder are subject to the same terms as the visa holder, and any violations of the terms which result in a revocation of a visa will apply to all dependents.

Recognized spouses must be individuals who can be legally identified as a spouse in their originating country and must be an individual who’s identity and background can be reasonably established. In the event that the person’s home country does not or cannot provide legal verification of spousal relationship, the individual is encouraged to have their spouse apply for their own visa instead of crossing as dependents.

When considering minors, the accompanying minors must be legally verifiable as being under legal guardianship (such as through a government recognized adoption) or be verifiable as a blood relative of the child. If the minor and adult do not have a parental relationship, it must be established why the minor is not with their parent.

Employment & Education

While the Class T visa does not grant any employment eligibility, Class A and B visas do. Specifically, the terms of those visas require maintaining gainful employment OR enrolling in and completing an accredited academic program. Current processes make sponsoring immigrants expensive and complicated. Paying for an H1B is something many companies won’t broach due to the cost and complications of it.

Under the tiered immigration program, employers would simply be required to provide basic documentation that validates the ongoing employment of an immigrant and notify the government immediately if they voluntarily leave or are let go. This information would be akin to basic tax filings that companies already do which declare the income and employment status of the individual.

A similar filing would be applied to universities that would be required every semester to disclose their academic performance and ongoing enrollment status. In the event that the individual fails to remain enrolled in a sufficient number of classes, voluntarily terminates their enrollment, or is otherwise removed from the school the university should notify the government.

In order to protect and prioritize the citizen workforce, a tax penalty could be levied against companies who disproportionately employ certain classes of visa holding persons. For example, employing a class A visa holder may not impose any penalty, but having a workforce exceeding 30% of Class B visa holders in a non-labor role or 60% of a labor role incurs a penalty. A formula could be worked out which counterweights this with unemployment rates. Higher unemployment lowers the thresholds and/or increases the penalty amount while lower unemployment increases thresholds and lowers penalties.

Reforming Handling Childhood Arrivals

The history of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border has been handled a myriad of ways. One of those ways is the existing DACA (or Dreamers) which were mentioned above. In general, DACA has proven to be an effective way of handling youth who arrive without an adult at the border and little to no documentation authorizing their entry.

In pursuit of a similar policy, any individual who arrives at the border under the age of 18 and with no designated adult guardian shall be initially detained in a special facility for youth detainees. The facility shall accommodate holding groups of single males, single females, and co-ed families. All children under the age of 10 will be kept together regardless of sex.

During detention, which shall be strictly limited to no more than 30 days, all efforts shall be made to identify a safe and legal guardian both inside and outside the country by which to return the child to. Legal guardians shall be considered, in order of priority, any blood relative parent, adult sibling, grandparent, aunt, or uncle. If the most suitable guardian is outside the country, the minor shall be deported immediately and returned to that guardian after being returned to authorities of their origin country. If the most suitable guardian is inside the United States, local authorities shall transport the child to that individual

In the event that no suitable guardian is able to be located, the minor shall be placed in the United States foster care system and assigned a special case worker. They will be required to obtain a primary and secondary education and must have a GED or high school diploma by the time they turn 19. At 19 years old, if they do not have a diploma or GED they will be subject to immediate removal. Otherwise, they will immediately be granted a Class B visa and must subsequently carry out the terms of the Class B visa or be removed to return to their original country.

Policy Enforcement & Violations

Illegal Crossings / Illegal Entry

By implementing a more straightforward and accessible system for legal entry, the desire is that individuals are encouraged to cross at official port of entries. However, for any number of reasons individuals may choose not to do so.

Crossing illegally should be considered a misdemeanor as it already is. It is not inherently a threat to our national security, but for certain individuals it could be. Crossing illegally in the commission or conspiracy of criminal activity, on the other hand, is a threat to our national security and should be treated as a felony.

If an individual crosses illegally and is not found to be doing so in the commission of another crime, they should be apprehended, held and interviewed for 72 hours at a legal port of entry or other designated holding area. From there, they can either be released back into their country or origin OR apply for Asylum or a Class B visa. If they apply, their detention may be extended while their application is considered.

If an individual crosses illegally and is in the commission of another crime or engaging in conspiracy to commit another crime, the individual should be apprehended and held until charged and sentenced by a criminal court for their accompanying crime. The result shall be either immediate removal or long term incarceration under the terms of their sentencing.

Undocumented Aliens & Visa Overstaying

Any individual which is encountered within the United States who lacks or is unable to produce evidence of their legal authorized presence shall be determined to have committed a misdemeanor illegal crossing. This shall apply regardless of whether they overstayed a visa or entered the country outside a legal port of entry without a visa.

