Jujutsu1 is a martial art focused on using your opponent’s momentum against them– clever redirection of force rather than trying to meet it directly. This seems like it might be an option for some of today’s social media woes where people are trying to continue to take advantage of the good aspects of these tools/communities while opposing some of their attempts at manipulation. There are major alternatives like
Brontosaurus Mastodon but many people aren’t going to make that jump.2 So consider this post more of a way you might mitigate harm while continuing using tools meant to bend your mind and warp your perceptions.
One way these interfaces play games with your mind is by showing all kinds of numbers. You’ve got a score card for likes, retweets, followers etc. It becomes a shortcut. Is this tweet funny? 453 people fav’d it. Should I fav it too or is this just a bandwagon thing now? How good was my tweet? Did enough people retweet it? That extends even to following people. How many followers do they have? Are they worth following? It can make you skip really looking at the content.
One path out of Twitter’s attempt to manipulate you via numbers is Benjamin Grosser’s Twitter Demetricator. It’s a browser plugin3 that removes all those numbers replacing them with small blank circles. He has something similar for Facebook.4
With Twitter Demetricator, I aim to get inbetween the user and the corporation, enabling a renewed agency over the effects of visible metrics. With it, we can see for ourselves how the metrics affect our everyday experience of the site. Does another user’s high follower count influence your perception of what they post, or your decision to follow them? Are your like and retweet metrics changing how you feel about reactions to your latest tweet, or your plans for what to write next? And finally, who benefits from a system that constantly encourages all of us to evaluate and compare based on what the metrics say?
I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and I remain surprised by how well I’d been trained to look to these numbers. I still find myself glancing at where they were particularly when I look to see if I’m going to follow someone.5 That’s scary stuff. I wonder how long it’ll take to de-habituate myself.
A minimalist search interface for YouTube that cuts out banner ads and a variety of other interface distractions. by madamelic. Videos click through to full screen with no comments etc.
QuietTube is another way to share videos without suggested videos, comments etc. I’ve been using this for a number of years to make sharing videos in classes or with my own kids happen without the drama of horrible suggested videos or putrid comments. James Bridle is the creator and his other work is also well worth checking out if you like the interplay of art, social commentary, and technology.
Don’t forget most of the non-native content you get via social media still starts from sites that probably have RSS feeds. You can read directly from the source without the “help” of various algorithms, where “user behavior is essentially a black box,” and other things that seem much more feature than bug to me. When Twitter kicked off I recall all the people claiming their “network” was replacing RSS feeds for them. I never understood that6 but I still feel like writing blogs posts has a place so I may just be a bitter old man.
Freedom and other apps block both sites and apps to preserve your attention.
Freedom helps protect your time and attention from online distractions on your Mac, Windows, and iOS devices so that you can do more of what you love. Start your free trial today!
We’ve truly ended up in an odd place where we pay for apps to protect us from the social networks we chose to join for free.
On my computer, I opted just to modify the hosts file to block sites. That helps prevent the knee-jerk, I’m-just-bored visits that derail things.
On the fringe of this conversation, I wonder about how certain words are shaping things regardless of the tool/network/website. I used the XKCD text replacement plugin for a long time and it was really odd how that impacted my reading.7 There are more serious examples like this one to replace words with gender neutral options.
For every comment you give on social media, try leaving a comment on an actual site. If you complain about social media on social media then write at least three comments on actual sites.
Active Counter Measures
I’ve been thinking of using the Facebook API to just do random stuff with my account. Turns out Ben Grosser has already done some of that with his random emoji response plugin.
Go Rando adopts the strategy of obfuscation to disrupt Facebook’s increasingly fine-grained data collection practices. While unlikely, if everyone started using Go Rando tomorrow, it could have broad collective effects against state and corporate emotion profiling. But regardless, for any one user it provides individual benefits by disrupting Facebook’s News Feed algorithm (and thus, blunting the “filter bubble” effect), resisting the site’s attempts at emotional manipulation, and confusing corporate and governmental surveillance.
I wonder about how much chaff would be needed to make the ads driven by these analytics useless. If you threw in some randomizing clicking of ads that costs advertisers money but yields no results I think you’d bring things to a chaotic level pretty quickly.
2 One of those times when if your friend jumped off a bridge and you followed it might be a good thing . . .
3 I stopped using the phone app a number of months ago so I don’t know if there are options in that area.
4 I haven’t tried it because I blocked Facebook and only use it if I’m willing to edit my hosts file which is enough of a hassle to prevent casual use.
5 Previously I’d often not follow people with low follower counts. I think that’s because I thought it felt too intimate rather than I didn’t think they were worth following. It felt weird to be 1 of 45 people rather than 1 of several hundred. I now just don’t worry about it.
6 Feels a lot like some of the conversations around needing/not needing traditional reporters.
7 There was an unfortunate email where it replaced some text that made me turn it off. This also seems to have happened to some reporter where a printed retraction was needed but I am unable to find the example at the moment (probably because I retweeted like a mindless automaton it instead of using pinboard).