The quest to design an ethical social media platform – Jennifer Johnson on The Week

How lovely to see such a nice article on Mastodon and ethical design in The Week from the journalist that @laura introduced to Mastodon.


@aral @laura

"maybe they could be funded by taxes, as long as they aren't controlled by governments"

This is the dichotomy. If you're funded by taxation then you are controlled by the government. Government run social networks would be the worst thing imaginable.
@fitheach @laura @aral In an alternate timeline imagine if the BBC had started running a social network and it became popular at least at the national level (perhaps not globally). What kinds of biases would it have? Probably a wide range of issues would never be allowed on the platform.

I agree. The BBC is more a multi-media company than a broadcaster. They have huge reach with their printed publications and, particularly, their online presence. The online reach is global.

For most people in the UK there is little difference between a voluntary TV licence and taxation, as they want to receive broadcasts, even if it isn't from the BBC.

A state funded social network would be terrible.

@laura @aral

@bob @fitheach @laura (A BBC for social media is what Corbyn wants. It’s a concept we must oppose by the strongest means. He – and I guess Richard (Barbrook), as he’s advising him – don’t understand what they’re asking for. Or worse, they do, and they’re OK with that.)

@aral @laura @fitheach The Labour party has for a long time been more than ok with conducting a lot of surveillance on people. Their movements, beliefs, etc. There was the whole fight over the "central identity database" in the last decade.

@bob @laura @fitheach Yeah, and Tom Watson and the rest rolled for a belly rub on the Investigatory Powers Act. I don’t trust them to do the right thing.


Honestly, I don't think there's a UK politician with stronger record against abusive legislation than Corbyn.

See ie

@aral @fitheach @laura

@MatejLach @bob @fitheach @laura I like to think that if he understood technology, he would be acting differently. As such, he has stated on the record that he sees nothing wrong with the Investigatory Powers Act (that law which dictates backdoors on all communication technologies and puts the UK second behind China on surveillance.) This is not a theoretical exercise for me either; Laura and I left the UK because of it.

@aral @bob

The reasons behind him abstaining from that vote are a bit more complex, see

Basically, Labour undermined their own unified position by constantly trying to oust him and playing internal battles. Blaming this mainly on JC is in my opinion unjustified.

Any links to him saying there's nothing wrong with the act?

@fitheach @laura

@MatejLach @bob @fitheach @laura I saw an interview where he was asked if it strikes “the right balance” and he said yes. Can’t find it but this is a good summary of his/Labour’s stance on IP Act:

@aral @bob @fitheach @laura I found that article, but it talks more about Labour generally, which I agree has the wrong stance on this, however I would not equate JC == Labour in general as there are many factions within the party that vote against his positions and as the Private Eye article I linked says, there are other factions within the Labour party that wanted this bill. I'd argue he should have pushed everybody in line to vote against it, instead he resigned to them.

@aral @bob @fitheach @laura

My actual worry with JC is that he became too worried about the smear campaign against him that he's too weak on terror and doesn't want to be seen as voting against key 'anti-terror' legislation to fuel the smears.

That's a huge problem, but I think it's easier to fix than getting all the centre-right Labour MPs onto the right track would be.

@MatejLach @bob @fitheach @laura Well I don’t know JC personally but I do know his technology advisor, Richard. And Richard is old-school socialist. So he doesn’t have a problem with a British digital corporation that runs its own social network (which is what JC has suggested).


From what I gather, JC's intention regarding a public social network is a good one, he just doesn't realize all the implications.

He also wants a public Uber alternative in the same way, I gather his thinking is along the lines of that a publicly-owned company doesn't have the profit motives of Facebook/Uber and thus be less exploitative, as far as he can see.

Of course, the problem is that you just transferred that power directly to the government.

@bob @fitheach @laura


So in a public Uber alternative, he probably sees that there would not be the motive to exploit drivers and would allow them to bring back home more of the profits, which are likely true and probably would be the most visible to most Uber drivers.

The flip side of this is of course, you just put the government in a possession of a real-time database of where everybody's going.

He needs to be educated on decentralised approaches to these problems.

@bob @fitheach @laura

@bob @fitheach @laura Hierarchical political structures are unfit to solve this problem. I went into it in more detail in my latest talk and I’m going to be writing about this in detail in the book:

(Photo courtesy:

@aral @bob @fitheach curious about your placement of 'libartarianism' in that chart... you chose a couple of billionaires who want to be gods... even wikipedia will give a better definition of what libertarian means to most people - Individual sovereignty.

@pperrin @bob @fitheach Wikipedia is an interesting one: if you chat to Jimmy, ask him what he thinks about regulation. E.g., should we regulate healthcare, should we have food standards, etc.? (Hint: unless he’s changed his stance since I asked him: no. All regulation is bad. No exceptions.)

Also see: Wikipedia on zero rating.

So don’t even get me started on right libertarians. Including Wikipedians.

@aral @bob @fitheach That was just one possible source. I don't much care one way or the other for Wikipedia, most any other source will do...

@aral @bob @fitheach not going to waste your time, just I found this which may be similar to your view... so no need to stay awake wondering if I found an answer :)

@bob @fitheach @laura @aral

The BBC has already experimented with mini social networks/forums for popular programmes but these tend to disappear with each round of budget cuts as they don't want to put in the resources required for admin/moderation.

They don't really need to set up their own social networks anyway, for 20 years govt already funds them to surveil all the others via BBC Monitoring (its spun by them that they focus on foreign countries but this is not always the case)

@bob @fitheach @laura @aral They would be allowed, but sidelined. That is the beauty of social networks. Anybody can write anything. Each of them, in being on the platform hoping to win the lottery with that one viral [tweet], is boosting the [blue check] brigade in some kind of influencer ponzi scheme; each can be indefinitely sidelined but as an additional number on the blue check's [RT]. Nobody need be explicitly discriminated against.

@bob @laura Not necessarily. Imagine an interoperable system with lots of providers. The government gives incentives for people to be hosted on this platform. It doesn’t directly own or control the independent businesses/organisations/not-for-profits that provide the service. Look at the system we were attempting to build in Ghent. It worked along those lines. (And you make it free software so if corruption rears its ugly head, you fork.)


Expand that approach enough and you have UBI & net-neutrality.

@bob @laura

@aral @laura Lovely indeed. Thanks for the heads up. I put it in my newsletter.

@aral @laura Good article. I definitely agree with it. I am a long time subscriber to "The Week". They provide superior coverage.

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