Individuals established to be in this condition shall be fined no more than $250 and shall be immediately evaluated for eligibility for a Class B visa. If eligible, they shall have the option of applying for a Class B visa and complying with the terms of that visa OR they may choose to be immediately removed under the terms of the Class T visa.

If the individual chooses to apply for a Class B visa, they will be immediately granted a provisional visa which has the same terms and conditions as a Class B visa but is subject to revocation if the application is denied due to an inability to confidently establish identity and background of the individual. If revoked, the individual and any undocumented dependents shall be removed within 72 hours.

Arriving Without Documentation

If an individual arrives at a legal United States Port of Entry and lacks sufficient documentation for access, they shall be provided two options: (a) be denied entry and return immediately to their country of origin, or (b) apply for a visa or asylum. Choosing option B allows them to also choose to enter voluntary detention. This is a sort of protective custody / quarantine where individuals who believe they are at risk if they return may be transferred to a secure facility inside the United States while they are interviewed and await a ruling on their application for Asylum or their visa.

Individuals in voluntary detention may choose to be released back into their country of origin at any time, and individuals who apply for their visa at the border are not required to remain in detention while their request is processed. They must, however, provide a reliable means to locate them or return daily to check their status.

Zero Tolerance

The immigration system should have zero tolerance for foreign individuals who enter the United States under the terms of ANY grant and who commit crimes.

Conviction of any felony action by an individual who’s presence in the United States is granted by either their asylum or visa status shall have their status revoked immediately upon conviction, regardless of sentencing. While an individual sentenced to time in prison would still be held and complete that time, upon their release they would be immediately removed from the country. Further, they shall be banned from entry for a period of at least 5 years. The duration of their ban may be increased up to permanently at the discretion of the court with consideration to the nature of their crime and the risks posed by a repeated offense.

Meanwhile, misdemeanors should be handled under a point system wherein the conviction of 5 non-traffic misdemeanor charges results in the violation of the terms of any visa or asylum status and prompts the eligibility for immediate removal of the individual. Unlike felony charges, any individual removed due to “pointing out” shall be denied entry for a period of at least 2 years but no more than 10 years according to the frequency and severity of their offenses. Traffic-related misdemeanors such as parking tickets, speeding tickets, failure to yield or lane usage tickets shall not apply to their points and should not result in removal. However, charges such as petty theft, trespassing, and civil misconduct do apply.

Talking Boxes

It’s no real secret that among the companies that I have opinions about is Amazon. Don’t get me wrong, their service is extremely convenient and comprehensive. I do purchase a lot of things from Amazon purely because many of the more menial things in life I don’t really enjoy going to the store to pick it up myself.  I feel guilty every time I do, and in a perfect world there would be a means for my local stores to provide the same kind of service and convenience and would be the rightful recipient of my hard-earned money.

That being said, this is not a post about my objections to Amazon’s corporate leadership. Rather a simple observation about Amazon’s annual holiday advertisement. This year, like last, they revived the “talking boxes” ads.  Unfortunately for Amazon, this year’s is much less inspiring.

Quick Rewind to 2017:

What I love about last year’s is that it does an excellent job of evoking emotion – a sense of love and connectedness to be furnished and carried forward by the machinations of Amazon’s global reach.  It’s cute. The music is good and inspiring.  It’s a great ad.

Then, there’s this year’s…

Not nearly the same effect. The ad tries to incorporate some of the same imagery used, but in a way that resonates much less – at least with me. Rather than following the thread about how someone used Amazon to do something special for someone half-way around the world, we just have a bunch of singing boxes and people dancing around.  It’s chaotic! Further, short of reading in between the lines of the lyrics it’s hard to really connect what they’re trying to convince you of in the ad.

I suppose they probably did some market research to figure out what resonated with their target audience. (Just kidding! I worked for an digital agency, they don’t usually bother with it!)

I give credit where credit is due, and last year Amazon really nailed it with their holiday ad. This year, not so much.

Social Media Makes The World Worse, Not Better

I will deactivate most of my social media accounts as of February 1st, 2019.  By most, I mean the major ones Facebook and Twitter.  I’ll keep my Instagram and probably even my rarely used Snapchat. However, Facebook and Twitter will be removed seeing as I can no longer justify using them.

Why wait? It’s a mixture weening myself off the habit of checking them along with needing time to unravel Facebook from my life. There are several services I signed up for years ago using Facebook and continue to sign-in with Facebook today. I’m a busy person, so disconnecting those won’t happen overnight.

