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There Is An Alternative To The Current Online Debates

A democratic debate controlled and moderated by professional media is the solution to the utterly disgusting online discussion culture of today. With ActivityPub we do have technological plug-and-play solutions

Publicist media in the Nordic Region must take the lead and create the conditions for a new democratic debate. The Nordic countries must promote innovation and the implementation of technology that supports open public debate online and that can provide alternatives to large online platforms.

The Nordic Think Tank for Tech and Democracy initiated by the Ministry of Culture recently presented a series of recommendations, of which this was one. Instead of continuing to believe that we can democratise the existing social media platforms from China and the US, we should create our own based on human values rather than profit.

Unfortunately, the idea was not unfolded during the presentation. It only disclosed the problem. Minister of Culture Jakob Engel-Schmidt was concerned that more and more people are opting out of the public conversation online because it is so ugly. And DR News Director Sandy French explained why DR News has closed the comment section on Facebook.
“No matter how many resources we spent on a debate, we’ve failed to build a democratic conversation. On the contrary, our sources were criticised and bullied. The more vulnerable they were, the worse it got. We thus supported a polarisation and a form of debate that we do not want to be part of,” she said.

As I’ve written several times before, there are alternatives to for example Facebook, but many people don’t realise it. But the timing of the Nordic think tank’s proposal is good because the technology has evolved and there are now plug-and-play solutions.

Mastodon is the answer. Or the technology on which Mastodon is built, a protocol called ActivicyPub, which it getting more and more popular. Mastodon is a relatively new social media ‘platform’, developed in Germany, with over 10 million users, as many people are fleeing Twitter in favour of Mastodon. The difference between Mastodon and then Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and TikTok is that it is not owned by one large central profit-hungry corporation that harvests our personal data, personalises content, develops addictive algorithms or makes money from fake news.

Mastodon is open, decentralised, and controlled by the users and those who host many thousands of servers. A newspaper, DR, a municipality, the Danish Parliament, yes anyone can set up their own debate forum on Mastodon. They can make a server (computer capacity) available and then decide who can create a profile on their server and what the rules of the debate should be. DR could set up one for their employees only or one that is open to all Danes. Whether users are logged into DR’s server or any other server, you can follow all the other Mastodon users, build your own channel, gain followers and discuss with others like on Facebook and Twitter. But without any personalisation and manipulation, as everything is in chronological order and thus presented in the same way for all users.

The idea of new democratic public spaces on the internet has been unfolded in detail by a Swedish member of the Nordic Think Tank for Tech and Democracy, senior researcher Carl Health. He writes that the state, municipalities, regions, civil society, associations and companies must all participate, because no one can build a democratic digital society alone. He says that in Sweden they are currently discussing how to establish their own sustainable social media, and like me, he hopes that the Nordic Council of Ministers, which has adopted the think tank’s recommendations, will continue to work on the idea.

We must continue to try to regulate big tech’s social media platforms, but we will never democratise them on our terms. Therefore, we have to go the alternative way and do it ourselves.

Photo by Shelagh Murphy

This was first published in the Danish national daily Politiken