I took the arrival of a recent pension update letter as inspiration for a short story. Enjoy!
The year is 2020. It’s August, and lockdown is nearly over. Whilst this has been an extraordinary epoch in the life of Dave, some things are as mundane as ever.
The post drops on the floor, and the letterbox slaps shut. Outside, the clouds hover ominously. Autumn rides on the midday sun, lower in the sky than during the preceding months of gloriously too-hot heat.
The house is quiet; a rare spell when the children and wife are out of the house, and he’s able to boot up the computer to ‘hit the mainframe’. Dave gets up off the stool and heads to the door.
Katie, Katie, Katie….here’s one for me. Fuck! He thinks; it’s that time of year.
Every summer, regular as clockwork, comes the pension statement. No money input to *that* pension since I left *that* job. It’s a sad reminder both of colleagues abandoned for better things, and of the total inadequacy of his pension provision.
Holy crap…this one’s a record loss. £3k in one year…that’s more than 10% of the total fund. What the *fuck* do these fund ‘managers’ (mirthless laugh) do for their money.
Summoning The Force, Dave crouches to his knee and leaps, punching a hole clean through the ceiling, through the bedroom, out of the roof and arcs high into the air. 2.339 seconds later he is smashing through the window of his fund manager’s office in London.
The Occupant is stunned for a moment, before recognising his client.
“Ah – Mr. Clubb. How nice of you to drop in! Don’t worry about the window. We absorb those kinds of costs into our management fee”
He pushes the rolex self-consciously up his slender arm, as if to conceal it below his shirt cuffs.
“Is it the £3k loss, or the annual management fee. Again.”
Clubb breathes in and out. “I guess retiring at 50 is out. Just hand over the keys to the safe and I’ll be out of your office.”
The Occupant blocks the path to the safe; rips off his shirt and trousers in a one-two, hands sything across his body. Revealing a skin-tight black lycra suit.
“You know the rules, Clubb. Hard way, or easy way.”
“Your rolex just popped its strap, buddy.” As The Occupant glances down, Dave glides forward, seemingly without touching the floor. One billionth of a nanosecond later, The Occupant disappears in a magnesium-white pillar of flame.
“It’s Dr. Clubb to you” says Dave, smashing the safe open with the heel of his hand.
Inside lies a single scrap of paper, with IOU scrawled on it in large letters.
With a slurping noise, Dave melds into the floor. There is only the sound of blinds flapping in the wind. They beat a scattered rhythm. “Next year. Next year. Next year”.
“our data are our stories. When our data are manipulated, distorted, stolen, exploited, or misused, our communities are stifled, obstructed, or repressed, and our ability to self-determine and prosper is systematically controlled” (1)
The UK story
The story of the 2010s can – to a significant extent – be told by the exploitation of private data, unwittingly harvested from individuals, to allow falsehoods to be directly targeted at those most susceptible.
From the perspective of the citizens of Wales, the biggest systemic impact of the decade was Brexit. It will likely be the biggest impact, potentially eclipsing even the extraordinary social impact of coronavirus, for decades to come.
Although the deliberate false dilemma (2) has been used numerous times in election campaigns prior to the Brexit vote (notably by those responsible for running the Vote Leave campaign), it was hitherto not possible to target such advertising to the individual. It generally appeared in the traditional press, on billboards and in other public places.
Techniques became available through the 2010s which allowed advertising to be targeted to an astonishing level of detail; never before was so much falsehood directed with such accuracy. Animal-lovers were targeted with images of bullfighting and encouraged to sign up to the vote leave campaign. People hostile to immigration were targeted with (false) images of Turkey joining the EU. The EU was even falsely accused of wanting to ‘kill our cuppa’ – whatever that means.
In presenting issues of extraordinary complexity, in such a simplistic, binary and dishonest way, the leave campaign was able to provide strong messaging in a way that caused people to act; to sign up, to part with their personal data, and often to become activists. This messaging contrasted with a more nuanced, and highly flawed, attempt to persuade people that their interests were better served by remaining in the EU – something that will almost certainly be borne out by the reality of the consequences of the vote to leave.
