Manifesto for a better web

This is a long, juicy text. I'm usually not that good at reading long pieces of text. If you, too, are like that, follow the purple text for the jist. Then, you can read the parts arounds for more context, nuance, examples etc.

The internet is such a fantastic tool. If you are here, reading a page off some rando's little homemade website, you must be at least a bit smitten with the internet as well.

But I bet most of us have seen ways in which our lives have been also made worse, from exposure to the web.

Some of us got stuck into algorithmic traps - some fell into doomscrolling, (or just simply impulsive, mindless scrolling), some fell into the abyss of echo chambers. Some have received hate mail - some maybe have sent it, with genuine belief it was the right thing to do.
Maybe you know someone who was victim of doxxing. Maybe you've seen people fall into mental health spirals in part also because of the kind of stuff they ate up online.
And I bet most of us have been outraged because of something we've read online, and tried to argue with strangers online because of it.

If you look closely - all of these issues have a common root. That is: it's not the machine itself causing you harm but, rather, the people who inhabit the web, causing harm to eachother. It's the spaces we construct (or that have been constructed for us), and the way we inhabit them.

When it comes down to it, I see there being two kinds of dynamics. Imagine it as a blood sport.
There's the people setting it up and organising it, making the spectacle possible. In our current times, this might be the people actively making money out of outrage-based social platforms.
Then there's the participants, which are both the ones playing the game, and the spectators, cheering them on. People who are taking part in the game, either wilfully, by necessity, or by societal pressure.
I am tired of blood sports. I want to do something else with my time. What about you?

What can we do?

  • Think critically about your actions and behaviors, online and offline - and about your relationship with the internet. Why do you do what you do? How does it make you feel? Where do your behaviours come from? Who do they benefit? Read and think as much as possible, and try to come in contact with a diversity of opinions - and come to your own conclusions.
  • I believe that the Yesterweb movement managed to distill some awesome guidelines in their Social Etiquette and Manifesto. I personally agree with the objectives stated in their Manifesto, and love the simple, yet effective guidelines presented in the Etiquette. I can positively say those have radically changed my relationship with the internet.
    I will be re-posting these guidelines, distilled by the Yesterweb Community, in full here as well:
  • Social Etiquette

    These are guidelines for social behavior that can be applied in online (and even offline) spaces.

    1. Engage in good faith
      • To engage in "good faith" means to assume that others have sincere, honest and respectful intentions.
        • Bad faith discussions are approached with:
          ❌ Personal attacks
          ❌ Assumptions about bad intent
          ❌ Misrepresenting others' ideas
        • Good faith discussions are approached with:
          ✅ Honesty and openness
          ✅ An effort to understand others' thought process (where they are coming from)
          ✅ Mindfulness of potential misunderstandings that may arise
          ✅ Assumption that others are not deliberately trying to be harmful

      • It's important to note: When dealing with sensitive issues that go against the dominant worldview (e.g., "commonly accepted ideas"), others will likely not have all of the knowledge they need to come to a complete understanding of the issue. We should not attack seemingly-well-intentioned people for this, and instead work toward coming to a mutual understanding when possible.
      • Even when bad faith is evident, do not attack others or lose your cool. If help is needed, reach out to the mod team.

    2. Engage in constructive conflict
      • Conflict is necessary for growth. It can be uncomfortable, but it also fuels change. There is constructive and destructive conflict. We can only engage in constructive conflict when all parties engage in good-faith discussions.
        • Destructive conflict looks like:
          ❌ An effort to win at any cost
          ❌ Treating questions or criticisms as personal attacks
          ❌ Mocking or ridiculing others
          ❌ Ignoring, dismissing, mocking or ridiculing others' ideas
        • Constructive conflict looks like:
          ✅ People interested in coming to a mutual and, ultimately, better understanding
          ✅ Listening closely to others' viewpoints
          ✅ Openness to reconsidering your own perspective
          - Reconsidering your perspective doesn't necessarily mean reconsidering your position. Perspective is how you view something, and perspective is always clearest when we analyze all parts of a situation.

      • We should approach conflict as a dialogue instead of a debate.
        • What is the difference between a debate and a dialogue?
          • A debate is oppositional: two or more sides oppose each other and attempt to prove each other wrong.
          • A dialogue is collaborative: two or more sides work together toward common understanding.
        • If it becomes apparent that constructive conflict is not possible, the best thing to do is to disengage.

