Lately, I have been reading up on Internet Manifestos on the obscure web about returning to the original form of the Internet...and it got me thinking. The internet means different things to many people all over the world. Some people rarely use it and it's a very insignificant part of their lives, while other's whole world, their entire life is on the internet. While there is no right or wrong way for netizens to use the internet (w/ the exception of spreading misinformation and hateful rhetoric), one thing I think we can all agree on is the fact that the internet should be a free and open space, a place to roam with endless possibilities that holds very little resemblance of our lives in real life, while also serving as a place to express oursevles however which way we want. A place to break away from our lives centered around capitalism and be reborn as a figureless entity in the cyberspace, to create, destroy, and go wherever we please. The purest form/version of ourselves with no strings attatched. No worries about outside stressors like, money, mass media propaganda, advertising and things like that. Even if it's only for a little bit. It's hard to do that in modern times with the way the internet has transformed over the past 20+ years. Everywhere you go, there are ads and "influencers" trying to sell you something, corporations and the Government/NSA tracking your every move, collecting your data (and then selling it), and people abandoning their humanity and doing just about anything they can for the single, most pathetic, drop of clout. How did we get here? How did it all go so wrong?? Is there anything we can even do about this??? Let's take a walk.

The Beginning of the End

Being born in the late 1990s, I didn't start really browsing the internet until the mid to late 2000s, so I pretty much missed web 1.0. But back then, social media was as infantile as it could be. Personal websites were still very much the norm and the individualistic creativity of those sites was highly encouraged in online circles at the time. I remember browsing those sites for hours, just in awe by all the love and crafting that went into building ones own website. I remember wanting my own website SO BAD. But being as young as I was, I hadn't had the smallest grip on HTML or how it worked at all, but I sure did love browsing through them regardless! That was surfing the web. Getting so lost in what you were doing and where you were, going from website to website, that computer time was up before you knew it (yes, I had computer time back then)! Not refreshing your timeline over and over, hoping a new tweet or post is going to pop up to hold your attention for the next 30 seconds. Anyways, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that HTML and the idea of building your own website from scratch was (and still is) an incredibly intimidating thought! Most people take one look @ HTML code and go, "Yeah I don't even know what I'm looking at right now." This is where social media comes in. At first, it seemed totally harmless and a new exciting addition to the World Wide Web. How convenient! Not having to make your own site, but being able to make a quick and easy profile of your own to connect with friends with family instead. People start flocking to social media. I can't tell you how many times my friends in middle school asked for my Facebook or myspace page, just for me to tell them that I didn't have one. I don't know why, but back then I was very adament on avoiding social media. I guess I just didn't see the appeal. Why connect with people online that I already saw pretty much everyday? I held the belief that the internet should be the place to meet new people and see new things and ideas. I still do. And at that time, it didn't seem like that was the purpose of social media; just a way to keep up with classmates, colleagues, and friends outside of school and the work place. Though it didn't sound like the worst premise for a website, I really did not care to know what my classmates were doing with their weekend. Anyways, on top of that, I didn't get the big deal when my classmates would freak out when a picture or post of theirs would get over 20 likes. At the end of the day it's just a number on the screen. It does nothing but give you a little dose of dopamine. Especially since back then, monitizing yourself online was barely a thought in anyone's mind. And then...I started noticing that at the end of TV commercials, companies started putting the Facebook and Twitter icons in the corner to let everyone know that they had an account on those sites. I was so confused? What the Hell does a faceless corporation need a Twitter account for? I mean, I know that they just wanted to create their own advertising space on the internet, but it was so strange to me. Shouldn't websites, based around interacting with others, be about the individual? Little did I know back then that this was the ominous foreshadowing for the future of the internet. Other netizens much older than me saw this coming decades ago, but this all didn't click for me until recently. As social media became more popular, personal websites slowly started diappearing and being abandoned. I didn't think there was a correlation at the time, but it's very evident to me now.
Something that still sticks to me to this day was the first day I had saw an ad on a Youtube video. It was so startling to the point that it pissed me off. We already have to deal with ads on TV...now we have to deal with unskippable ads on a 5 minute Youtube video too?? How ridiculous is that. Not only that, but Youtubers started presenting themselves in a certain way (more polished and exaggerated, almost like they were trying to sell their personality to someone) getting sponsors and incorporating advertisements into their videos too. I was confused. How can a regular person online be sponsored by such large companies? Not a brand, not a smaller company. A person. What does it take to be sponsored? Can anyone be sponsored? Does this mean making every facet of yourself, as a person, marketable to these companies and selling your soul to commercialism in order to appease them? By this time, it was already the 2010s. Social media was a huge success, growing very rapidly, personal websites had all been either deleted or abandoned, and everywhere you looked, there was an ad trying to sell you something based off of what you were just talking about (no searching, typing things into Google, or anything!). The cyberspace I grew up with no longer existed. Corporations had taken over the internet, destroyed it, and replaced the original cyberspace with a giant, heavily monitored commercialspace filled with cookies, trackers, advertisements, and endless prodcuts for sale as far as the eye could see.