One of the most astonishingly brazen acts of data collection was with the launch of a £50m competition – statistically almost impossible to win – which was free to enter, and which was promoted by household names, including Ian Botham (3).
In order to qualify for the competition, the user had to submit personal information, including contact details. It was the perfect, albeit ethically dubious, way for a campaign to move from a database of zero to potentially hundreds of thousands within a very short timeframe.
While we have yet to know in what way the impacts of Brexit will play out for our families and communities, we do know that the methods of campaigning deployed with such devastating impact during the Brexit referendum are likely to be refined and re-deployed in future elections and referendum campaigns.
So what does that mean for us here in Wales?
The threat to Wales
At the moment any existential threat to Wales’ democracy seems fanciful. The increasing powers of the Senedd (4) have been endorsed in consecutive referenda. Public levels of confidence in our legislative body are extremely high compared with attitudes towards Westminster (5), an attitude which has been bolstered by a visible difference in how the rules governing behaviour during the coronavirus outbreak were implemented in Wales compared to England.
However, those of us who are strong supporters of a powerful and independent Senedd would do well to consider what could happen if and when the attention of the masters of manipulation social media turn their attention to elections in Wales. Should they wish to create or support a campaign to dismantle the Senedd, can any of us assert with confidence that our institutions are invulnerable? Could a package of misinformation, targeted to trigger the innermost hopes or fears of millions of users of social media in Wales, result in the activating of large swathes of our hitherto non-voting population agreeing with messages such as:
“Better funding Welsh schools or an expensive talking shop (referring to the Senedd)”
“More nurses in Wales’ hospitals or an expensive talking shop”
“A strong Welsh culture and language or an expensive talking shop”
“A new transport system or an expensive talking shop”
(It will be interesting to see how the Conservative party’s Welsh branch, supported with digital marketing expertise from party headquarters performs in the 2021 Senedd elections. My hunch is that they will considerably overperform against current polling, and that the change will happen in the month or two prior to the vote, concomitant with a digital campaign.)
Unfortunately the threat to a well-financed digital media campaign informed by huge troves of data obtained from the citizens of Wales is not easy to mitigate. The Electoral Commission has shown itself to be toothless in the face of law-breaking with regard to referendums and elections (6). Fines of tens of thousands of pounds are meaningless in the context of shifts of power between political parties, or on matters of great constitutional significance. With the UK Government profoundly unconcerned by reports of Russian interference in the last General Election (7), we now hear that the Electoral Commission itself is on the list of organisations threatened with extinction (8).
What of digital protection? Outside the EU we are no longer covered by the GDPR. Whilst the UK is almost certain to legislate in some form to protect the interests of the individual, I believe it unlikely that the Government will strengthen protection for our citizens over and above the privileges that we enjoyed as EU citizens.
In other words, the conditions are potentially ripe for individuals or organisations wishing to turn back the devolutionary clock in Wales.
A threat this complex, well-resourced and intangible is not easy to manage. With little prospect of protection for our elections – and the way that campaigns are managed – from a UK Government which is demonstrably dismissive of devolved institutions (9), the answer will lie within Wales itself, and will require a strategic and long-term approach, coincidentally the approach mandated by the Act for the Well-being of Future Generations.
Very briefly, some elements of defence against the current social media dominance would include
Education; this needs to start early – ideally before children have become comfortable with the idea of ‘sharing’ their personal data without an understanding of the value of that data, and of the potential consequences from so doing. However the education needs to go for beyond schools, and into civil society. Agents of education will be needed in many different spheres of public life.
Promotion of platforms which provide similar functionality but which respect privacy and data, and do not allow advertising or the sale of user data. There is an ethical, open source alternative to many existing social media platforms, and good resources describing how to subscribe to them (such as switching.software)
The adoption of ethical alternative platforms by the institutions of Welsh Government and governance, in order to demonstrate their understanding of the issues surrounding existing structures, and to visibly support the fledgling open source platforms with the gravitas of their institutions
Unless the users of corporate social media platforms vote with their feet and start really ‘taking back control’, we will end up feeding the digital corporations with the revenue and data which enables them to exert almost unrestricted power and influence over our democratic processes.
