There’s been a lot of recent talk in favor of decentralizing the internet and platforms on it, as a means of saving its open nature and protecting users’ interests and privacy.
On the opposite side of decentralized sits an internet managed and controlled by large tech corporations, whose purpose is to grow their business even further.
This is done with little regard to any other consideration – certainly not their users’ privacy, right to express their opinions or even well-being. In addition to collecting users’ personal data for decades as their central business model, many tech giants are now effectively colluding with politics, making the problem more obvious than ever, and more pressing to resolve.
Lately, users and creators on massive centralized platforms like Facebook, Google, or Twitter have been finding themselves banned and demonetized with little or no recourse to correct the situation. The confines of tech corporations are becoming ever narrower for anyone who wants to express their opinion, earn a living through monetization, or boost their career by highlighting their skills.
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Hence the growing number of digital rights activists, experts, and even media outlets who are talking about the need to (re)turn to having your own website and using decentralized social networks, where users are in control of their data, their identities, and ultimately, their money.
Centralized internet: How it went from bad to worse
These last years have provided more evidence of the ultimate unsustainability of the currently highly centralized and increasingly constrained model of online conversations and content creation – and of the need to just move away from them.
Just this past week, Facebook’s Instagram decided to ban at least 30 meme accounts with a total of more than 33 million followers. The move deprived users behind these accounts of considerable incomes – sometimes running into hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. And it played out in what has become big tech’s typical fashion: no proper explanation as to the reasons behind the decision, and no way to reverse it.
Before turning on meme accounts, Instagram was at war with artists: thus the account of US cartoonist Ben Garrison got banned – apparently for political reasons.
Over on Google’s YouTube, demonetization has been in full swing as a weapon depriving creators of their ad revenues, applied mostly to channels ostracized on political grounds, but also affecting independent journalists, and even horror and urban legend hunters.
But speaking of political bias – a recent testimony of a senior Google engineer suggests that the tech giant has a clear political bias – warning users never to think of technology as inherently unbiased.
Still on YouTube – even other users’ comments left on your videos can leave your channel demonetized.
And with the election campaign picking up in the US ahead of the 2020 vote, things can only get worse, as platforms such as Twitter position themselves as the arbiters of what’s true and what’s fake. Add to this the perennial problem of algorithmically created opinion echo-chambers that rank and hide content to reinforce users’ biases and prevent them from being exposed to new ideas and different points of view.
Your own website
One obvious way to correct this increasingly untenable situation is for users to start taking back control and ownership of their content – and having your own website is a fundamental piece of the puzzle.
It was common in the early years of the internet for people to run their own websites and blogs, as their personal or professional presence on the web. Even though it’s now easier and cheaper than ever to have your own website, the convenience of large centralized platforms, along with the promise of a much greater reach, has convinced many to abandon this approach.
At the same time, Big Tech apologists, particularly in the media, some years ago started pushing the narrative that personal websites are outdated and unnecessary and that all your content should be moved to centralized platforms.
But many of those who did so – and that goes for individual users and large publishers alike – have been finding out that “moving” their content was tantamount to “turning it over” to the likes of Facebook and Google.
Organic reach has been steadily declining, with news feeds displaying content based on ever-changing algorithms that favor tech giants’ monetary agenda, not that of their users. The system has become arbitrary, untrustworthy, suppressing its users’ free speech and online identity.
In other words, the time is right to consider bringing back some solutions and technologies that have been deliberately pushed out over the years – like, for example, RSS – still the best way to get your news untainted by ranking algorithms.
And for a comprehensive online presence fully controlled and owned by you, nothing beats having your own website. There’s a wide variety of choices when it comes to creating one: they can be simple blogs with a static back-end or full-fledged complex websites. And there are many hosting solutions, either paid or free, depending on the feature sets they offer.
A combination of an independent website and off-shore hosting, for example, will not be free but provides a very high degree of security, data safety, and privacy.
One popular and widely used website platform is the open-source self-hosted WordPress, that requires a domain name and web hosting.
This type of solution means that your website is not subject to somebody else’s terms of service, community guidelines, and the like – and will always be up as long as it’s not breaking your country’s law.
And you can monetize your content presented on the internet in this way without entering into revenue-sharing as schemes with any other party. A self-hosted website can also be used as an e-commerce site to sell products or charge for premium content.
Even if your intent is not to make money directly from the content you create and post – running your own website shows a degree of professionalism much greater than pointing your potential employers or clients to a social media profile, that’s all too easy to create, and all too easy to populate with irrelevant content.
And last but not least: your own website gives you your own platform for free speech and creativity that cannot be arbitrarily stifled.