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Safeguarding Your Digital Footprint: Navigating the Landscape of Private Social Media

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We live in an increasingly online world that, at least on paper, presents us with opportunities to connect with one another in unprecedented ways. Unfortunately, this is far from the reality of what social media has become.

Although many social media platforms claim to be designed to unite and “connect” us, their reality is much more nefarious. Most instead serve as data collection companies, which reduce us to mere data points that can be sold to advertisers. Although the leaders of these companies explain the collection and use of data away as necessary for the “personalization” of the user experience, this personalization is an illusion.

Does social media take more than it gives?

While social media platforms have claimed to be transparent about the way their platforms collect, store, and use user data, the truth is much less clear. Research shows that these agreements, such as terms of use and privacy policies, are written using deliberately confusing language. If a user even reads the agreement they are signing — accounting for a scant 1 out of 5 people who “always” or “often” read these policies — they are unlikely to understand how these companies use (or, more accurately, sell) their data. 

For example, just look at the controversies that have shaken the social media sector in the past few years. People still have not forgotten Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal or how other platforms, like TikTok, are currently experiencing their own data privacy controversies. Users are understandably concerned about the relationship between online communication and their data.

The reality of social media is that these platforms are run on business models that depend entirely on revenue from selling user data. Although these platforms are “free” services, users must remember the adage that “nothing is ever free.” Instead of paying for these apps with their wallets, users pay for them with their data, and their behavior becomes data that can be sold by these apps to advertisers at a rate of around 2 cents per minute of screen time per user. Thus, it becomes clear that these platforms are not interested in forming genuine connections between their users — they are interested in how they can market screen time and ads to users.

Today, social media is causing more fragmentation and isolation than genuine connection. Social media users are forming superficial online relationships with people they (mostly) don’t know. 

However, just because a photo they post gets hundreds or even thousands of views and likes doesn’t mean it made a genuine or lasting impression on even one of those people. Social media platforms have tricked our society into being immersed in the virtual world of an algorithm’s creation.

In the era of social media, many of the “connections” we form with people online are not due to actual connections but rather connections perceived between data points of our behavior that algorithms have determined to be relevant for marketing purposes. The result is a formation of rabbit holes and echo chambers — online spaces where content and marketing “tailored” to users is continuously recommended to them, isolating users from the rest of the community in favor of guiding them to certain actions, like making a purchase based on an advertisement.

Creating a communication platform that protects data while driving exponential value

Communication platforms have an opportunity to disrupt the status quo of social media by allowing users to foster genuine connections with others. Instead of the data collection from which most social media platforms have derived their revenue, online communication platforms instead look toward one simple way of generating revenue: providing legitimate value in forming connections that reach beyond the digital realm.

Ultimately, the key to success in disrupting the status quo of social media and creating a communication platform that can thrive without collecting or selling user data is restoring the element of user privacy. Users must be able to create private communities where they opt-in to share their data with locations they are visiting or people they connect with, allowing them to curate a space genuinely tailored to their interests and needs.

By establishing a platform in which the choice of data sharing is restored to the user, communications platforms also have the opportunity to regain freedom and lack of censorship. In a virtual community of their own creation, users have opted in to participate and share their information. There is no monitoring by a digital watchdog policing what is said in these spaces. Instead, members of these communities can determine what is and is not appropriate and moderate it themselves. Additionally, because these environments are created by the users, they can block parties like bots, scammers, and third parties that take advantage of traditional media platforms to the detriment of users and their data privacy.

The future of social media lies not with the platforms that currently exist but with a new class of online digital communication platforms that seeks to restore the concept of legitimate connection to the digital world. It is high time that online communication platforms stop looking at users as data points to be sold and, instead, as real people to whom they can provide value by helping them form legitimate connections.

About the author


Scott Swanson

Scott Swanson, an expert in global infrastructure and platform development, leads Bonder, a groundbreaking location-based communication platform revolutionizing how the world connects and communicates. With nearly two decades of Silicon Valley expertise, Swanson champions a fusion of technology and humanity, positioning himself as a trailblazer in revolutionizing technology that improves human experiences.