Build a better monster

Via Charles Arthur, Maciej Cieglowski in Idle Words:

The online world forces individuals to make daily irrevocable decisions about their online footprint.

Consider the example of the Women’s March. The March was organized on Facebook, and 3-4 million people attended. The list of those who RSVP’d is now stored on Facebook servers and will be until the end of time, or until Facebook goes bankrupt, or gets hacked, or bought by a hedge fund, or some rogue sysadmin decides that list needs to be made public.

Any group that uses Facebook to organize comes up against this problem. But keeping this data around forever is not central to Facebook’s business model. The algorithms Facebook uses for targeting favor recency; and their output won’t drastically change if Facebook forgets what you were doing three months or three years ago.

We need the parts of these sites that are used heavily for organizing, like Google Groups or Facebook event pages, to become more ephemeral. There should be a user-configurable time horizon after which messages and membership lists in these places evaporate. These features are sometimes called ‘disappearing’, but there is nothing furtive about it. Rather, this is just getting our software to more faithfully reflect human life.