Pillowfort came out of closed beta this week, leading to a lot of people signing up in hopes of finding the magic of past, cozier and more hobby or community focused social media. But there were also, almost immediately, Twitter posts loudly drawing attention to bugs and security issues in the site. Some of these are, indeed, quite serious, while others are more amusing or inconvenient. But there's a sort of irony to these posts, often with the tone of making PF itself look unusable and unprofessional, largely appearing on a 240-character micro-blogging platform with fewer and fewer points of user control or autonomy.
“that’s the tragedy of the commons” - some fuck busy selling off all the commons, right? In this case it almost feels like these posts are doing closed, commercialized platform-holder's work for free, bringing news of horrible portents from an adjacent fiefdom to let us all sigh with amusement and burrow deeper into the increasingly restrictive and exploitative cocoon Twitter offers. It's disappointing to see non-professional and alternative internet platforms (who obviously can't afford the web dev and security staff of a gigantic corporation) put through the wringer on the same platforms they're trying to offer an alternative to when they open up for free but don't meet professional standards. It feels like alternatives are shut down in advance and the necessity of building an increasing amount of our lives in the shape of these harmful, top-down, corporate platforms is reinforced yet again.
I think it's worth noting, as someone who has been on the closed beta for a few months, that my experience of the platform was occasionally buggy, occasionally beset by growing pains, but also with regular updates and bug fixes originating from discussions in particular communities set up for that purpose. If there were complaints about the platform, they didn't take the form of literally going onto another platform to share increasingly petty exploits, or at least didn't reach the level of attention that they started hitting my TL on other sites. I'm all for alternative platforms improving, at the rate and in the direction that they decide is right for them. However, it's hard to argue that you just care sooo much about digital security if that's the way you go drawing attention to these issues.
Anything common is kind of based on the idea that people will generally act in good faith. Of course, there's certain things that are totally reasonable to do to protect or manage common resources, especially from nonhuman bad actors and forces of nature (rats, flooding, mold). Capital is the opposite end of this approach, which assumes that the base status of human nature is either exploiting or being exploited, and the correct order of exploitation must be absolutely maintained. Maybe the internet is "too big" now to expect that any space can be made without battening down the hatches for the worst possible bad actors as the first priority (closing off many other possibilities in the process). I hope this isn't true.
Maybe it's not a problem of "big," but how the Internet has grown. It feels like the increasingly conscribed and corporatized Internet has reproduced users that move from page to page and post to post in terms of exploitation. Everything is an act of self-branding in this landscape, so obviously using large, consolidated platforms that conform every user contribution to increasingly interchangeable bits of "content" is better than using unique or distributed platforms. Pointing out exploit points on a platform is, importantly, something that can be a brand-builder elsewhere rather than discussed among other users. But even beyond that, the urge to either act in the most bad faith way, or on the assumption that you have to prepare for people doing the same to you determines the majority of decisions made.
Of course, there's no easy or immediate answer to this; I believe in distributed, non-commercial, non-professional, user-serviceable platforms, and publicizing ways to exploit them to non-users on locked-down platforms feels like a way of explicitly discouraging their existence. Sometimes these "exploits" are even just the digital equivalent of behavior that is rude or inappropriate in most contexts, but important and useful in some. Yelling "Fire!" is, actually, a good example here. Why do we have no faith in being able to moderate ourselves in generally conscientious ways in a digital context? Does it have to be like that? At the same time, so long as we're in a system where my day to day survival involves personal financial management, I also don't want my credit card information stolen, and think that's a reasonable personal boundary, lol. Though I think it is worth pointing out that small or new sites are generally not the main issue here, there's also been plenty of far more consequential high profile security leaks.
Trying to foster the imperfect, the personal, the small-scale, and the idiosyncratic online feels like gardening to me, and as in the real world, increasing ownership and top-down regulation shutting down a sense of the common has made it a lot harder to garden, even if it once seemed like what this space was naturally made for. Scrounging for the bits of clout, attention or cash you can get away with on these dumping-ground sort of platforms just feels increasingly like raiding a junkyard for a few usable scraps instead. Of course, it's hard to garden in a junkyard, especially if people are always coming through dumping or scavenging things. But, even if you do make your own space, it's still hard to garden when people coming to your garden have been conditioned to only see junkyards.
So what is the internet, a garden, or a junkyard?