Internet manifesto

"The villain here is not necessarily the Internet, or even the idea of social media; it is the invasive logic of commercial social media and its financial incentive to keep us in a profitable state of anxiety, envy, and distraction. It is furthermore the cult of individuality and personal branding that grow out of such platforms and affect the way we think about our offline selves and the places where we actually live." - Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing

In the earlier iterations of this manifesto, I made the mistake of focusing too heavily on the creation of personal websites as the main method of fighting against the exploitative capitalist hellscape that has become our Internet.

I've since learned that there's more we can do to transform the internet that goes far beyond the act of creating a website, so I wanted to update this page with new information.

For example, we can work on transforming social relations online. This is something that anyone can participate in, with a little effort. Social relations online (especially on social media) tend to be divisive and hostile. It's easy to forget that there are real people on the other side of the screen.

To work on this, we could start by keeping others' humanity in mind and treating them with respect. When conflict eventually happens, we would turn that conflict into something constructive. That means using conflict as an opportunity to come to a mutual and better understanding of each other's viewpoints. (Note: This doesn't apply to trolls, people who intentionally try to instigate hostility or arguments online.)

The internet has normalized debating with each other. In debates, there can only be one 'winner'. The net has also normalized a lack of nuance (a gray area in between the two extremes) which tends to be divisive.

It would be infinitely more constructive if, instead of debating with others, we started a dialogue, working together 'on the same team' as others in order to form a common understanding. This is different than "agreeing to disagree" and more like making an effort to listen and view something from each individual's perspective. It requires being open to changing your perspective in the first place.

In order to discuss social relations online, it's impossible to ignore social media. Originally, I felt that social media was pure toxicity and there was no benefit at all from being a part of it. It exploits us by selling our data and bombarding us with ads, and is full of trolls. At the same time, it's where the people are. It's how many people keep in touch with their friends, and leaving social media would be even more alienating than continuing to use it.

We shouldn't shame others for using social media. As long as people continue to use it, we should advocate for learning to use those platforms in different, healthier and more humanizing ways. For example, we could do this by placing less effort on 'liking' posts and more effort on responding to them with an intention to make a real connection with its author.

The default goal on social media is to amass followers and likes, rather than to make meaningful connections with other people, and that's something we can counter by changing our behavior.

Parasocial relationships are another strange distortion of social relations that have become much more commonplace online. These are the relations between influencers or social media 'personalities' and their fans / followers, and is another example of unequal and potentially alienating / dehumanizing interaction online, often for all parties involved.

As a brief aside, it brings me much 'ick' to acknowledge that my website is at the top of Neocities "most followed" sites. This was my experience being 'parasocialed' against my will: what started as a spotlight on my space quickly started feeling like a target on my back. Because I have amassed thousands of followers, I have apparently somehow become less human, less approachable, and more easily abstracted into an idea or a concept. It's easier for people to wonder aloud about me and my personal life in social spaces, or to publicly cast judgment on my actions, or in some cases, create untrue stories about my actions to begin with. It's an intensely unpleasant and dehumanizing experience.

Neocities is more than a web host, it is technically social media. I would define it this way based on the ability for accounts to follow and be followed, the ability to find other websites via tags and the directory, and the ability to comment on one another's site profiles. Creating and maintaining a static website tends to be a solitary act, but Neocities brings this to the next level with the implementation of 'social' features. This means we can even practice transforming social relations here, by creating meaningful connections with our fellow webmasters in whichever ways are available to us (profile comments, email, Discord, etc.)

The other thing we can do is to create our own spaces. The best spaces I have encountered online are small spaces: group chats, very small servers with less than 20 people. In my experiences (especially with the Yesterweb) it becomes harder to make meaningful connections in a sea of hundreds, thousands or more.

The experience summary of the Yesterweb community explains in-depth the highlights and headwinds of our experience organizing a community with an overarching goal to make real, social change.

On a final note, I want to remind everyone that the problems we're experiencing on the web are reflections of the same problems that exist in real life.