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One of my last posts was slightly incorrect, as FaceBook was removing groups registered as individual profiles, for whatever reason, and not the online groups/pages they were apparently supposed to be using. Although the accounts were suspended because they went against FaceBook’s terms of service, I still don’t believe the timing was a coincidence, as they were all suspended within such a short period just prior to a big event. It actually does look as if there was some political censorship going on. The questions are: who reported the infringement, and did somebody compile a list of profiles they wanted taken down?

Considering the amount of information it sells to third parties and the number of accounts that get taken down, FaceBook doesn’t provide the confidentiality, integrity or availability many think it does, and that’s largely the reason I’m not using it these days. Like many social networks, it’s actually more of a data gathering platform than an effective communications system, so it’s in FaceBook’s interests to remove profiles that don’t represent genuine individual identities.

There are many blogs and forums that could be considered decent alternatives, but in my experience comments are either disallowed or routinely deleted on the political sites, thereby (perhaps intentionally) limiting the capacity for debate to an accepted narrative. On the other hand, I’m sure there are celebrity-worshipping sites that disallow any political discussion. It supports the argument that meaningful communication isn’t really possible in a censored system, there can’t be any real argument/debate between different ideologies and perspectives, and therefore no ‘truths’, however much we disagree with them, are actually tested and invalidated. The fact that many who identify themselves as politically far-right are completely unaware of an alternative, because the mainstream media’s their only source of information, is also quite revealing.

The other danger of having something that enables one person to silence another, according to Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group, is “while we all use these platforms without growing the alternatives, we increase the likelihood that our power and autonomy reduces”. Considering some of us, like the press in the early 20th century, are on the road to becoming another ‘elite’ with the capacity to control the flow of information in various ways (Langbein, 2011), and given data breaches in large organisations are now happening daily, it’s becoming increasingly dangerous to trust centralised platforms that gather colossal amounts of personal data. The current situation regarding identity theft and activists losing their FaceBook profiles may be just a taste of things to come.

Many decentralised alternatives already exist, in which everyone can communicate on an equal basis, and where no person can censor another. But what about inappropriate/abusive content? The answer to that would be to enable the individual to filter the information they receive, in much the same way as we choose which people to follow on Twitter, or which television programme to watch. The only difference would be data can be broadcast equally by everyone in a distributed system. The Internet itself is ideally suited for such a system at a very basic level, with its architecture routing traffic through the most efficient links, and Ethernet being a broadcasting medium with the receiving nodes filtering out irrelevant traffic.

As a result of the recent takedowns on FaceBook, a number of people from the activist groups affected have reportedly signed up for Diaspora, My Seed, and other distributed platforms. Eventually a majority will do the same, thereby solving numerous privacy and censorship issues.