There is a reason why the word techlash made Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year shortlist in 2018. The coinage refers to a “strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence of large technology companies, particularly those based in Silicon Valley” and largely owes its popularity to recent data privacy scandals and the media coverage surrounding them.

The concerns of those who critique companies like Facebook and Google stem from the growing awareness that the effect of Big Tech on our lives may not be as harmless as we once thought. Facebook, the social media site that counts one quarter of the world’s population as its user base, has been under more scrutiny than any other tech giant. Aside from the allegations of data harvesting and emotional contagion, it has even been called out for using political manipulation to trick its users into favoring one political candidate over another.

Following the Cambridge Analytica debacle that saw the highly sensitive personal information of more than 50 million US voters harvested from Facebook and used to manipulate them into supporting Donald Trump during the 2016 elections with the help of targeted ads, the realization that social media users are highly prone to political manipulation started to sink in. Similarly, during the run-up to the elections in Brazil that ended with the victory of far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro last October, a conservative interest group used WhatsApp (a property of the Facebook group) to spread fake news and false information about Bolsonaro’s left-wing opponent, discrediting him and gaining support for the authoritarian candidate.

As a result of these clear examples of social media being used to interfere with politics in a questionable way, the platforms that have been considered democratizing for so long are now increasingly seen as politically biased.

Some experts have gone so far as to say that social media platforms are putting democracy in danger. According to Zack Beauchamp, social media platforms inherently give far-right parties and authoritarian politicians an advantage, because they give way to techniques such as fear-mongering and turning people against minority groups, spreading fake news and planting suspicion in people’s minds towards independent media outlets.

On the other hand, 43% of Americans believe that social media platforms favor the liberal end of the scale over the conservative – an opinion shared by Donald Trump who has repeatedly called out social media platforms for being partial to Democrats.

While political manipulation is not always easy to pinpoint, we have seen misinformation and fake news spread by the left, too. An article published on the BBC News website points out that a recent study “did effectively debunk the stereotype that fake news tends to be shared more by uneducated people or those with right-leaning politics, as compared to other groups.” Donald Trump has been a victim of fake news countless times: one of the most famous quotes attributed to him (“If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They are the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.”) he never actually said.

As it is, both the left and the right have demonstrated on multiple occasions that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are politically biased and are being used to manipulate public opinion.

One way of doing this is what researchers have called “manufacturing consensus”, or “creating the illusion of popularity so that a political candidate can have viability where they might not have had it before.” The support that a candidate appears to have online can easily translate into actual support.

Another way is simply by using personal data harvested from social media to manipulate voters. As the Cambridge Analytica case shows, micro-targeted ad campaigns that build on fears and emotions can go viral in no time through social shares, presenting an incredibly powerful and ridiculously cheap tool for politicians who are willing to abuse it.

It’s easy to see why Facebook is an ideal platform for such strategies. To Facebook, attention equals profit. The more time you spend on the app and the more you engage with the content you see there, the more valuable Facebook becomes as a platform for advertising. This is why they use algorithms, which are fuelled by individual user data to show you things you’re more likely to react to. They’re essentially provoking you to engage with the content their algorithm wants you to see – to get angry, be outraged, feel scared – and justifying it by trying to make the content you see as relevant and engaging as possible. The danger here is that fake news and polarizing political content – which provoke the most intense reaction from people – can spread like wildfire and cause irreparable damage in a matter of seconds.  

Currently, the only possible solution to this problem would be a rigorous regulation concerning political content on social media platforms. However, the possibility of this happening in the near future is dishearteningly low.

The good news is, in this ambiance of techlash, a handful of emerging startups have started to offer products and services that bring back the original merits of social media. These companies are built on a new premise: giving control back to the user by providing a secure and private experience that is free of ads, algorithms, and manipulation of any kind. If these companies have their way, 2019 will be the year of user empowerment. Users will once again have full ownership of their personal information and they will not have to worry about anyone trying to manipulate their emotional state or their political stance.

At Idka, we strive to offer our users a social network that is non-manipulative, unbiased, ad-free and 100% controlled by the user. These are the 5 values that we represent, around which we have built our platform.

Be safe from political manipulation

Idka does not take sides. We welcome everyone regardless of their political, religious or ideological stance, and we do not have a political agenda. Idka is, above all, a platform for groups: you can join open, closed and hidden groups with different privacy settings. Several political organizations use Idka groups to discuss issues freely, privately, and without worry of trolling or profiling.

We encourage a diversity of groups to create their own safe spaces and start conversations amongst themselves, but no political organizations are able to push their views on any users outside of their own groups. Instead of trying to divide people with different views, we aim to unite people with the same interests and perspectives.

Express yourself

There is no censorship on Idka. We do not tell you what you can and cannot say. You can freely express yourself without being censored, judged or reported. We are not a political organization, thus, we do not monitor content. We feel that if you would like to express your political, religious, ideological or personal views in an environment that you choose, you should be able to do so.

The only case in which a user may be subject to reprehension is if they make threats of physical violence. Should such a bad actor be identified by another user, they can be reported and, if a court order is issued, they can be investigated. Idka operates under Swedish law, and in such rare and extreme cases, measures are taken in accordance with the Swedish legal system.

What is more, Idka groups can establish their own set of rules. If a group moderator decides to revoke the membership of a user that has broken the group rules, they have the ability to do so.

See what you want to see

At Idka, we do not manipulate your emotions, nor do we use algorithms to curate content. You see what your contacts have posted in reverse chronological order – you only see what you want to see, and you can only see someone else’s post if they want you to see it.

Idka’s group system allows you to only see content that is posted specifically to your groups by group members. No one post has priority over another: there’s no boosting, and no tricks to appear at a higher position in your newsfeed.

Enjoy uninterrupted, ad-free communication

Since our business model does not rely on generating profit from advertisers, Idka is completely ad-free. Using our platform, you will never be exposed to any kind of paid promotion, behavioral advertising or political campaigns.

The Idka platform is based on a freemium model. Subscriptions start as low as €1 per user per month. This revenue means Idka does not have to capitalize on user data.

Make meaningful connections

By design, Idka does not have like or share buttons. There is a method to our madness.

It’s not that we don’t believe in sharing, but we want to empower our users by giving them control of their content. The user, in other words, controls the sharing. This is also one of the ways in which we prevent the spread of fake news and damaging political content.

While it’s nice to have feedback on any kind of social platform or forum, we decided to do without the like button. Likes can be a sort of weapon – they give us mini dopamine hits that feed a social validation feedback loop. Likes make Facebook addictive by exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology – our desire to be valued, accepted, validated. (The irony of the matter is that Facebook itself needs validation: it cannot exist without users constantly engaging with the content that appears on their platform.)

Our hope is to encourage meaningful connection on Idka. While there is no like button, there is ample space for users to react or respond to posts, add pictures, emoticons, etc. without the “like-culture” that is so prevalent on other platforms, where counting likes is the only motivation behind sharing a post. There has been much discussion about this topic on Idka in the open group called “All About Idka.” Anyone is free to join that group and participate in the conversation!

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