The Rise of the Corporate Super Conglomerate's "Internet": Social Media Cannibalism, Censorship, and Clout Zombies

"But Ike! You just said that there is no right or wrong way to use the internet!" Correct! I said that there is no wrong way for individual netizens to use the internet. Corporations are not people. They are only here to make profit. They have no soul or morals. The internet should serve as place to express your individuality in anyway you want. Not a place filled with consumers and an untapped marketing venture. I love my website because it's a place I call my own. I made it myself; I make my own rules and do whatever I please. I am in complete control of what I see, what I post, and who I interact with. And while that can extend to social media and your own profile, it has it's (very restrictive) limits. For example, Twitter does NOT show you tweets from the people you follow as they are being posted or retweeted, they just show you the tweets on your TL with the most engagement. Well, anyways. I don't think I need to explain to you how social media works. It's no longer just a place to build a network between you and your online friends, or even other people online you want to get to know. Social media is driven solely by Clicks, Likes, and Clout (which I have dubbed CLC). The more engagement the tweet gets, the better! I don't think I even need to explain how this is dangerous. Many harmful, bigoted posts and just plain misinformation, has been spread all over the Corporanet through their broken and flawed algorithms. Somehow someway, these ideologies (poison) leak onto your feed even when you don't engage with those deplorable types. And then that's when the cannibalism starts. As you have probably seen, there are a lot of keyboard warriors out there who think that arguing with completely random people on social media is doing something for the greater good. I would know. I used to be one of them. But it's not. All it does is waste your time and your precious energy when you could spend that time being productive and working on something that brings you joy and comfort. There is really no reason to engage with those types of people who have nothing else better to do with their lives than to spread hateful rhetoric online, but as long as the engagement is good, social media platforms love that shit and will push it no matter what message the post is trying to spread! As long as you don't use certain words, social media platforms will keep this type of abhorrent stuff up on their website.
And what do I mean by certain words? Well, in Twitter's case (if you couldn't tell, it's really the only social media platform I still use these days), anything you tweet goes just as long as you don't say words like, "kill", "die", and stuff along those lines. I don't think I need to mention how absolutely ridiculous that is, but if you watch Youtubers or any Youtube videos, it is much MUCH worse on their end. For the better part of the pandemic, you couldn't even say the word "COVID-19/Coronavirus" without risking your channel being demoniteized or being surpressed by the algorithm or something along those lines. And why is that??? Of course we're going to talk about the COVID-19 virus in videos??? We're in the middle of a fucking pandemic, confined to our homes, with absolutely nothing else to do or talk about!!! Other words you are not allowed to say on Youtube are, but not limited to; "pedophile", "assault", "abuse", "die/death/killed", a plethora of curse words, etc., etc. Does anyone else find it ridiculous that we can't say regular words that are just part of the English language out of fear of being vulgar in any way, shape, or form. All the time, I see people complaining about censorship when it comes to stupid and insignificant things (fandom stuff...who the Hell cares). If people paid attention to important things that actually mattered, they would see that Censorship is already happening all around us. Companies are trying to censor us for using words that they don't deem "family friendly" or whatever the hell. To be honest, at this point, I don't even know what that stupid word means. The last place you should even look for "family friendly" content is the internet. A lot more things on the internet are for adults/teens, rather than kids or a family audience and that's just the way things are. Even for content that's supposed to be "family friendly", some (actually many) things considered inappropriate for children/families always slip through the cracks regardless, so what's