Law in the Internet Society

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ReeceWalterFirstEssay 2 - 15 Dec 2023 - Main.ReeceWalter
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Can We Cut off the Lifeblood of Social Media When We Refuse the Cure?

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Becoming a Privacy-Aware Person: I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me

 
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-- By ReeceWalter - 12 Oct 2023
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-- By ReeceWalter - 15 Dec 2023
 
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Introduction

Is there any way of actually symbiotically living with social media? The relationship between humanity and social media is parasitic, it needs us more than we need it. It feeds off of us to survive and does not exist without us. But the body has around 100 trillion beneficial bacteria supporting its function which humanity is better off for having. How do we turn social media from a bad germ into a good one, making it work for us? Nothing is free, and that ages-old adage holds true when it comes to social media. Social media accounts are “free.” You pay nothing when you sign up and you get everything, including: targeted ads. Advertisements already consume our every day. In print, on the radio, on cable, even in life! Buses, benches, billboards, open spaces and functional objects are just places you can slap an ad on. Many of these advertisements hope the right person will see it and either buy it themself or tell a friend. Maybe once, when the average person only saw a handful of advertisements a day, they could pipe up when their friend needs a window-cleaning service: “I saw a billboard today!” It's a coincidence. Now it’s not a coincidence, when between Instagram posts, you see an advertisement for window-cleaning. How did they do it? Social media isn’t free, it’s funded. Targeted ads aren’t good for us the way they are good for advertisers, and they pay for the servers we use to keep in contact with friends and family. Yet we’ve found ourselves echoing the advertiser: “but targeted ads are good!” There’s two big problems with targeted ads: privacy violations and the resulting overconsumption.

Privacy

Privacy wise, It’s fine if my social media accounts spy on me because I’m not doing anything wrong or illegal. The same argument is given by pro-police individuals who mistakenly believe: as long as you are not doing anything illegal, your privacy being violated is fine. However, it is not good. Presumably, those who fell for the Cambridge Analytica scheme did not do anything illegal, but they actually completely fell for mass propaganda. The mass data allowed a foreign company to, effectively, rig the election. While arguably this isn’t super different from traditional campaigning and propaganda, it’s more bad now because of the scale. It’s kinda like the way advertisements were and are now: it used to be guesswork and now it’s exact. People question if you can have an online shopping addiction and others rack up credit card debt as the ads get even more exact because the better the ad placement, the more people spend, the more money social media makes. It creates a downward spiral when the capitalist monster chews up people and spits them out: broke, sad, and with a polluted planet.

Over consumption

Social media also has a big role in consumerism because of those ads. Did you know fast fashion is the second biggest consumer of water? Or that many clothes are made of plastic and dyed with toxic materials? Better known: that fast fashion underpays and puts workers in inhumane conditions? But we can’t get enough. Fast fashion is rapidly rising in the ranks as one of the most harmful industries on the planet and it is propped up by social media in more than one way. For example: the targeted ads encouraging consumerism. The algorithm is designed to figure out what you like and sell it to you all day long. It encourages impulse purchases that can be done in a single click. Social media and presentation of the self encourages brand cultivation of the individual. And that includes a new outfit for every single occasion. Because god forbid you post the same outfit twice and let the world know you own or have access to a washing machine.

Conclusion

People love what we get and ignore the cost, but the cost is too high. To us and our planet. We refuse the cure because we love social media. Or at the very least, are addicted to it and keep going back. So targeted ads allow social media to stay free. And we bear the cost in other ways: we give up privacy and our planet (and more money than we may think). Could we get the value of virtual connection? Is there a way to pull the plug? Can the parasite turn into good bacteria that keeps our gut healthy? Maybe so. In some ways people are fighting back. After the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandals, there was a big lawsuit against Facebook which ended in a $27 million dollar settlement and massive public relations concerns. Some people deleted their Facebook and never looked back. Some logged back in not long after like nothing happened. But Facebook's user base inexplicably continues to grow. So that is a dead end, making people aware of the problems seems to not work enough. This is proof we refuse the cure. The can of worms has opened and there’s no going back. Meta, Google, X, all may be beyond redemption, but maybe it’s not without hope. Some users fight back. Twitter/X users have launched block lists that contain all accounts of advertising partners. The lists block everyone at once quickly, so suddenly users have an ad-free X with the click of a button. There are also new social media apps, but they are less popular. Apps like BeReal? try to join the media space, and as of writing, do not incorporate advertisements. It’s a once-a-day post, therefore encouraging less time plugged into the parasite, but also still maintaining community. Maybe going back to topic-specific forms is the future of the online community without the sacrifice of privacy and inundation of ads. Or maybe we should all log off, touch some grass, and actually talk to people. Re-investing in the outside world may be best, frolicking under the billboards, on the advertisement bench, watching the driving advertisements (buses) go by.
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The First Month

