What should Twitter do?

Twitter should pivot away from a grimy dependence on advertisers and advertising. Very few of us like advertising, especially the stuff that pretends to know things about us.

The slimy feeling you get as you scroll through and see crummy quasi-personalised ads trying to sell you stuff you don’t need or really want. You know the platform are mining your data and only crave to stall you leaving because they want to rent you out to advertisers.

The dynamic is flawed and overdue for disruption.

I no longer want to be the product, nor stalked and herded like some commodity. I don’t want my time wasted or my mental health compromised due to psychological manipulation. I am not a number, I am a free man (™ The prisoner – a 1960s dystopian TV series).

Platforms should fund themselves without relying 100% on this model. It has not served society well; gutting traditional media, shrinking our pool of quality journalism, increasing divisive and manipulative content, and weaponising information against the common good.

I am happy to pay for an ad-free Twitter, I do pay for high quality journalism at The Guardian. I love paying Google for an ad-free YouTube service (liberating if your “a video guy”, like me). I agree with the way the BBC is funded as a service. But I also pay for my private email address, my VPN, proper photo & video storage, and rip my own digital content.

I am unusual, but part of growing band of folks who want better value from our digital world and understand that means paying for it.

It’s sometimes argued that the Interwebs should become a giant “freemium” model where those that pay get the best service and features with the least amount of negative content and disruption. Those that don’t get a second-class experience, splattered with promotional content designed to part them with money, data, or free will.

This two-speed model leaves me feeling uncomfortable, even if I am in the paying stream. You see, advertising only works if the sheeple buy the services and products advertised. Often the manipulative tactics used in advertising are not aligned with the best interests of the masses – depending on your view of mass consumerism and obsessive consumption.

Either way, a separation of service offering between the payers and the freeloaders creates an unnecessary friction between quality and sensationalism, between real information and clickbait, between education and radicalisation, and creates an imbalance between competing business models.

Too idealistic? Maybe, but many media channels can sustain a business model based on content quality without resorting to grubby advertising. Look at the aforementioned Guardian, BBC, TED, and many others. Nor do they all have to live behind paywalls, just provide a premium experience for those who wish to opt out of the advertising-centric models and are happy to pay for that privilege.

To that end, I will continue to pay for Twitter, Youtube, Wikipedia, The Guardian, my email, and all the other services that bring me joy without me becoming the product.

By Martin Dower, originally published here.