Use open platforms — or else January 28, 2021 on Drew DeVault's blog

The ongoing events around /r/wallstreetbets teaches us, once again, about the value of open platforms, and the tremendous risk involved in using proprietary platforms. The economic elites who control those proprietary platforms, backed by their venture capital interests, will shut us down if we threaten them. We’re taking serious risk by casting our lot with them.

Discord, a proprietary instant messaging and VoIP platform, kicked out the /r/WSB community yesterday. They claimed it was due to spam and abuse from bots. These are convenient excuses when considered in the broader context of Discord’s conflict of interest, between its retail investor users and its wall-street investor backers. However, even if we take their explanation at face value, we can easily question Discord’s draconian policies about its proprietary chat protocol. They have a history of cracking down on third-party bots and clients with the same excuses of preventing spam and abuse. If Discord accepts responsibility for preventing spam and abuse, then why are they deplatforming users when they, Discord, failed to prevent it?

It’s all a lie. They use a proprietary protocol and crack down on third-party implementations because they demand total control over their users. They deplatformed /r/WSB because they were financially threatened by them. Discord acts in their own interests, including when they are against the interests of their users. In the words of Rohan Kumar, they’re trying to domesticate their users. It’s the same with every corporate-operated platform. Betting that Reddit will ultimately shut down /r/WSB is probably a stronger bet than buying GME!

But there is another way: free and open platforms, protocols, and standards. Instead of Discord, I could recommend Matrix, IRC, or Mumble. These are not based on central corporate ownership, but instead on publicly available standards that anyone can build on top of. The ownership of these platforms is distributed between its users, and thus aligned with their incentives.

Federation is also a really compelling solution. Unlike Discord and Reddit, which are centrally owned and operated, federated software calls for many independent server operators to run instances which are responsible for tens or hundreds of users each. Each of these servers then use standardized protocols to communicate with each other, forming one cohesive, distributed social network. Matrix and IRC are both federated protocols, for example. Others include Mastodon, which is similar to Twitter in function; PeerTube, for hosting videos and live streams; and Lemmy, which is a federated equivalent of Reddit.

These are the alternatives. These platforms lack that crucial conflict of interest which is getting us kicked off of the corporate owned platforms. These are the facts: open platforms are the only ones align with the interests of their users, and closed platforms exploit their users. Once you recognize this, you should jump ship before you’re deplatformed, or else you’re risking your ability to organize yourselves to move to another platform. Use open platforms — or else. Do it today.

⇒ This article is also available on gemini.

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