The reality of mass surveillance by not just the government, but private social media companies, instilled a deep sense of being watched in me. I feel like I woke up in my cell at the panopticon after having voluntarily locked myself inside. Before the end of our second class meeting, I deleted Google Chrome and moved over to Firefox. I deleted my Twitter and regarded my phone warily from across the room. These attempts, while a start, did very little in reality. I kept my Instagram account, which I’m struggling to quit, despite it making my stomach churn every time I open it. The Great Hack brought the deepest discomfort to me because I took that personality test. In my high school psychology class, we took the Cambridge Analytica OCEAN test during our personality unit. Our teacher expressly directed us to “click on the one that says Cambridge; it’s the best one.” I remember being confused about how this could possibly be “research,” gathering answers to personality quizzes. I even remember that I looked up Cambridge Analytica and was confused because it seemed to have nothing to do with the University of Cambridge, but I was fifteen and had Algebra II homework due next period so I let it go. The Social Dilemma was nauseating as well, seeing the dependence of myself and my peers modeled and explained demystified the magic “connectedness” of social media. For the illusion of human connection, social media brings the casino model of stealing attention in exchange for intermittent reinforcement to build habits deeply ingrained in the wrinkles of the brains of today’s young adults. Once it successfully hooks our attention, it uses every little interaction as a “clue” as to what it can sell us. Thinking of the scale of the surveillance, the amount of energy it wastes and the production of waste it encourages through scores of advertisements, makes me feel sick. This discomfort continued each class meeting, becoming increasingly aware of the ways my carbon brain was no longer my own. Becoming privacy aware is uncomfortable, like watching an episode of Monsters Inside Me and spending the entire episode wondering about parasites that aren’t there. In contrast, I am acutely aware of the parasite hijacking my brain, but I don’t know if I have the nerve to cut it out with my own hands.

Futile Attempts to Fight the Parasite

Trying to remove the parasite without being privacy aware is a Sisyphean task that cannot succeed, despite valiant attempts. Twitter users, frustrated with Elon, circulated mass block lists. These block lists allowed a user to block scores of companies and twitter advertisers with a few clicks. Genius, I thought, bringing the same approach to Instagram: I would block all advertisers and trick the algorithms. But removing the parasite by removing the advertisers is the equivalent of tapping the slot machine screen to “make” me win. Even if I could successfully be a less profitable user for Meta, so long as I am a user of Meta, they still profit. Even if the advertisements are easy to ignore or minimize, Meta is still holding my attention captive, pretending it to be a means of connecting with my friends and family out-of-state. My privacy and attention are still being stolen from me, and I’m still the losing party.

The Decentralized Future

Out of curiosity, and a desire to find an alternative for microblogging, I made a Mastodon account. When I opened it, I was greeted with their privacy policy. It was less than 1500 words and no higher than a fifth grade reading level. Simple, clear, and understandable for the carbon brain, even a carbon brain without legal training. I was shocked because, in comparison, on Twitter you cannot even count the amount of words because you have to navigate through hyperlinks within hyperlinks through every lengthy section. Instagram tells the same lengthy story, but easier to navigate and with stale animated videos. I was far more comfortable with the, mostly transparent, simplicity of Mastrodon’s privacy policy. However, the policy notes information will be shared with “trusted third parties” without elaboration on who those parties may be. Even if not being sold, I would still be on display to parties I was unfamiliar with; my data traded even if it’s not being bought and sold. The future of sustainable social media, if such a thing can exist, is fully decentralized through the use of Freedom Boxes and other personalized servers. By cutting out the middleman of social media companies, we remove the commodification of our attention and protect our privacy. Under capitalism, we can never rely on these corporations to seriously consider changing their business model to favor humanity because that will drastically harm its bottom line.

Privacy Competent

I have tried to encourage other peers to join me, but it feels like I’m shouting into the void. My partner deleted Twitter, but has sunk into the trap of YouTube? reels. My best friend deleted Twitter… for maybe a month. And I cannot say I’ve done any better, I still catch myself doom-scrolling on Instagram as it predicts I’ll go wedding shopping in the next year and notices I've started a new Dungeon and Dragons campaign because they have never stopped watching me. And they will continue to watch me unless I leave. The first step was awareness, but now the goal is to be privacy competent. I plan to spend this winter break, with the help of my younger brother, converting awareness into action. His silicon brain is far more developed than mine, and he’s generally opposed to social media. Between the two of us, we should be able to get a server up and running. At the very least, I’ll be developing my internet and computer competency and on the right path. I entered law school partially because I did not want to learn how to code, and I see it now for how dreadfully na´ve that sentiment was. I knew refusing to learn more about computers in high school and undergrad was a dumb choice, but at the time I could not grasp just how crucial these skills are. I need to code, I need to understand computers, and I need to take control of my privacy in order to experience freedom.
 


