John Gruber, on the difference between Facebook and algorithm-free anonymous message boards:
We instinctively think that 8kun is “worse” than Facebook because its users are free to post the worst content imaginable, and because they are terribly imaginative, do. It feels like 8kun must be “worse” because its content is worse — what is permitted, and what actually is posted. But Facebook is in fact far worse, because by its nature we, as a whole, can’t even see what “Facebook” is because everyone’s feed is unique. 8kun, at least, is a knowable product. You could print it out and say, “Here is what 8kun was on December 29, 2020.” How could you ever say what Facebook is at any given moment, let alone for a given day, let alone as an omnipresent daily presence in billions of people’s lives?
John’s gone off the rails a bit when it comes to some of his writing lately, including some portions of this piece, but I agree with this specific section.
8kun, 4chan, and sites of their ilk are more honest than Twitter and Facebook because they’re a known quantity. You know what you can expect when you go there. Their open and anonymous nature means that they’re filled with some pretty despicable content, but everyone’s words are on equal footing and there’s no algorithms influencing what you see. There’s no platform using their weight to condone or discredit any of the commentary. The speech is what it is.
But with Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube there is an invisible hand influencing what you do and don’t see. And because of this, it’s impossible to truly know what people with opposing viewpoints actually think and what information you should or shouldn’t pay attention to.
Every person is influenced by their surroundings — their friends, family, the shows they watch, the publications they read, and so on. You as a person and the opinions you form about, just about everything, are a product of what you surround yourself with. And when you spend a fair amount of time scrolling through social networks where the invisible hand is deciding to some degree what you see, that invisible hand has a tremendous amount of influence on your world view.
But here’s where it gets even worse. One would assume that you could simply delete your Facebook account, stop visiting YouTube, and abstain from Twitter to prevent that influence from entering your life, but that’s not actually enough. When all of your friends and family use these services, they carry that influence with them and pass it onto you through their actions and communication. It’s practically inescapable.
I still hold out hope that the open web will prevail in the end. That these platforms will eventually fall out of favor as we collectively move toward technologies that let you own your content and control what you read without the influence of an invisible hand. It’s only a matter of time before the accessibility of the tools, level of frustration with existing platforms, and cost reaches a tipping point.
But if Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others wanted to, at the very least, delay the inevitable, they could start deemphasizing the algorithmic timelines and move to reverse chronological feeds based on posts from your friends/follows. But I don’t expect that to actually happen. The services are fueled by engagement. And anything that diminishes engagement is doomed before it even has a chance to see the light of day.