What should we do about toxic social media?

What should we do about toxic social media?
Photo by Dan Meyers / Unsplash

Lately, I've been ragging on Twitter – for good reason. Twitter is the last mainstream social network I use on a regular basis.

I don't talk about Meta-affiliated networks for good reason. Three years ago, I deleted my Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp accounts. I looked at the positives and negatives, and reasoned that they were making my life worse.

Instead of talking about why social media is toxic – most of us understand that it is – instead I'll address what can be done about it.

First, accept it

Centralized social media won't change. No regulatory bodies are coming to the rescue. If you hang around Twitter or Facebook long enough, no benevolent CEO will sprinkle magic pixie dust to make it better.

Acceptance is no small thing. If you've spent years on a social network, investing in relationships, it's hard to accept that all that effort was a waste. I'm not talking about the people you build friendships with, but the companies and services that connect you. Twitter and Facebook are the nuclear ooze of the Internet, and nothing's going to make them better.

It's time to let go. Toxic social media doesn't care about you, it just wants to exploit you. To them, you're inventory, a blip in a database.

For a long time, these centralized services believed you were powerless to stop the exploitation. Both Twitter and Facebook are practically daring you, "What are you going to do about it?"

Call them on their dare. You can do something about it.

Now own it

What's that "it" I'm talking about? Your personal data.

Twitter and Facebook's entire reason for being is to own, categorize, and sell your personal data. Your searches, your photos, your innermost thoughts – their entire business model hinges upon building a catalog of metadata meant to represent your life.

Yet your life is your own – it should not be auctioned off to the highest bidder. So it's time to own your personal data and therefore your online life.

How to practically do this? Own your personal data by self-hosting your social media. Now I'm not going to sugar coat this option. Starting up a Fediverse instance takes money and time, but if you want to do something about toxic social media, self-hosting is the biggest "Screw you!" to Twitter and Facebook.

But remember, pay it forward

If you really want to kneecap toxic social media – swing a baseball bat at Facebook and Twitter's whole enterprise – invest in code. Specifically, invest in the people that build the software the makes decentralization happen.

I'm paying @dansup for his continued work on PixelFed
I'm paying @dansup for his continued work on PixelFed

Even though free software is free, everything has a cost. If you want your self-hosted social media to continue running, the folks who code the platforms need an incentive to continue forward. Investing in code is an investment in the future.

Getting rid of toxic social media is about building a future without it. There's thousands of developers working on an open web, all who are dedicated to building a better Internet. Still, if we want those walled gardens to be dismantled, we must let developers know it's worth while to code an alternative.

Thus, it's time to accept centralized social media for what it is: it is toxic and won't change. Once you accept this, vote with your feet. Then vote with your wallet.