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ReeceWalterFirstEssay 1 - 13 Oct 2023 - Main.ReeceWalter
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META TOPICPARENT name="FirstEssay"

Can We Cut off the Lifeblood of Social Media When We Refuse the Cure?

-- By ReeceWalter - 12 Oct 2023

Introduction

Is there any way of actually symbiotically living with social media? The relationship between humanity and social media is parasitic, it needs us more than we need it. It feeds off of us to survive and does not exist without us. But the body has around 100 trillion beneficial bacteria supporting its function which humanity is better off for having. How do we turn social media from a bad germ into a good one, making it work for us? Nothing is free, and that ages-old adage holds true when it comes to social media. Social media accounts are “free.” You pay nothing when you sign up and you get everything, including: targeted ads. Advertisements already consume our every day. In print, on the radio, on cable, even in life! Buses, benches, billboards, open spaces and functional objects are just places you can slap an ad on. Many of these advertisements hope the right person will see it and either buy it themself or tell a friend. Maybe once, when the average person only saw a handful of advertisements a day, they could pipe up when their friend needs a window-cleaning service: “I saw a billboard today!” It's a coincidence. Now it’s not a coincidence, when between Instagram posts, you see an advertisement for window-cleaning. How did they do it? Social media isn’t free, it’s funded. Targeted ads aren’t good for us the way they are good for advertisers, and they pay for the servers we use to keep in contact with friends and family. Yet we’ve found ourselves echoing the advertiser: “but targeted ads are good!” There’s two big problems with targeted ads: privacy violations and the resulting overconsumption.

Privacy

Privacy wise, It’s fine if my social media accounts spy on me because I’m not doing anything wrong or illegal. The same argument is given by pro-police individuals who mistakenly believe: as long as you are not doing anything illegal, your privacy being violated is fine. However, it is not good. Presumably, those who fell for the Cambridge Analytica scheme did not do anything illegal, but they actually completely fell for mass propaganda. The mass data allowed a foreign company to, effectively, rig the election. While arguably this isn’t super different from traditional campaigning and propaganda, it’s more bad now because of the scale. It’s kinda like the way advertisements were and are now: it used to be guesswork and now it’s exact. People question if you can have an online shopping addiction and others rack up credit card debt as the ads get even more exact because the better the ad placement, the more people spend, the more money social media makes. It creates a downward spiral when the capitalist monster chews up people and spits them out: broke, sad, and with a polluted planet.

Over consumption

Social media also has a big role in consumerism because of those ads. Did you know fast fashion is the second biggest consumer of water? Or that many clothes are made of plastic and dyed with toxic materials? Better known: that fast fashion underpays and puts workers in inhumane conditions? But we can’t get enough. Fast fashion is rapidly rising in the ranks as one of the most harmful industries on the planet and it is propped up by social media in more than one way. For example: the targeted ads encouraging consumerism. The algorithm is designed to figure out what you like and sell it to you all day long. It encourages impulse purchases that can be done in a single click. Social media and presentation of the self encourages brand cultivation of the individual. And that includes a new outfit for every single occasion. Because god forbid you post the same outfit twice and let the world know you own or have access to a washing machine.

Conclusion

People love what we get and ignore the cost, but the cost is too high. To us and our planet. We refuse the cure because we love social media. Or at the very least, are addicted to it and keep going back. So targeted ads allow social media to stay free. And we bear the cost in other ways: we give up privacy and our planet (and more money than we may think). Could we get the value of virtual connection? Is there a way to pull the plug? Can the parasite turn into good bacteria that keeps our gut healthy? Maybe so. In some ways people are fighting back. After the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandals, there was a big lawsuit against Facebook which ended in a $27 million dollar settlement and massive public relations concerns. Some people deleted their Facebook and never looked back. Some logged back in not long after like nothing happened. But Facebook's user base inexplicably continues to grow. So that is a dead end, making people aware of the problems seems to not work enough. This is proof we refuse the cure. The can of worms has opened and there’s no going back. Meta, Google, X, all may be beyond redemption, but maybe it’s not without hope. Some users fight back. Twitter/X users have launched block lists that contain all accounts of advertising partners. The lists block everyone at once quickly, so suddenly users have an ad-free X with the click of a button. There are also new social media apps, but they are less popular. Apps like BeReal? try to join the media space, and as of writing, do not incorporate advertisements. It’s a once-a-day post, therefore encouraging less time plugged into the parasite, but also still maintaining community. Maybe going back to topic-specific forms is the future of the online community without the sacrifice of privacy and inundation of ads. Or maybe we should all log off, touch some grass, and actually talk to people. Re-investing in the outside world may be best, frolicking under the billboards, on the advertisement bench, watching the driving advertisements (buses) go by.


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Revision 2r2 - 15 Dec 2023 - 21:15:25 - ReeceWalter
Revision 1r1 - 13 Oct 2023 - 16:38:17 - ReeceWalter
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