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On the post-centralization of social media

24 October 2018 | 3 min read

Below are some running thoughts on the centralization of social media. I have been reactivating many of my public art crawlers for In the process, I am only now realizing how drastic some of the post-Cambridge Analytica API changes from Facebook and Instagram are for the internet.

While the points below are easily arguable in the light of privacy and security consciousness, I believe the optimistic social media policy is lost. Or in another light, the wide access to existing social media content is reserved for commercial behavior that aligns with larger digital platform agendas. More on this later.

The changes for the respective digital social platforms is positive for privacy and security minded individuals. When considering the amount of unwise, and often unconscious, public data that many internet service users produce — this change provides a new responsibility in the hands of the service providers.

To name a few of the known benefits of this change: unconscious publicly listed Venmo purchases, DOX-ing and personal security threats -fueled by public social media presences, highly-scalable identity thefts — in terms of images used for fake social media profiles, or in the much more extreme cases — the suppression of human rights activists through tracking from social media postings.

I’m sure the same could be done for exploitative practices.

There is something magically that is only possible when the cost for media production is low and distributed across a large body of creators. This is now lost.

The changes in these APIs create an incentive for new communities to regain control for their fates. While some larger groups built on the existing social platforms (Facebook groups, etc) will not move — new groups that have a choice for selecting a place to build will consider their future portability. Perhaps this will result in a series of tools that help smaller communities to bootstrap and develop their respective competitive advantages against existing mediums.

Now that these changes are taking place, I have a few thoughts around advantages that new app developers can consider investing effort into:

  1. User education
  2. Privacy first development

The changes for big online social media companies, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and others (RIP Google+), are forcing developers to consider developing tools in areas that were previously unimportant — such as login and bootstrapping social graphs.

The API changes have been ammo in development communities as an additional reason for app developers to never build on an external entity. The overnight changes in some cases broke many digital businesses that depended on the readily available API endpoints that allowed for searching and accessing publicly displayed social media content.

For new app developers, choices around educating users on how their data is being used can be a huge advantage. While larger social entities are optimizing to serve more advertisements or get your attention at some future time — an advantage can be assuring your users they dont have to worry. By educating them about how the data is stored, what is being stored, and why — they will be reminded about what you are doing when they are not prompted by other applications. This itself becomes a implicit reminder when compared to the silent bulldozing in other places.

The privacy first development for new applications can falls inline with the first point, but distinguishes itself by never having to make drastic changes in the future — from the beginning you can give your users confidence, as opposed to a future privacy 180 at the expense of your platform users. Rather than exploiting growth or marketing techniques that require exploiting banal users, services could develop trust with end-users and respectively keep them coming back — if needed.

Reflecting over the changes — it definitely feels that we are in a new generation of internet applications. Just as there was a race to minimize the time on applications and maximize users, perhaps there will be a swing in the opposite direction — where services compete toward building the more wholesome trust with the individuals who take time to use their service over others.

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