A couple of weeks ago a billionaire, whose skin is apparently as thin as his wallet is thick, took over one of the important public squares on-line. It is a good moment to explore and recognize other dangers, in addition to failure to moderate the public debate, such centralized control creates. Twitter’s tumultuous transition to a privately held company became a lens, focusing — at long last — our collective attention on them.
These issues are hardly new or unexpected. Activists and experts had been warning about problems related to centralized control of our daily communication tools for years. But by and large, our warnings went unheeded. Today, as we mourn the communities disrupted and connections lost, and grapple with the fallout, we have to recognize this is about more than just Twitter. And use the opportunity to learn not to make the same mistakes again.
We can also build systems that allow people to switch providers without losing contact with their friends and coworkers — e-mail and mobile networks are good, familiar examples of these. The fact that the big social media services, or the huge online productivity providers, do not allow this kind of compatibility is a business decision, rather than a technological necessity.
“Never let a good crisis go to waste”, Winston Churchill once said, and it would serve us well to lean into that wisdom today. A centralized, closed, monopolistic platform’s agony is a good opportunity to reconsider our over-reliance on Big Tech walled gardens in general.