And, ultimately, over our democratic institutions themselves.
Some first practical steps
The process of moving towards a privacy and democracy-respecting digital workflow does not have to be overly complicated. It can start with steps as simple as the following:
David Clubb, a Partner at Afallen, is a moderator on the toot.wales instance of Mastodon (an open source version of Twitter), and is able to provide training and support for organisations starting on their journey to a more sustainable and democracy-supporting use of digital technology and social media.
Facebook allows lies to spread virtually unchecked. It permits those people with the most money and least scruples to disseminate falsehoods to those most susceptible. And it allows this with no prospect of holding individuals or organisations to account.
Whilst Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms have enabled a blossoming of connection, conversation and shared ideas; they have also created a bitter, divisive, polarised digital world where shareholder value is enhanced most by highlighting division and minimising harmony. Quiet, reasoned thoughts are filtered out by algorithms designed to maximise clicks, retweets and likes. Volume is king.
Many people want to make a difference but they don’t know how. But there is an antidote to the virus of misinformation and hatred. That antidote is open source social media, and it’s already spreading at the fringes of the online universe.
Open source social media
Open source social media doesn’t permit advertising. It doesn’t sell data. It prohibits hate speech and intolerance*. And it’s moderated by users, not resourced at the behest of global tech giants.
More worryingly for the incumbents, the hotbeds of innovation are no longer in the mega-corporations with their teams of thousands in the offices and boardrooms of (mostly) America. They are in the open source equivalents, with code freely available for thousands of supporters and volunteers across the globe to build and improve.
From the perspective of Wales’ Future Generations Act, anybody using, promoting or supporting these open source platforms is supporting the goal of a Globally Responsible Wales. From a worldwide perspective, that same user or supporter is increasing the freely-accessible sum of human knowledge.
One clear example of this innovation is the federation between open source platforms (also known as the Fediverse). Federation is the ability to connect different social media platforms, so that posts and updates become mutually visible.
This means that if you post a photo on Pixelfed (ethical version of Instagram), it pops up in your feed on Mastodon (ethical version of Twitter). Likewise websites, blogs and updates on the ethical equivalent of pretty much every ‘surveillance capitalism’ platform you can think of can cross-post to each other, enabling much more streamlined conversations and updates.
What are the downsides (and upsides)?
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room; the big downside of the new open source Fediverse is that user numbers are far, far lower than for the established platforms.
This is hardly surprising; there’s a headstart of fifteen years or so for many of the tech giants. And the science behind social media means that there’s an agglomeration effect; once most of your friends are engaged on a platform, it takes a significant effort to leave them behind and start something new.
For me personally it meant (mostly) leaving my Twitter account of several thousand followers, and starting a fresh new Mastodon account on toot.wales, one of many ‘locality’ type instances across the world.
I instantly ‘lost out’ on the instantaneous stream of updates from my many friends and colleagues, and on the rough-and-tumble of (what passes for) debate there. There’s likely an impact on my ability to promote my new business, Afallen, through that network, too.
However, what I have found is a new community of online friends and collaborators. I’ve witnessed almost zero hatred or bullying. And I’ve relished using platforms which don’t harvest my personal data in order to sell them to companies who may – in many cases – place profit above the public good.
The truth is that the community of users in Mastodon (and the other platforms) is growing steadily – see the example below for activity on toot.wales. At some tipping point – I’m convinced – the growth will start to become exponential, and then the users who became active first will see the biggest benefits.
But the biggest benefit of all will come when people start to leave the platforms of the tech giants en masse, lessening their influence as the custodians of online debate and information-sharing, and contributing to a kinder, gentler and more thoughtful world of public discourse.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the ethical, privacy-conscious alternatives to the mainstream social media platforms, head to switching.software.
*Almost all ‘instances’ of open source social media ban hate and intolerance. Those that don’t are generally blocked, so the hatred is restricted to a small portion of the Fediverse
I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of working for the renewable energy sector for more than fifteen years – much of that supporting onshore wind.
