In the January 2020 issue of Wired Magazine, I read author Jason Parham’s new entitled By Us, For Us: Why we should think about segregating the web and it’s some concise, powerful stuff.
It starts with a brief history of black content online, particularly NetNoir Online, which was, in Jason’s words “Afrocentric culture” on the internet.
Reading this reminded me of what the Internet felt like in the 90s, even as a teenager. Everyone had a place to belong online without endlessly feeling embattled by another’s religion or politics. It felt more cohesive, even though paradoxically it was quite splintered compared to the global communities of today, like Facebook and Twitter.
Jason asks in the article:
“Would the internet work better if it were more segregated?”
“I admit it’s an ugly question, one that betrays the values of inclusivity. It shouldn’t sit well. It’s not meant to go down easy. But if we begin from a place of discomfort, maybe we can get to a place of illumination.”
If you have a Wired subscription or Apple News (Wired is part of it), I strongly recommend reading the article for the excellent parallels Jason describes between real-world black communities of the past and the now-lost online community of NetNoir.
As a white man, it’s assuredly not my place to have a say in that discussion. That said, the ideas of Internet community segregation being an answer to the major problems of the social Internet today sound quite reasonable to me.
Even as [Facebook] has shifted towards corralling users into Groups, they’re stuck in a spiderweb of chaos, prone to bullying, harassment, and campaigns of disinformation that read like the twisted fantasies of Orwell’s juiciest fiction. Imagine instead, an internet of micro-utopias.
What I’m proposing is not a firewalled splinternet; it has more to do with where I see us evolving as a society — into enclaves. […] This already informs our day-to-day life […] with Netflix “taste clusters”, paywalled services, Reddit communities. So why not be more intentional about it?
And so you must be wondering by now: what does that have to do with Websavers, websites, web hosting?
I believe we can all be in a stronger place online by not giving in to those urges of simplicity that come from massive corporations like Facebook which profit off of us giving in to them through ads and ownership of our photos, videos, and comments.
I say: create those segregated communities to escape the clutches of large corporations aggressively invading your everyday life purely in the pursuit of profits.
Don’t build your marketplace on Amazon or Facebook, instead build your own eCommerce store on your own domain and create your own community around the products you sell.
Rather than using Facebook groups because they’re free and easy, try putting just a bit more time into building your own online forum instead.
Sure you still have to pay a company to host it, but at least when you build using the right tools (like WooCommerce for stores, or phpBB discussion forums), you have the power of choice. You can build your store or community on any host, including a small business like Websavers, and move it freely to any other host. And all of this can be done without sacrificing your privacy, without selling your identity.
Here’s an excerpt from Jason’s conclusion:
The real danger, it seems, is not in asking for my own internet. It’s the fear and confusion such a prospect instills in the minds of everyone else.
Jason is most likely referring to the fear that white people have of black communities organizing over the Internet. That fear is then misinterpreted as anger which becomes hate. White people’s fear of this is at best misguided and at worst exceptionally dangerous.
On the flip side, instilling fear and confusion in large corporations by breaking free of their walled gardens sounds like an excellent way to take back the web; making it more like how many of us in the 90s felt it was then and should be now.