    3. Be mindful of participating in a shared, public space
      • Community space is shared with other people.
      • We should not speak over, interrupt or interject a conversation with unreasonably off-topic comments.
      • We should not make our own voices louder than others, being careful not to take up more than our own share of space.

    Manifesto for a New Web

    This is a set of three core commitments derived from the practical experiences of the Yesterweb staff after two years of community organization. They concentrate what we have learned and how we operate into a general template that can be applied to any community at a foundational level. We propose these commitments as the basis of unity for those individuals or groups who wish to move in the same direction, while allowing a diversity of focus, interests, and missions. They are neither rules nor guidelines: they are expectations that are upheld by all participants, to the best of their ability, who believe in building a new culture for the web.

    1. The commitment to social responsibility and partisanship:

      Safety and self-defense are a basic necessity of any community, which includes the recognition that it is impossible to accommodate all people in the same social space due to the inevitability of antagonistic beliefs. Diversity of opinion is respected up until certain bounds that reflect oppressive intentions such as discrimination against age, sex, gender, class, nation/race/ethnicity, religion, or disability. When these conflicts inevitably appear, the community must strive to understand the situation and take the side of the oppressed at any cost. In cases where it is ambiguous whether the harm is intentional or accidental, an investigation through dialogue is necessary to determine malice or ignorance, as ignorance can be resolved with education.

    2. The commitment to collective well-being and personal growth:

      Sustainable amounts of selflessness and sacrifice, ideally from all individuals, are required to build a healthy community. Building and maintaining a new culture requires a consistent social effort as well. We should be mindful of collective health, taking compassionate consideration of the personal growth of everyone (actively or passively) involved in any situation. In our communication we should train our ability to listen and to empathize, patiently striving for unity and dialogue rather than division and debate, and approaching conflict with the intention of resolution. It is important that the community does not create goals purely out of opposition or antagonism toward something, and instead works in a positive and creative manner, toward building solutions either in individual or collective practice.

    3. The commitment to rehumanizing social relations and reversing the process of social alienation:

      The development of information technology capital has further disintegrated our social being, but being social is a mental necessity. We are left with the burden of re-learning the way we relate to each other and rebuilding our social bonds in a way that treats everyone as equals. This includes unlearning dehumanizing behaviors such as treating others as potential sources of profit/assets or romantic/sexual objects without knowledge or consent, and establishing rules to demarcate separate spaces in which all participants are aware and do consent (if such spaces are deemed necessary by the community). We should question the impact of our environment on our behavior, and carefully conscientiously transform that environment so that a better culture and humanity can flourish.

  • If you have the means, try to foster constructive communities. Otherwise, just put in practice what you learnt. Transform yourself. Lead by example. If possible, tell people why you act the way you act. Hear what they have to say back to you.
    I believe the Socratic Method is a powerful tool to have constructive conversations, and unhearth truths. The wikipedia link I provide is about "Socratic questioning", intended as a teaching method. But, I've also had the experience of starting a conversation using this method, and coming out of it with a new perspective, effectively having been the student.
  • This can be done anywhere. You don't need coding skills, you don't need a fancy website, you don't need a mastodon istance. You could probably adapt your message to most digital mediums. (why not all of them? I believe some communication methods are inherently more hostile to conversation. I think it'd be much harder to have a conversation via tweet-sized messages - though, I do believe it could be done.)
    I try to carry this nugget of truth with me offline as well, but that's just my prerogative. I've found that it's a good way to live.

Now - what do you think about all of this?

I want to read more!

  • has a summary of what they learned from their experience trying to build a transformative community. It's a long read, but it will be worth your while!
  • "forum shutdown" thread on YW forums - also linked in the last appendix. Putting this here because it personally affected me a lot, as I was able to have a very insightful conversation with the founders about the original scope of the YesterWeb. You might be interested about what they had to say as well!
  • Go have a look on the web-raft!! There's been some really interesting discussions - which I myself have been too overwhelmed by my brain and life to participate in. Group Exploration of The Connections Between The YW Docs, MidGarden, Building a new web

I want to talk about this!