Onshore wind is the cheapest form of electricity, and can be deployed relatively quickly. It is the perfect complement to solar, typically increasing its output during the winter months. And I think that wind turbines themselves are elegant, beautiful and symbolic of our move away from fossil fuel and towards a better, brighter future.
In the summer of 2019 I was asked if I wanted to help support a new kind of onshore wind project. The concept, produced by Ripple Energy, is for co-operatively owned wind projects to produce electricity, and then sell it as close to market price as possible, with the value captured for members of the co-op.
I was intrigued, and delighted to be asked to lend my support, and so I agreed to Chair the Board of a new pilot wind project cooperative.
Fast forward to July 2020 (and me stepping down from Chair due to Covid-19 and furlough!), and after a huge amount of hard work by Simon Peltenburg, Sarah Merrick and my fellow Board members, the project is now live. Yes, you can buy your own tiny bit of a wind farm, and – as near as possible – have a direct link between the electricity you use and the electricity you generate, straight from a wind turbine.
The turbine is based in the Rhondda in south Wales, and will directly benefit local residents through a local impact fund. It will directly benefit the members of the cooperative by reducing their electricity bills – as long as there’s a differential between the cost of building and running the wind turbine, compared to the wholesale cost of electricity. All the models of predicted electricity prices point to this being the case.
There’s a ‘cost calculator‘ to help you find out how much a share in the coop would cost, and the potential savings you could make.
Supporting the sector
Many people, only too aware of the impact that our everyday activities are having on climate, are keen to try to make more direct change to how we live our lives. This project, and the Ripple concept more generally, do exactly that.
I am really excited by the prospect of tens or hundreds of these projects, growing in scale across the UK and beyond, harnessing the power of individuals and (in due course) businesses to directly put their money where the science tells us we need to.
As usual, there are a whole bunch of caveats with this sort of ‘investment’ – available from the share document, which also features me(!) as a Board member.
You’ll need to change supplier to Octopus Energy for a while (sorry Bulb, you were great but I understand that in future there will be a range of suppliers we can switch to) – but in my case that was handled very straightforwardly.
Please head to the website, take a look around, and if you think this is a project worth supporting, join me and hundreds of others in making it a reality.
I’d been thinking about it for a while, but I really wasn’t sure whether it would be viewed positively by others – women or men. It took seeing a popular (at the time) politician from overseas for me to overcome my trepidation, and to headline my social media accounts with the designation. That politician was Justin Trudeau, and he publicly urged men to embrace the word – and everything that lies behind it.
Mr Trudeau’s popularity has waned somewhat since then, and he’s faced criticism of his own feminism. But of course, this is part of the power of the public declaration. Once declared, forever – in principle – held accountable.
But what did feminism mean to Mr Trudeau? And what does it mean to me? And in the context of the recent #BlackLivesMatter #BLM movement, what does a public declaration of being an anti-racist mean?
I decided that I needed to publicly commit to a set of standards that I expect of myself and that others can expect of me. I confess that they may be naive, and I’m happy to take recommendations for improvement. But I also feel that it’s not enough to just *be* an anti-racist, or a feminist. I also have to make a public stand, and to help others gain confidence to make their stand too.
I’ve also detailed the things that I have done in order to make a material difference to both movements. Again, I’d be happy to take any feedback on what I’ve described.
Wales is not immune to accusations of systemic racism, and systemic sexism. It’s incumbent on all who have power, in whatever sector, at whatever level, to try to redress the balance 🏴✊🏻✊🏼✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿.
As shown in the graph below, there is a big mismatch between the trendline and the 2021 target which requires a very substantial drop in average emissions. Perhaps the manufacturers are banking on the continuing ‘march’ of the low-emission vehicle?
A recent upturn in the average values reflects an increasing predilection for SUVs for EU citizens. This is a shame from the perspective of climate policy; they are generally heavier and less efficient.
The shockwaves of #Dieselgate continue to reverberate, with another fall in diesel registrations – 9% decrease in the last year to 36% of the total market – bringing the total decline to 19% since the peak year of 2011.
The glimmer of hope is that the market share for hybrid and Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) has increased from 1% to 2% from 2016 to 2018. Continued exponential growth may yet bring transport emissions on track.
