Daniel Lemire's blog

, 21 min read

Stop spending so much time being trolled by billionaire corporations!

23 thoughts on “Stop spending so much time being trolled by billionaire corporations!”

  1. Leo Boytsov says:

    I can hardly imagine reading every tweet posted by people I follow. So thanks to the algorithmic feed I read only the popular ones. This has upsides and downsides, but I can’t imagine going back to reading complete RSS feeds. I think it’s not feasible. For good services, I would pay to not see ads. For example, I pay to youtube, but not to Twitter (and it’s not possible). I wish the payment option was more widely available, but automatic content curation, I’m afraid is unavoidable.

    1. automatic content curation, I’m afraid is unavoidable.

      I am sure that 30 years ago people believed that television could not be stopped. I have unplugged my television about 10 years ago. Maybe earlier.

      The Twitter and Google business models are literally to sell off your attention. Let us be clear on this. I do not think that the engineers that work for Facebook are evil. I do think however that they are there to nudge you and to control your intention.

      I avoid content curation (as practiced by the likes of Twitter or TikTok). I am not telling others to avoid it, but I am urging them to look at alternatives.

      My bet is that many people would feel a lot better if they avoided it too. We can reasonably disagree about it, of course.

      Do I think that the Twitter-like content curation will go away soon? No. I think it might stay for a long time. I do not think it means that it is unavoidable. I know people who never used Twitter and Facebook (and they are not so old).

      1. Leo Boytsov says:

        Daniel, don’t forget that even without Twitter and Google you don’t consume raw information. You read newspaper digests, survey articles, etc… These people who summarize information they can manipulate other people. And they will do so. Moreover, before radio and TV, writers used to write long novels in part to get as much reader’s attention as possible. Textbooks are freaking manipulating you. They have errors, biases, and they are often politically motivated.

        You see, the problem isn’t new. Automatic content aggregation admittedly has more problems, but I personally am ok with it. In fact, my Twitter is nearly 100% professional. And certainly I cannot operate without Google. I cannot review most papers, find necessary information, etc… So what you propose is to reduce my productivity possibly 10x for the joy of not using Google or automatic Twitter feed. This is not a viable option.

        1. I do not need twitter or facebook to do my work and I have hardly used Google (the search engine) in at least two years.

          There is s whole degree of difference between the nudging that Google does and what the author of a book can do.

          I am not telling you to stop using twitter btw.

      2. Leo Boytsov says:

        PS: some people are
        1. work in a very narrow domain
        2. go to conferences
        3. have a vast network of professional contacts
        4. are privileged in other ways

        that they don’t use Twitter and LinkedIn doesn’t say much. I am pretty sure they still use Google and who doesn’t?

  2. Dave Rolsky says:

    s/like mind/like mine/

    1. Thank you.

  3. S says:

    Thanks for introducing me to the COVID news channel: https://t.me/covidinfoenglish

    I don’t use Telegram. Does this group publish their content elsewhere?

    1. It is a telegram-only channel.

    2. Sergey says:

      You can easily “preview” telegram channels in browser, look for faint link below the big bright button.

  4. tk says:

    Hello M Lemire,

    Thanks for roaring about that, I have recently found brave search very efficient as well.

  5. Champok Das says:

    I personally would be a lot more okay with the ‘push’ type of social media if we, as “consumers”[0], are able to identify how/why the media that is being recommended to us were more transparent. I can deal with an agenda being pushed, and I can deal with sometimes being purposefully misled. I’d rather have that being earmarked from the get-go so I know what I’m getting myself into rather than infer from previews/titles/intuition/etc…

    I don’t think any of the most popular social medias truly operate in this fashion. Everything is a giant black box where even the people who built the system don’t even know how it truly works. Sure, “Recommended because you subscribed to Channel/Person” is visible in some instances, but we all know that is just scratching the surface.

    If we had that, I feel we would be more equipped to deal with the media we consume. We won’t absolutely need to be beholden to black box recommendation systems, and we can work on the parts where we are personally responsible for the media that we do actively consume.

    Control is also interesting to think about. I do fall into the habit of ‘watching autoplay’ in the interest of being led to a video that might be related to something I have high interest in learning about or even just mindless entertainment, but I rarely feel satisfied with what I do get in practice. I do get some diamonds occasionally and I think it ends up being at least worth the time spent wading through crap, and I wish there was something better.

    Unfortunately, many of the things I am/would be interested in seldom appear. If I could game recommendations in a reliable manner so I get these more frequently, I would be a happy man. I don’t think being an active consumer would help me in this regard as I don’t think I would have found these new interesting topics without being led by an algorithm(s). Which is where I think RSS fails personally, discoverability is all on the user for the topic, but you’re only getting things that you know interest you and rarely others. So giving up control in some regard does give me a direct benefit.

    [0] Some might say we are the product.

  6. Erik van Oosten says:

    Spotify is heavily investing in podcasts, with the goal of taking a huge part of the industry. If they succeed, they can exploit their very strong push models. IMHO Spotify should be on the be-aware list, not on the recommendation list.

  7. Jan-Erik says:

    Great post, thanks. Can anyone recommend a good RSS aggregator? (That doesn’t track people?) Also possibly self-hosted. I’ve been using Feedly since Google Reder shut down but there’s now too many restrictions on the free version.