Great!! Grab some people! Start a conversation!
Create a community - or join one. Get in touch with people. Talk about the ideas you found and what you think about them. Do it online, do it offline.

Send me an email: I'm not good at responding often, but I would still love to have some conversations about all of this. It's something I care about a lot.

You might also find a few awesome likeminded peeps over at the Web Raft. It's a tiny forum I set up when the yesterweb forum closed, to keep in contact. It's not meant to be a community in itself, and I do not moderate it - in fact, I scarcely have the energies necessary to even just participate, but have talked with a few incredible users on there. ♡

As well as some miscellaneous thoughts about my own relationship with the internet:

Why don't I start a community/Why am I not active in communities

I struggle to keep up with conversations, and generally struggle to sustain focus on a certain topics for more than one month or so. That's completely my bad and is something I've been trying to work on for so many years. But for now, that's the way it is. I want to be realistic about the expectations I set for myself.
I can barely keep up with talking to my closest friends! At this point in my life, I am unable to take on responsibility for anything long-term.

How did my relationship with the internet and social media practically change?

I used to spend a lot of time mindlessly browsing content online. I was addicted to scrolling, like many of us are.
I was too shy to reach out and connect, but would sometimes use the web as a black box to vent into. I overshared in the general direction of nobody precisely. It wasn't that I had anything meaningful to say - if anything, I was lowkey embarassed about what I shared. I think I was just longing for human connection, and too fearful to actually reach out to it.

My only actual one-on-one confrontations were usually negative, and came in the form of vocally disagreeing with someone on topics that I deemed important. I knew, intellectually, that arguing online was useless at best and addictive at worst. But that's the nature of something that's addictive, isn't it? You always come back for more.

In the hopes of helping my brain be less overwhelmed all the time, and getting back some semblance of executive funcioning skills, I decided I really needed to change my relationship with social media, for good.

Utimately, what helped me was:

  • Uninstalling all social media apps from my phone, and locking the Play Store with parental controls.
    I had my partner (who's the person I trust the most!) come up with a random password to keep safe for me, in the event I had to install something that was not fit for an 8 yrs old.
    I had previously used a myriad of apps to control usage time - none of them worked for me.
  • Coming in contact with the Yesterweb movement and, to some extent, the Web Revival movement. They both helped me reconsider my relationship with the internet and reshape my current ideas, though each in different ways.
  • Getting a tiny smartphone. I thought about getting a dumbphone - but I actually really love the concept of tiny portable computers. I just realized it was kind of bad for me to always have a small tablet by my side, temptation-wise.
  • Touching grass. Touching grass. Touching grass.
  • A psychedelic trip, but I wouldn't say I'd recommend it to everyone.
My executive function didn't come back (maybe it was never there in the first place?), but at least I'm way more serene now.
Turns out: reading drama and bad news all day long is exhausting. Having your brain bombarded with "content" all day long is overwhelming.
I was able to use my newfound energy to do things like - reading the news from reputable sites, think, form my own opinions, decide to read some books to learn more. I'm now stuck at the reading part - I'm not a natural at that one - but hey, it's a start.

My inner monologue used to be so negative - bordering on paranoid - just from all the things I'd read online on social media. It's liberating - being able to think again. Being able to be again.

I eventually decided I would not come back to have an online presence until I had something interesting to say, or people I wanted to meet, etc. I guess by now I did acculumate a few things I'd like to share - such as these. Let's see how it goes! :D

As for social media - after refusing to use them outright and thinking they were the devil incarnate, I re-considered my thoughts on them. I do believe they can be used for good, or at least neutral purposes.
I'm somewhat active on reddit - the forum-like structure of subreddits make conversations much easier to have. Though there's a lot of hate and hostility going around in those spaces, there's also a lot of places where kindness reigns supreme, and a lot of people that are actually receptive to good faith conversations. I've had some very interesting conversations on there, and it remains a good way for me to look at hobby-related posts without getting sucked into other things.
I would like to return to post on Tumblr and Instagram, but only once I have something worthwhile to share on those platforms - maybe art, or blog posts.

Overall, I feel that any activity on social media has, for me, become secondary to one-on-one interactions with friends, which I appreciate.

At the moment, I'm most interested in cultivating my ability to keep in contact with people, both online and offline - but it's something that goes beyond my relationship with the internet, or technology.