The wheels of regulation turn slowly. Although it was common knowledge that the manufacturers ‘gamed’ the energy efficiency tests, nothing could be done about it due to the power of the manufacturer lobby in Brussels.
Dieselgate finally tipped the power balance in favour of the regulators, and ‘real world’ conditions will be required from 2021.
The UK’s place
With the UK having left the EU, and looking as though it will ‘crash out’ with no deal, it seems likely that this will be the last time that ‘our’ statistics are included as part of the EEA’s work.
Whether this leads to a reduction in CO2 requirements in the UK is unclear. The UK Government appears paralysed between wanting to ‘act’ on CO2, and grimly understanding that there will be horrific economic consequences from leaving the EU without a deal at the end of the year. Maybe they will want to toss regulations out of the window in order to ‘cut costs’ (which in reality will just shift the burden to the population at large and reduce costs to the polluter)? Or maybe Michael Gove was telling the truth when he challenged the EU to an environmental race.
Words are cheap. Action has meaning. This Government has so far shown a distinct preference for the former.
As usual, Wales has very little say in what happens to this line of regulation in future, which is a UK matter. If the UK Government decide that they want to (indirectly) reward polluters by weakening the environmental requirements for new vehicles, there is nothing that the Welsh Government can do to stop it, despite there being a direct inherent contradiction with both the Act for the Well-being of Future Generations, and the constitutional obligation to sustainability.
So, as usual, we’ll just have to cross our fingers and suck up whatever’s decided the other end of the M4.
I’ve long been intrigued by the interplay between the dark money that fuelled Brexit (amongst other nominally democratic events), and the use of social media to persuade and to influence.
I’m surely not the only person who feels intense disquiet about the use of money to spread lies and misinformation – and the seeming impunity of campaigns which willfully spread those lies to any kind of meaningful sanction.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the amoral position taken by the surveillance capitalism giants – such as Facebook (and by extension, Instagram), and Twitter – has led inexorably to an erosion of the polity in the UK and elsewhere.
I have taken to heart the maxim “be the change you want to see in the world” and have decided to significantly reduce my activity on Twitter. I have already effectively closed my Instagram account, and I closed my Facebook account in 2008.
My decision to reduce my activity on Twitter doesn’t come without cost. It reduces my influence within the networks I spent many years building up. It means that I’m less well informed about many of the things that I care about.
But I’m happy to remove my support for a commercial giant which constantly erodes the protections it offers for user data (this goes double now that we’re leaving the GDPR protection of the European Union). I’ve come to the understanding that every tweet I make, every comment I reply to, every link I post, is adding value to a company which has proved agnostic to the notion of democratic norms.
And I’m simultaneously becoming far more comfortable with a platform which is proving to be a viable alternative, albeit with much more growth needed before it comes close to the social functionality provided by Twitter. That site is toot.wales, and it’s an ‘instance’ of the open-source Mastodon platform.
I wrote about Mastodon a while back for the Institute of Welsh Affairs. TL;DR – it’s a site which duplicates much of the functionality of Twitter, but doesn’t allow advertising, doesn’t harvest your data and has effectively banned sexism, racism and hate speech.
I still have an account on Twitter, and I’ll use it to message people, and to promote my toots on Mastodon. But I reject the notion that I’m a ‘monetizable daily active user‘ with my data at the service of anyone with a chequebook. My ultimate goal is to stop using Twitter altogether, to fully embrace an open, free and respectful way of interacting with others.
Our little girl was over the moon to receive her first bike. We’d decided to use The Bike Club, because we were supporting a ‘reuse’ economy, where the company sends out reconditioned bikes. Then, when you need an upgrade – pretty much a given due to the normal process of children needing bigger everything – you send back your bike, and get one of the correct size.
We paid our monthly fee happily for more than a year, and our daughter loved the bike. Not ‘girly’. A lovely design, and fully suitable for her needs.
Then – after Christmas – we saw that she needed a new set of wheels. She’d outgrown her bike, and we decided to take up on the stated offer of a replacement (bigger) bike. As advertised, and as confirmed via an email from one of the customer service representatives.
