We all know by now, (or should) that Facebook is a pretty abusive system. It has some use as a sort of digital phone book for people you know, but mostly it just gives the illusion of connectivity while actually limiting you. It picks articles and posts to show you, according to its mysterious algorithm. It collects all sorts of data about you and uses that to sell advertising. Chances are you are seeing what the highest bidder paid to show you, and that’s not likely to be the friendly art gallery down the street. I know that every post I put on my arists page it asks if I want to pay $5 to boost and show it to more people. It doesn’t just show everyone who follows me. It’s a walled garden controlled by an overlord operating for its own profit, not for the benefit of you and me.
I am suspicious of any single platform controlling our experience and content. We give away our power to an external source, and I don’t trust any company to act for my benefit over their own. In an ideal world, according to me, we each would control our own data, and a system would fetch updates from friends on other servers, so I could see their cute baby pictures or whatever. But if we want to move our own data to a different server, for whatever reason, we can. Freedom and choices. These are good things! As it is, we are stuck through digital peer pressure to use the server and platform that our friends are using, and just take whatever that platform wants to give us.
I don’t have all the answers, but I have a couple of thoughts about how to pull back from this crapola system.
First Up: RSS Feeds.
RSS has been around for ages. Like email it’s a great idea, it’s still useful and it’s going strong. If you aren’t one who already uses this: It stands for Rich Site Summary. You have an RSS reader, add an address to a web site you like, and whenever they add a new article, video or other content, it updates in your reader, so you can see it. It solves the problem of having to check 100 different web sites to see if they did anything new. Lovely. It is possible to do this with youtube videos too, so you don’t have to use a google account to “subscribe” to your favorite video channels.
Some RSS readers to use:
There are tons of them. On Linux I like Liferea. Thunderbird, the email client, has an RSS feed as well. There are web based readers too, like Feedly, that keep your data on a server rather than your own computer. I like it on my own computer, but that does make me responsible for my own backups and doesn’t sync to all my devices all by itself, so use what works for you. Sadly you can no longer get an RSS feed of facebook posts from a page. They disabled that feature a couple of years ago it seems. That would have made it easier to get the updates we want on our own terms…
Adding a youtube channel to your feed takes a tiny hack, but it’s easy. Chris Were lays it out nicely here. (And I recommend his channel for good Linux and nerdy commentary.)
A better social media platform: Mastodon.
This is an open source social media platform. It is federated, so that any person can create their own server if they like, and they all talk to one another. You don’t have to make your own though, there are lots to choose from and join. Servers tend to focus on one particular topic – my favorite is LinuxRocks.online, and it’s a bunch of Linux nerds and they are lovely. Many of them are above my head in terms of tech ability, but that makes it a good place to learn, and they are totally supportive and not jerks. This is not a place for private conversations, they don’t have private messaging, but it is a great way to connect with people about interesting topics.
I am aware of my hypocrisy in that I have not deleted my own Facebook yet. I hope that we will get some better options for personal communication and local events. The more people looking for alternatives, the more alternatives will come about. I’ll be on the lookout…