  8. Alec Edgington says:

    Jan-Erik, I’ve been using tt-rss as a self-hosted RSS aggregator ever since Google Reader shut down. It’s free (though the reader app requires a small one-off payment, well worth it).

  9. The question is not whether the information we read is curated. It is who is doing the curation, and in who’s interest.

    The old model has some experts in fast information gathering and presentation get together and decide what they think is newsworthy, and present it to the nation at at large. These people (we can call them journalists and editors) are normal, flawed people that can make mistakes, but they are (largely) guided by what they hear and see, and then filtered by what their editors feet is in the public interest.

    They are professionals, and are held to a standard of integrity by the law and by the boards and committees that oversee their products and outlets. They make mistakes, and there is a process for correcting those mistakes. They have biases, and one can select product based on your preference.

    The “new model” is one where random individuals say whatever they want and their words are carried to the entire world effortlessly. There is no standard of integrity. There are no laws. There is no committee or editor. The public gets to consume whichever of these random individuals they want, with no simple way of tracing back to the source of the story – no accountability.

    Because the average person (evidently) does not care as much about veracity as they do about agreement (theirs, with the story), there is a decline in consumption of “mainstream media”, and most professional news-gathering organisations are shedding journalists at an alarming rate, while faceboook and google make mountains of advertising dollars that used to go to newspapers and the like while hosting outrageous tales peddled by charlatans seeking popularity and money. Worse yet, this dissemination of outrage is accelerated by the algorithms the host companies use, designed to feed into the human ego-cycle in a self perpetuating vicious circle. There is no law for this. There is no accountability for this.

    This model can only work if we assume that ordinary people are discerning and rational. Making this assumption is itself not rational. It is the reason we can’t have nice things.

  10. Another thought, perhaps more useful than the last.

    Every person I know who has a beef with mainstream media can point to some event, or subject matter with which they are intimately acquainted, and demonstrate that the news coverage for that thing was either woefully inadequate, or outright misleading.

    This should come as no surprise, and is not actually indicative of much. I too can point to events and subject matters in which I hold the press laughably inadequate. That said, they still report some hard, verifiable facts – regardless of the interpretation put around them, or the other essential facts that were omitted (more often out of ignorance than malice).

    However, I think I prefer a system that is riddled with inadequacies, but has checks and balances and accountability. It is all well and good that the Internet can bring me any interesting fact in seconds – but it can equally bring me a falsehood, and I would most likely believe whatever I already felt to be true.

  11. Ah, now I see why I got a surge in sales of my book 🙂
    Thanks for the shoutout, Daniel!

    1. We need more people to buy and write books if we want to have high quality content.

  12. Bradley J says:

    A good article, Daniel, although I’ll personally pass on Joe Rogan.

    As for your general thesis, I’d go even farther: I think it would be healthier to avoid using social media platforms at all. I got rid of my social media accounts years ago, and haven’t watched television for over a decade; the sky hasn’t fallen. And I’m a millennial!

    But then perhaps it was easier for me to do because I grew up in the so-called Third World where access to (news-, entertainment, or educational) media as recently as the ’90s and early 2000s rivalled what you might have got in 1960s England. That is, there wasn’t much, so one spent more time outside.

    Social media can have benefits, and I don’t deny them—but I do wonder if its benefits outweigh its costs. In my experience, social media consumption neuroticises its consumers, ruining their mental health by compelling them to compare themselves to the curated versions of other social media consumers. It also redirects their time and energy into maintaining ego-driven, idealistic, phantasy ‘personas’ that transcend the limitations of their real, everyday selves. Likely that’s what the other person’s doing, too. Who’s to know?

    I’m considerably more productive without the distractions of ‘always-on’ social media bombardment. It gives me more space to think.

  13. nicoo says:

    Telegram is pretty decent as a secured news aggregator.

    You might want to know that Telegram does not use end-to-end encryption by default: it is possible to create “private” one-on-one conversations, albeit with terrible UX (though it is redefined away as being “features”)

    Moreover, Telegram’s “Secret Chats” are based on MTProto, a homegrown cryptographic protocol that fails to uphold standard security properties and relies on constructions that either obscure and obsolete (like the IGE block cipher mode) or are again homegrown (like their Key Derivation Function)

    I’m sad to say that Telegram is only a secure messaging application, in the sense that Telegram’s marketing is centered around security and privacy claims, rather than actual security of the protocol, its implementations, and overall design of the system.

  14. Callan says:

    Another essential thing in the toolkit here is to make use of the twitter muted words function. Whenever anything comes up that I no longer want to hear about in an unthinking way I add everything about it to the ban list (this includes whatever is in the US elections every 4 years but many other things). Along with this, if there are accounts that you never want to hear from then mute them. Doesn’t catch everything but definitely improves my experience.

  15. Mark ST says:

    There’s a project called Nitter (nitter.ca is one instance) that lets you browse Twitter without ads, tracking, & annoying JS. It can also generate an RSS feed.

    There’s libreddit / teddit.net for reddit, and Piped ( https://piped.kavin.rocks/ ) for YouTube as well. These projects make the Internet a little less crazy.