Except we didn’t get the bike. With no explanation, we were told that no bikes were available – contradicting earlier assurances. Lengthy periods went without any contact, despite our repeated requests for information. Our daughter’s birthday came and went – with no bike forthcoming.
Eventually, when we were utterly frustrated with the company, we asked whether it would be cheaper for us to cancel the contract and pay the £30 bike return fee, or wait until a total of 18 months had elapsed, in which case we’d have been eligible for a replacement with shipping paid for. No response.
In the end we just cancelled the contract. My complaints on Twitter resulted in them blocking me. Likewise on Linkedin. My polite response to the Founder and a request to connect to discuss our issues, was ignored.
My advice is to steer clear. Their claims of customer service – in our experience – can’t be supported. They have chosen to do the exact opposite of good practice in terms of public relations, which is to ignore complaints, instead of engaging with a genuine grievance.
Don’t use their service. Don’t invest. And advise your friends against.
My relationship with you began on the day I was born, in the mid 1970s. As with all relationships, ours has evolved as we have grown together.
I was unaware of you, even as I travelled with my family to visit other Member States during my childhood, and into my teens. We went camping in France, took a bus to Italy (what an adventure that was!), and enjoyed an exchange visit to the north of Spain with our local outdoor education centre in Merthyr.
Through my early academic career I worked with fellow EU citizens in two of the UK’s finest academic institutions – I refer of course to Lancaster and Nottingham Universities – and I took cycling holidays through Norway, Sweden and Denmark one summer, and through Portugal, Spain and France the next.
It never occurred to me then to think about visa-free travel, or visa-free work, or the right to live and love in different countries. Why would it? I was merely exercising a right I had held my whole life. In the words of Joni Mitchell, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”.
I left academia to enter the world of renewable energy – starting with a job in the south of Spain, and continuing with work in Machynlleth, Bristol, Newcastle, and Copenhagen. In each of these jobs I worked on or with European projects – in Machynlleth I was a partner in four projects simultaneously – and in Denmark I had the privilege of working for a European Agency, the European Environment Agency.
I learnt hugely from my colleagues from the sisterhood of European countries. Yes, from colleagues within the UK, but also from every country in the European Union and beyond.
In 2012 I left Denmark to return to Wales, where I still live today. Wales – you will know this – was a huge recipient of structural funds from the European Union. I suspect that we will come to regret placing our trust in the campaign to leave the European Union. Replete with impossible promises, sweet poison and lies, we will now turn to Westminster, in its wisdom, to ensure that our farmers are able to maintain their custodianship of land and language; that our environment maintains its safeguards so we may fulfill our obligations to the ecology on which we depend. Although Wales maintains a measure of agency due to our Senedd, I fear that the promises of ‘not a penny lost’ will prove to be as empty as the plans for the manner of our exit on the morning after – that terrible morning – the referendum.
I will regret the barriers that will – almost inevitably – be erected to trade in agriculture and fisheries, which will impact so heavily on our small, family-owned farms and fishing businesses. I will also regret the impediments to travel and live within our continent, and particularly the increased challenges faced by families in living with their loved ones. It saddens me that we now require our fellow (ex-fellow) citizens to apply for certification to live in our country – at their expense, of course.
But most of all I grieve for the young people who will face financial and administrative barriers to enjoy living and working amidst the many pleasures of our wonderful continent. Of course, many will still find a way to do so. But doubtless many will be put off by the change in our relationship, and the UK will be the poorer for that.
In finishing this letter, I want you to know that I wish I had done more to demonstrate your value to my fellow citizens. In some tiny way, I am also to blame for this break-up. My promise to you is that I will do everything in my power to help bring the UK back to the family of countries that is the European Union. If that path is one based on the United Kingdom joining as a state of four constituent countries, I would be delighted. If a different path seems more likely – a path that includes these four UK countries going their separate ways – then I will do what I can to ensure that Wales plays its part as an enthusiastic and responsible member of the European Union.
Social media has energised the way in which we interact, communicate, promote and understand. As with any tool, it has the ability to be used for good, or for ill.
