For A New Internet

A video put out last year by a YouTuber and long-time internet user Glink laments the fall of the internet in a way that I really hadn’t considered. His argument is that the world wide web has passed its golden age, the turning point when Facebook overtook MySpace in 2009 in terms of users.

His recollections made me think of my own memories that contrast so greatly with what we see online today that it almost defies belief. The internet in the 2000s was new, exciting, free, decentralized, and devoid of hyper-politics. Sites were created, developed, and designed by users with other users in mind.

There was also little to no outrage over site content; it was generally understood that if you went to a site that posted offensive content you were bound to be offended and if you didn’t want to experience that, you simply didn’t go to the site. It was live and let live. It was beyond the pale to argue for shutting down a website.

Another reason was that the average person lacked a significant online presence, and there weren’t sites completely dominating communication. Whipping up an online mob was impossible. Most of people’s lives were offline. The internet was an extension of that.

All that is gone. Social media and interactions are more or less confined to a few platforms. All are corporatized and driven by ad revenue, not use experience. Everything you do is tracked and monitored for the purpose of selling you something, or selling your data to someone. Content is too often stale and sterilized, devoid of authenticity and personality in order to improve search engine optimization (SEO).

With the current insanity taking place now, it seems time for a new independent online experience.

Separation from the existing internet as much as possible.

This is perhaps the most difficult but critical competent. Rather than feed into the existing “system,” those with the skills, knowledge and willingness set up servers and website hosting. They are focused on providing quality service and are explicitly opposed to any ideological-based censorship. The system has to be independent of the existing infrastructure to prevent meddling and interference.

Rejection of ideology-driven online crusades 

Websites should be treated the same way American colonies regarded one another; Puritan New England may have not liked Anglican Virginia, but they respect each other’s differences and refused to interfere with the internal matters of the other.

Not so with our current environment. Radical ideologues believe that they have a divine right to police the content of any site anywhere, using friendly media outlets and their hit pieces to generate enough online outrage to intimidate servers and web hosts into removing content they don’t like.

What made the early internet so great was that there was a site for anyone, and if you didn’t like it, the solution was simple: you just didn’t go there. It wasn’t your place to tell others what they could and couldn’t read, watch, or hear.

What’s more, the current thought-policing has led to inconsistent and ever-changing “rules” and “terms of service” allowing Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to soft censors users they don’t like despite their status as public platforms protected by federal law from liability for content posted.

People should be able to create a site and invest in it without fear that their popularity on it could one day lead to its removal for arbitrary and capricious reasons.

But that leads to the next issue.

A return to user-driven platforms and authentic content creation.

The modern corporate internet is founded on advertising and marketing. Sites collect user data through unethical and legally questionable means, which is then sold. On most social media platforms, this makes the user a product, not the customer, and they are treated accordingly. Their interests and preferences are catered to only insofar as it’s necessary to keep their traffic, which is also guaranteed by making them dependent on the site for business or personal contacts. This also influences content creation on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook.

That relationship needs to be reversed. Websites should be user-based, user-driven.

The primary objective of those sites shouldn’t be to collect personal data, but to provide information and content relevant to those frequenting it. People should be able to click on a site and roam around without later getting an ad later on related to the topic. The days of subversive tracking and retroactive consent need to go. If user data is collected, it should be done in a consensual and transparent manner.

Respect for privacy and anonymity.

The conglomeration of social media giants has helped eradicate the anonymity of the early internet era in a way that would have the East Stasi take copious notes. In addition to corporations, it’s all but certain governments are given access to user data. Anonymity in any meaningful way is now seen as suspect. Doxing is an effective way to target people you don’t like in the hopes they will either be targeted in real life or get kicked off major sites.

At a time when privacy is considered a thing of the past, people more than ever need a place where they can speak and interact behind an avatar without fear of what might happen to them for saying the “wrong” thing – even if these dubious standards are applied after the fact to what they said 10 years ago. They should be able to say something controversial and not wonder if it will ever be held against them. They should be able to interact with others on a site and know their data isn’t being sold to the government.

This fear leads people to suppress not just their speech, but expression and creativity. Our world online and offline becomes uglier. It also destroys meaningful interaction, which is what the internet was all about.

Valuing real diversity and variety 

There should be no online monopolies on access to information or communication. Users should have a variety of places to go for the same services and needs. The new internet must value the wide array of ideas, beliefs, concepts, and perspectives out there, understanding that every voice may not be good, but stifling it or insisting on gatekeepers ultimately silences the good ones.

The new internet can be a place where people of goodwill congregate and interact to share, discuss, study, and celebrate the things they’re passionate and enthusiastic about. It should be a means of freedom, rather than chains our current system has become.

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