Last week we welcomed Felix Reda as our guest speaker for our November edition of Democracy Drinks, held at our new venue Richie Café & Bar in Kreuzberg. Unsurprisingly, the lively conversation focused on Twitter’s extremely public fall from grace, while also looking towards a more optimistic future and imagining what could take its place.
Mastodon: a safer and more focused alternative to Twitter?
Like many others, Felix has recently made the leap to the self-hosted social networking service Mastodon. He describes his initial experience positively. Although his newly-minted profile mightn’t have the same reach as Twitter (where he has spent years building a 100K-strong following), the community-centred engagement with other users is much more meaningful and interactive.
Turning an eye to the European Union's role regulating the digital sphere, Reda was optimistic about the Digital Services Act (DSA). The DSA breaks new legislative ground by striving to protect the fundamental rights of users within the digital sphere. According to Reda it is a powerful piece of legislation with a lot of potential, however the key issue is enforceability. Operating on a European-wide level would be tricky as tackling key concerns like misinformation requires local knowledge. Reda suggests stepping-up the role of locally-based civil society organisations, who can act based on the data that large-scale platforms will be obliged to provide.
Root cause: Big Tech’s flawed business model
The root of the problem with Big Tech running social media platforms is their business model. According to Reda, “As long as we rely on private companies to run our networks, we will always be vulnerable to the whims of the person who runs it and their need to make money.
So how do we scale up community-led, non-centralised networks such as Mastodon without them falling to the same fate?, asked one Democracy Drinks attendant. Reda believes the answer is financial support, such as state funding, which can be used to cover running costs e.g. labour for moderation etc. Of course this can come with its own pitfalls. If socially responsible models are to be a success they need to be user friendly and give people what they want.
Democracy Drinks is an informal networking event for civil society colleagues, which Liberties has been organising in Berlin since 2019. Each month we invite a special guest to discuss a pressing social issue affecting democracy. The events attract a lively mixture of people from NGOs, international institutions, think tanks, national governments and representations, academia, public affairs consultancies, social businesses and active citizens.
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