Posted on August 3, 2023 in Technology

Threads… and Bluesky….

Twitter’s Downfall

If you’ve been on almost any social media in the past couple of months, you may have noticed that Twitter’s reputation has taken quite a dive under Elon Musk’s reign. The blue checkmark fiasco has led to easier-to-hack accounts, plus a wave of account impersonators looking either to scam people or simply spread misinformation (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s impersonator stands out as a particularly well-made one, complete with a believable handle). The API decision, which led to organizations like the New York transit system leaving, was another kneecap to Twitter’s popularity and credibility. Most recently, a view count limit speculated to be the result of Twitter’s missed server payments (allegedly) has many people looking for an alternative; a couple have popped up, but is the juice worth the squeeze?

Lemon Juice in a Papercut: Threads

Threads, the newest social media app launched by Facebook, aims to recreate Twitter’s secret formula but without an option to focus on only the accounts the user is following. One page – a “For You” page equivalent, where followed content is mixed with algorithmic content and ads – is available. There is no option to view only the people the user follows.  

While that’s not a bad idea in today’s social media landscape, Threads’ problems start behind the scenes. If you create a Threads account, you need to have an Instagram account. If you don’t already have one, you have to make one. Once you have a Threads account, you can’t deactivate it without also deactivating your Instagram account. For people who use Instagram regularly, that’s a serious problem – they can’t leave! Threads holds Instagram hostage, and it can only do that because they’re from the same company!  

A second, even more serious issue is that Thread is blocked in the EU because of how wildly invasive the info it gathers on its users is. Threads users have everything from their niche demographics data down to their phone’s type and accelerometer data scraped into Facebook’s knowledge-hungry maw. Facebook wants to know exactly who you are, what your political leanings are, how edgy you like your jokes, what kind of phone you use, how often you drop it or speed with it in the car, how much of your phone’s storage is dedicated to pictures, how many friends you have, what their names and phone numbers are, and it’s using Twitter’s demise to gather that info. Some users allege that Facebook, the app that Meta gathers the most info with (for now), will occasionally scrape names from somewhere else and slap it on the user’s profile without asking or giving notice, leaving people who’ve set their profile names as their pen name, their business name, or an alias scrambling to fix it before too many people see. The concern around stalkers and abusers especially make Facebook an unsafe platform to use, if this is the case. Who knows who Facebook is gathering all that data for, or who it’s selling it to!

BlueSky – Cool Kids Only!

BlueSky, the other major social media platform rising from Twitter’s ashes, is also gathering data, but in a different way – signing up grants BlueSky permission to scrape your tweet equivalents and feed it to AI language models. Not great, but Twitter was doing that too. The real prickly part is that BlueSky is an attempt at a decentralized social media platform with all of the pros and cons that could entail.

The pros: if you like blockchain tech, BlueSky could make it easier for different blockchains to communicate with each other about resources stored within them. The site itself is trying to avoid what just happened to Twitter by enabling many different companies to contribute features to it. While BlueSky is invite only for the moment (so I can’t actually see inside of it), it appears that it’s working off the Discord mentality, so feeds are divided by servers and not Following/Recommended tabs. Having individual servers itself has pros and cons, but it allows people who don’t want to talk to each other to simply opt out of seeing each other on their respective feeds. If a user doesn’t like discourse but wants to be part of a character fan server, they can participate without inviting argumentative essays in the comments! Allowing people to granulate is sometimes better than shoving them all into a room together, like Threads is doing by default.

As for cons? BlueSky doesn’t seem to be integrated with blockchains yet, but in the event that everyone is encouraged to sign up to a blockchain system within it, things could go very wrong pretty quickly, although it’s tough to tell from publicly available information what ‘integrating with a blockchain’ even means in this case. However, we do know for sure that any issue with social media privacy is exacerbated by a system that keeps meticulous records of everything ever added to it, like blockchains. The reason so many industry experts are wary of a Web 3.0 scenario where social media becomes completely unredactable or deletable is because it makes doxxing an even bigger problem than it already is! And with AI being used to generate scandalous voice lines and pictures of both celebrities and ordinary people, these sorts of websites have a unique potential to turn into hostile cesspits of activity for both unlikeable public figures and public figures that are liked a little too much. It’s an issue now, and website moderators aren’t tampering with a blockchain to remove sensitive data. It’s also unclear what the end goal of integrating a blockchain system into BlueSky even is, aside from getting to integrate blockchain into a social media system – who benefits from that labor? BlueSky intends to be a spot for cryptocurrency conversion in the future according to some articles, and while there’s money to be made in that, the risks they’d be taking on to do so in such a volatile space would have to have one heck of a reward in return. Some users are understandably wary, waiting to see what else BlueSky is getting out of that.

Right now, BlueSky is invite-only, and it’s not secretly tied to some other social media account that would force the user to wipe their existence from the net should they decide they don’t want to keep using it, so it has that over Threads, at least.

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