Facebook and Twitter are Fundamentally Flawed

Since the advent of social media, there has always been the quiet murmur and passive speculation about what effect platforms that connect people at the scale of Facebook and Twitter would have.  Many questioned whether or not it’s benefits would outweigh what many foresaw as the consequences of their adoption. In light of privacy breaches and the toxic political culture that came to a head during the 2016 United States Presidential Election, many others have also given pause to consider what social media is doing to us as people.

The idea behind social media sounds noble enough, right? Facebook’s selling point, right on their front page, is “connect with friends and the world around you.”  Twitter’s is “see what’s happening in the world right now.”  With the help of these services, one can quickly and easily connect with friends new and old, stay in touch with family, connect with colleagues, share ideas and perspectives and stories about our lives with the people who mean the most to us. We can even make new friends and connect with the friends of our friends or, in some cases, entirely random people on the internet through a myriad of business pages, groups, and the public postings of our favorite celebrities and public personalities.

Doesn’t that sound so wonderful? Imagine the possibilities of what humanity can do and accomplish through a medium that makes it so easy to share thoughts and ideas and experiences. So much of the human experience as told for centuries through the eyes of art, artists, and philosophers is rooted in the connections we have to the people around us and the experiences we share with them. Astronomer Carl Sagan described the importance of human relationships in the vast emptiness that is our universe in his  book “Contact”, writing “for small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” As Facebook put it in an ad they published earlier this year, “and just like that, we felt a little less alone”.

However, companies like Facebook are overly idealistic and fail to consider two critical shortcomings of their platforms: (a) the connections we forge online are inadequate substitutes for real world relationships, and (b) that the platforms create an echo chamber that helps validate, reinforce, and spread ideas that are fundamentally harmful to society at large and antithetical to the stated goals of the platform.

Over the last decade, we have continued to grow further apart from our friends and family as we become more reliant on social media. A study in 2017 by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found a direct correlation between the amount of time a person spends interacting on social media and feelings of loneliness and isolation.

We have also seen bad actors begin manipulating social media as a means to spread propaganda, messages of hate, and to ruin the lives of completely innocent people over the ominous “fake news” and arguments made in bad faith. This problem isn’t even unique to politics. There have been numerous cases over the last decade where individuals have been misidentified, or people have been publicly shamed for innocent transgressions or lack of political correctness. Just this year, Facebook has removed over 14 million pieces of content by and for terrorist causes. They say that number is rising, and you’d be naive to think that a sizable amount of that content wasn’t first seen by several thousands of people before being flagged and removed.

Facebook and Twitter are directly fueling these issues by nature of their design and due to a misguided set of principles. These platforms have a low friction to join and low friction to post. It’s part of their philosophy of getting as many people on the platform as possible (so that they can charge premium fees and ensure maximum reach when they sell ads) and keeping you creating as much content as possible so that it takes longer for others to consume it (thus ensure you also have a chance to see more ads that they sold). It’s the business model of pretty much every successful social platform and it’s one we’re happy to pretend isn’t a problem because of the warm and fuzzies we get from the idea of what social media is billed as doing: connecting people. The cost of this is only realized later- after we have now sacrificed weeks worth of our life into unfulfilling connections, given away millions of pieces of information about ourselves to unsavory marketers and bad actors, and provided a means by which evil and deranged individuals can find other evil and deranged individuals and become validated and inspired to harm others.

Whenever confronted with the aforementioned problems, social media companies are quick to retreat behind the shield of “Freedom of Speech”. After all, they merely want to help people exercise their right to express themselves and share in human experiences. It’s a well fortified position. It’s difficult, on the face of it, to really argue with them. Remember how great and inspiring their goal is? Remember how much potential it has to do good? How can you argue against reaching for that?  The thing is, we cannot let ourselves have delusions of grandeur. While these may be the intent of these services (psst, it isn’t, their intent is to sell ads and make money) the reality is much more destructive. Social media companies more or less gaslight everyone whenever they face criticism by trying to turn attempts to change them or hold people accountable into attempts at suppressing free speech and censorship.We need to realize, though, that free speech doesn’t provide one the right for an audience and that not everyone’s thoughts has a intrinsic right to be presented far and wide to those audiences in the public sphere.

Well, there’s a whole world out there where people fight to be relevant every day. And you act like it doesn’t even exist! You’re the one who doesn’t exist. You’re doing this because you’re scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter. And you know what? You’re right. You don’t. It’s not important. You’re not important. Get used to it.
– Emma Stone as “Sam
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Film – 2014)

The realities of this situation are what ultimately made me draw the conclusion that there is no genuine reason for me to participate on the platforms. Previously, I had told myself that as long as I was aware of the risks that it would be fine. I don’t use Facebook or Twitter in these abusive ways, so it won’t be an issue. As my feelings on this matter evolved, I told myself that it was important that someone be on social media to help shepherd others away from it. After all, Jesus went to the temple to bring the good news to the sinners and heretics. The unfortunate truth is that my mere presence continues to contribute to Facebook and Twitter’s bottom line – no matter how small – and it passively encourages others to join or stay as a sort of “mob mentality”.  The argument has always been that nobody could compete with Facebook because this is where everyone’s social graph and content already existed. By being on Facebook and contributing to that graph, I’m continuing to contribute my information as something Facebook can sell and I’m continuing to reinforce my anchor to the content. That cannot continue.

