Why do we feed the tech beasts who want to consume us?

laptop graphic IAS

A day or so ago, I was talking to my daughter about her music business. She redesigned her website, and I thought it looked great. I told her she might consider creating a community discussion group on her website in addition to groups she has on social media.

Eye roll.

My daughter is a techie sort, so my suggestion was dismissed. Too antiquated for today’s ‘webizen’, as I call all of us using the Internet.

I thought about it and I realized something. Back in the day when we got all excited if we could build a simple website somewhere like Geocities, millions of people, myself included, built simple pages in a ‘city’ of our choice. Yahoo bought Geocities and ultimately shut it down.

At that time, I enjoyed hobnobbing with poets and writers. A workshop site, Gazebo, attracted a number of talented writers, and a lit magazine (a very good one) was part of the mix. The zine was called The Alsop Review. Also in that mix was a private site, St. Agatha’s. You got voted in to that. It was a pleasure to me to be able to workshop with some incredible poets at St. Agatha’s.

There were communities at indie blogs then—you just set up a discussion or message board and people could talk about whatever perked up.

Then things began to change. The era of Facebook and Twitter, arguably two of the most significant influences on US politics, began. As both entities grew, webizens began to congregate at large social media sites, and those two became the titans of the Web. Even myspace.com lost its mojo as millions of musicians migrated their pages to Facebook.

Sometime around 2011 or 2012 search algorithms began to change. I maintained a politics site at that time, writing daily about scandals like Fast and Furious and surveillance of media. I noted information from my statistics showing the ‘executive office of the president’ and DHS, among others, were on my website. At that time I paid a firm in Ireland for statistical information, and it was fairly specific. I no longer can afford to do that—Indie Art South is definitely a very slim shoestring operation.

Those were only two of the scandals I covered. There were many, although most in legacy national media, on behalf of one political party, deny those scandals to this day.

So as we approached the presidential election lost by Republican Mitt Romney, ensuring another term for the incumbent, I began to see my traffic tank in a big kind of way. I couldn’t figure it out. Then one day I saw a snippet in the news about the Web’s largest search engine changing its algorithm. I realized the Left now controlled the Web in a way I never thought possible. Any small site opposing the extreme Left would automatically be disenfranchised.

Now we have two major social media sites controlling speech—Facebook (they also own Instagram) and Twitter.

Facebook is beneficial for musicians I know. It’s somewhat beneficial for this arts site, but most of my traffic still comes directly to my website. Google’s mandates have made it nearly impossible for an indie blogger to conform to their tech-heavy requirements, so I don’t waste my time trying to please the Goo as I call it.

When it comes to the Goo, I never click on Google Affiliate ads and I always head straight to the third page of that engine’s returns. The first couple pages are pretty useless—the media usually say the same thing the same way. Imitation is the sincerest form of propaganda.

Facebook once was fairly simple, but after Democrats lost in 2016, activists for the Left directed a great deal of criticism at Facebook. Now indie bloggers are disenfranchised there.

I wrote an article about the Republican National Committee holding convention events here in my hometown, and Facebook put me through a series of hoops to verify my identity. The message I received said this was because I was running a political ad. I have successfully boosted arts stories many times for my site.

I don’t know how many times I scanned, photographed, snipped, and cropped and increased the size for my ID card (a state-issued drivers’ license that is REAL ID compliant). I do know Facebook rejected, then accepted, and now has again rejected my ad (a “page boost”), asking me to once again hop through hoops. I’m not going to beg anyone to take my money, Mr. Zuckerberg. I will never try to run any kind of Facebook ad again for my website.

As for Twitter, it’s censor-heavy largely because the CEO I call ‘Jack Twitter’ has a low tolerance for opposing views. Anything that goes against his grain seems to be ‘hate speech’ or some other pejorative, although  it often isn’t. The problem with Twitter is that this is where news is made and breaks. The influence of that site is extremely harmful to our republic in my opinion, but the First Amendment even applies to entities I don’t like. So it is what it is.

For blogs of yesteryear, the discussion and message boards often drew like minded types and the occasional troll, but they were far more productive than a lot of what is posted on social media conglomerates. Every day I see false information on big conglomerate sites, and I conclude people believe what they want to believe.

Bottom line? We were better off when communities weren’t so densely packed at these mega-social media sites. Facebook and Twitter get their clout from numbers. We feed the very beast that does our country so much harm. I think Twitter is worse, but judging my recent experience trying to run a non-controversial page boost (at Facebook’s recommendation), I’d say Mr. Zuckerberg will soon be giving Twitter Jack some competition in the squelch free expression arena.

I guess we should ask ourselves why we feed the machines that choose to shred us.

(Kay B. Day/June 12, 2020)

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