I recently (at the end of last year) read an article on the Guardian about an Iranian blogger, Hossein Derakhshan, who had been an important figure in the blogosphere until 2008, when he was arrested and put in prison. The article basically says that social media was killing the power of the internet to effect change, by removing the democratic nature of the blogosphere.
I've thought a lot about this since Facebook et al. started eating my blog, by dint of giving my silly thoughts a wider audience and at the same time sharing with me the silly thoughts of my friends. But, as was feared by many back in the early days, it has led to a lack of, for lack of a better term, 'feature length content'. A quick quip and a share of an article or picture. Or worse, a quick quip about a picture with a quick quip written on the image. Goodbye deeper thought.
But, as Derakhshan writes, it goes beyond this.
The hyperlink was a way to abandon centralisation – all the links, lines and hierarchies – and replace them with something more distributed, a system of nodes and networks. Since I got out of jail, though, I’ve realised how much the hyperlink has been devalued, almost made obsolete.
We've moved debate, discourse, to centralized areas. It's been good, in a way - certainly more convenient. And some platforms have done interesting things with their power. Tumblr has in some ways brought together some features of the old and the new in a good way. But that doesn't change the fact that it's centralized.
When I built my blog, including writing the software, I did it out of fear that if I allowed anything to live on some other company's servers, everything would disappear the day that company shut down. That hasn't changed, but the odds of these companies shutting down I think is much reduced.
Now the fear is censorship. Twitter and Facebook can be blocked. Google can be blocked, or can be made to block (witness the 'removed due to DCMA' notifications one sees at the bottom of search results). I don't necessarily think my words in particular are of such note, but I think that, at its height, the blogosphere as a whole was a powerful thing. One that, as we saw, governments had trouble controlling.
And more than that, really - there's also questions of internal censorship, like the 'free the nipple' movement. Interestingly, this is an example of nested levels of censorship:
During a talk in London on Wednesday, the app's [instagram's] co-founder and CEO explained that because Instagram is housed in the tech giant's App Store, it -- like every other app -- is designated an age rating. The paradoxical guidelines that govern this rating system have received a fair share of criticism all their own, but basically: the store only permits explicit nudity if an app is rated 17+. Instagram is currently rated 12+, a status Systrom argues allows it to appeal to a more diverse audience, including younger users that aren't interested in nudity.
So here we see censorship rolling down from on high.
Regardless of your thoughts on this particular topic, it's easy to see how this sort of censorship can be applied anywhere it is convenient. One we see often is government's blocking news outlets' publication of certain stories. And if there aren't stories, they can't be shared. Or, using the new predictive algorithms they can simply be 'disappeared', by not allowing them to show in other people's feeds.
I'm not suggesting blogs were a panacea - obviously people wouldn't have moved to social media if they had been. But I'm convinced things were lost during the transition, and I don't think we've got them back yet.