This is a post about how we can consciously consume information and why that is so important.
I’m old enough to remember how “the internet” was going to bring open endless possibilities because anyone could create content or produce news or products … it was such a hopeful moment that also promised that new ideas could get a fresh chance against established companies. It meant change but also freedom.
The other day I was talking to a friend about posting on LinkedIn (I had asked him to engage with a post I wrote) and he launched into a tutorial on how you have to game the algorithm. A key highlight was:
Don’t link off site or the algorithm will down promote your post. Make sure you engage with comments and then put links in the comments instead of in your main post.
When he said this, it just hit me in the face (again) how much we have ceded control of what we see and read to companies. You mean how much my posts gets seen are basically a function of how much LinkedIn likes it and how much it promotes ongoing engagement with their platform!? It is obvious and everybody knows - but do we do anything about it?
It is not just what we’re reading though that we’ve ceded to companies. It’s also what we write. This has implications we are just starting to understand with ChatGPT and similar AI trained on our content!
What can we do?
We don’t have to be perfect, but if everybody does it a little bit we may start to make it so that these organizations don’t control everything we read.
To decide what to read, I use things like RSS readers to aggregate updates across a wide variety of blogs to give myself a way to see different content.
I also visit news sites directly (eg. NY Times, Economist) and not through advertising platforms like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter (X), etc.
Fundamentally, we need to understand that the big companies that we think of as social media companies or social networking companies are really ADVERTISING companies.
If you find yourself scrolling - or on the same site for more than a short time - you are probably being tricked into that.
To maintain control of my content, I run my own content sites. This is trivially easy with Github Pages or Wordpress. That doesn’t stop the platforms from voting my promotional posts up or down, but it does mean they can’t take the content down.
I won’t submit to the advertising platforms completely and just put my content on their sites. If your content is only on Google, LinkedIn and Facebook (not to mention TikTok, Youtube, Snap, Insta, Medium) you probably agreed that they own it. Not only that, they can always adjust the algorithm to change how you get seen.
Ultimately, this control of distribution is largely symbolic. Unless everyone starts doing this another way, the platforms will retain basic control over what people see and read. But we can be a little subversive and take this control back from time to time.
It takes more work not to just read what the platforms tell us. It takes work to promote our content independently. But it is worth it.
I recommend a few books around this topic as well: