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Reimagining Social Media with Arnon Zangvil

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Speaker Bio: Arnon Zangvil, a freelance programmer and sociologist from Tel Aviv. He has been developing large-scale Internet platforms and health care platforms for leading vendors around the world, conceptualizing products, and managing R&D organizations. Over the last 10 years, Arnon has been studying the societal and political implications of digital platforms.

Reimagining Social Media with Arnon Zangvil

The purpose of this talk is to identify alternative forms of social media that may tip the balance of power away from the handful of vendors that currently control the platforms, towards the multitude of diverse and unique communities around the world that constitute the more than 2 billion people whose lives are currently affected by these platforms. 

When looking broadly at data-driven production, three main organizing principles (1), or models, may be identified: The first is the market model, in which differentiation, competition and demand serve to create choice and determine value. The second model is a centralized control model, in which a state (or a large enough corporation) sets policy, as is required, for example, for ensuring fair access to a public utility. The third model is the ‘commons’ model, in which free association under specific conditions (2) enables cooperative and reciprocal modes of production, which is the primary model that was used for designing the Internet itself.

In real world environments, the three models usually coexist under tension, but in the case of today’s social media networks, the market model only serves the advertisers, as the users are the products sold on this market, and centralized control is exercised solely by the vendor with little meaningful state regulation. 

However, alternative forms of social media exist. Common-based protocols like federated identity and decentralized social networking protocols (e.g. ActivityPub) allow a radically different model of social media: Commons-based models in which communities may both determine their own rules based on their own values, and at the same time interact with other communities. Only several million users use these systems today, but now that the societal and political dangers of today’s platforms have been exposed, this alternative playground may be able to show a path forward.