I don’t intend here to detail the way that social media is used to abuse, to pillory, to demean and to spread hate. Nor is this a treatise about whether it’s democratically healthy for social media to be used by political parties or corporate entities to micro-target individuals or small communities with messages which may only be loosely based on fact, or indeed a complete fiction.
Instead, I want you to take a moment to imagine participating in a social network free from hate; one which doesn’t answer to shareholders; and where paid advertising directed by surveillance capitalism is not possible.
Now I want you to take a step further; I want you to imagine that same network, where you can share a picture (same way as Instagram); share a blog post (same way as Medium); share a micro-blog (same as Twitter); share a video (such as with YouTube) – and all the content from all those different platforms is brought to you in one place.
Hang onto your hats – it’s already here!
Unbeknown to most internet users, there’s a quiet revolution taking place on the fringes of the social web which merits close examination.
Fed up with pleading to Twitter, Facebook, Google and other internet giants to take action on abuse and to act on genuine privacy concerns, the open source community has created solutions which herald the dawning of a new era of accountable social media.
And Wales could be at the vanguard of this revolution, thanks partly to some imagination and drive from a boy from Barry who made it in New York, Jaz-Michael King.
Before diving into how to join the revolution, it’s worth talking about how the Federated Universe (Fediverse) operates.
Unlike the existing social media monopolies, the Fediverse has no central company controlling the flow of content, and deciding what to permit or ban.
Instead, there’s a plethora of small sites – ‘Instances’ – which operate semi-autonomously from one another, but which are linked (federated) so that content can be viewed simultaneously on all federated platforms. Authors retain ownership and control of their content, while citizens can pick and choose the content and people they wish to connect with, free from profit-driven algorithms and their associated echo chambers.
So somebody posting a photo on Pixelfed (a federated photo-sharing site, which looks and feels just like Instagram) will instantly share that image with all their followers, on whatever ‘Instance’ they’re based.
Likewise, someone posting a micro-blog on a federated account (such as Mastodon) will share that post with all their followers across all whole ‘Fediverse’.
No more hate?
Whilst it would be a stretch to say that hate has no place within the Fediverse, it’s certainly no exaggeration to say that it is a far more pleasant place than most conventional social networks.
That’s because most Instances have rules which forbid unpleasant behaviour. The decision about what constitutes acceptable behaviour is up to the administrators or the community of that individual Instance, but if unpleasant behaviour consistently appears unchallenged on a specific Instance, it’s possible that all other Instances could sever ties, effectively inoculating the rest of the Fediverse from the content that’s being posted in the ‘bad’ Instance.
Indeed this has already happened in July this year, where an Instance supporting far-right speech was blackballed by many other instances, significantly limiting its ability to interact with the rest of the Fediverse. The success and growth of the Federation as a movement has been significantly driven by the growing dissatisfaction and loss of trust that the international corporate networks cannot (or will not) manage, and that smaller, locally-driven communities are more able to effectively self-manage.
So – how could Wales be leading the charge?
Enter Toot.Wales, the brainchild of émigré Jaz-Michael King. Toot.Wales is Wales’ own instance of the micro-blogging site Mastodon. Fully bilingual by default, it is also on the verge of deploying its first mobile app for Android (with ios development underway).
I often see people on Twitter complaining about certain functionalities not being available, including the most basic need for a Welsh language interface; about tools to control or limit abuse, about access to one’s own data and the right to delete it or download it.
My response is: leave the network. The influence we have with the owners of Twitter, Facebook or any other mainstream social media platform is vanishingly small. If complaints by users have implications on profit, they are unlikely to become a corporate priority. Regulation is possible, but is cumbersome, hard to enforce and likely to date quickly.
So we must vote with our feet. We have within our own hands, literally and metaphorically, the means to turn our backs on networks which value profit over privacy, and to champion an open source ethical alternative.
I believe that Wales can demonstrate to the rest of the world that it’s possible to take a stance on this issue. Already facing a crisis in media, we should no longer submit to the whims of global corporate giants. With so much of the information we receive being more or less completely out of the control of the people of Wales, this is one area where we genuinely can, and we should, be taking back control.