Is there a fix? Maybe.

As they are currently designed, and due to their business models, it will be impossible for companies like Facebook or Twitter to effectively close Pandora’s box and truly reduce the harm their platforms cause. This is why I’m also not holding out for them to merely “be better”. The functionality and expectation of users is so deeply ingrained that any attempts to change it would be substantially disruptive to their business model and would be met with fierce opposition from users out of fear that it was some sort of effort to censor them.

Let’s suppose, however, they were to address these issues and make the changes necessary to reduce the harm inherent in their platforms. Effectively, they would need to make changes such as:

  • Remove the ability to post with a public visibility, hard limiting content’s reach to friends and friends of friends. This stems from the aforementioned “right to an audience” issue. The average person does not and should not have the inherent right to disseminate their ideology to significantly wide audiences, but that’s exactly what Twitter and ‘public’ posts on Facebook do. They provide a nearly frictionless, zero-cost means to take one’s thoughts and put it in front of millions of other viewers. They even have the added benefit of doing this with an algorithm that is subject to exploitation by bad actors who want to put propaganda, fake news, and hate-filled content in front of people in hopes of manipulating people’s emotions into behaving a certain way. The ability to reach audiences at this speed and scale shouldn’t be something we give away freely. It should be a privilege one earns by earning the trust and respect and association of others, not what an algorithm thinks is going to be most likely to keep us engaged.
  • Reduce the sophistication of the targeting algorithms so that targeting does become more difficult. If advertising is a must, then buyers should be limited in how extensively they can target users. Under current paradigms, targeting algorithms run the risk of targeting gambling addicts with ads for online gambling and alcoholics with ads for bars and, most disturbingly, impressionable users with radicalization propaganda. It’s a misconception that advertisers only use Facebook due to the accuracy of the targeting. It’s a nice perk but advertisers are ultimately going to go where the users are regardless of level of detail at which they can target their ads. Sure, advertisers want a return on their investments but by weakening their targeting ability it requires that the quality of their advertisements become better and the products they market more appealing to justify the spend. This ultimately creates a barrier to entry against unsavory, low-quality companies and products and protects consumers at the same time.
  • Remove the ability to “share” posts, removing the ability and incentives for “going viral”.  Going viral is one of the most destructive things on social media. It creates the false impression that whatever is being presented is healthy or valid because “certainly those 80k other people can’t be wrong”.  Unfortunately, they usually are… if they’re even real people. Speaking of which…
  • Force users to perform some series of steps to validate their unique, real world identity prior to posting content. This is not to respond to the often scapegoated anonymity that is frequently suggested as the root of the problem in cyber-bullying, but rather the reality that some users on Facebook and Twitter aren’t even real people. They use stolen identities and pictures of other users, but they may be entirely or partly automated as bots. Why? They are useful in the above situation – by giving something the appearance of being trusted, valid, and accepted by showing a lot of people in agreement. It’s a psychological manipulation, and it helps trick the algorithms by assigning too much importance to some content and increasing it’s likelihood of being shown to others. The only genuine way to combat this is requiring that any new sign-ups be restricted to only viewing content, while creating new content or interacting with content would require one to verify their unique identity.  It’s a difficult feat, but the trade-offs are a greater level of trust that the people you are communicating with are in fact a singular, real person and not a well-built AI bot or a single guy sitting in a call center somewhere controlling 30 accounts trying to give you the impression that their viewpoint is more valid than others.

The last one is a real kicker for a service like Twitter where the entire basis of the site is that anyone can tweet anything and everyone can see it. It really slows things down. Companies like Twitter would, essentially, have to verify single every user. A service like Facebook could skirt around it by not having public content at all and, perhaps, limiting exposure of non-verified users content outside of their immediate friends.

At the end of the day, these changes are mostly out of reach to companies like Facebook and Twitter. These companies are too established to make these drastic of shifts. If a social media site were to exist with the considerations above it would have to be built from the ground up. It’s an idea I’ve often thought about and, just perhaps, I’ll attempt to produce at some point. I often talk myself out of it because the chance of failure for such a service would be so high… but, people’s feelings are changing on social media. Maybe the time for something new is now.

Maybe people want to get back to basics. I know I do.