the point of all this censorship if all the favorites are going to get a pass regardless? Capitalism just brings classism and inequality wherever it goes, whether it be out in real life or the internet. And speaking of which, many of these "family friendly" channels bank a lot on (most of the time involving death or sexualizing someone or something) clickbait and lying. It's not just Youtube channels obviously, but tabloids and articles have operated that way since their creation (and it's a completely different story when people literally lie about their child dying just to get you to click on the video). And this brings me back to the Clicks, Likes, and Clout, CLC, I was talking about earlier. The companies behind social media platforms be like, "Yeah, we may have told you guys that this is against the rules and our TOS...BUT this person in particular is bringing in a lot of engagement, which means making us tons of money, despite that, so I guess we will let it slide." Which, in turn, just encourages the person or people to keep doing the behavior that they do, whether it's good or not. I don't think I even need to go into how Youtubers do so many stupid things for the sake of clout, just for them to destroy their own careers, and then come on camera crying about like they lacked any type of conscience or self awareness up until that point of doing the horrible thing that they did. In the hopes of becoming immortilized on the internet and becoming rich quick, they destroy their reputation, careers, and in some, cases their livelihoods over trying to get some clout. I have also dubbed these type of modern netizens "Clout Zombies", definition; "A person who is so desperate for online clout/wealth/fame that they lose all common sense, self awareness, and in some cases, their humanity, just to get a lot of views/engagement on their internet content. Clout zombies normally get worse and worse until committing an unforgivable atrocity that threatens their sponserships and livelihoods that they built off of said behavior. Some times common sense returns after these incidents, but it usually does not." People break into stores at night, disturb the peace, get into public altercations, put people in danger and pretty much anything else you can think of just for the chance of gaining insane amounts of clout and being immortilized on the internet. Most of the time, it does not work (depending on how bad the action is, then they just get in trouble with none of the fame or wealth lmao), but despite this, many people do these things for just the chance at a single drop of that sweet clout nectar. What we need to re-learn is that we do not need to sell ourselves to big corporations and clout chase to be immortilized on the web. We may not get rich quick or become famous, but this way will be a much healthier option for everyone in the end.

The Revival & Eternity of the Cybespace: What can we do?

Now, what if I told you that it's not all bleak? That there are ways to push back against this new internet culture that is so heavily centered around capitalism? Well, first thing's first. Make your own website! No, seriously. Do it. I know it looks intimidating as hell to do at first, but Neocities is a great place to start with a growing community of people who share many of the same sentiments about moving away from social media and commericialist internet. I even have a resource page to help beginners get started on building their own little corners of the internet! The best way we can push back against the commericalism of the modern web is creating our own online spaces for ourselves, join webrings, and build communities with like minded individuals! It may not seem like much, but if a majority of people were to go back to building their own websites and surfing the web, over using the same four social media apps, I think it would swing things in our favor. Here's also a resources on digital well being and how to build healthy habits in terms of internet use and how to avoid falling into the toxic cesspool that is social media and other corporate driven platforms.
Am I saying that this is going to be easy and is all going to change over night? Absolutely not. But as we speak, the smallweb/indieweb/yesterweb (whatever you want to call it) movement is growing more and more each day. More people are becoming hyper aware of the issues that plague the modern internet compared to yesterday, and we're all working together in our own little ways to make a change. If you have made it this far and read my entire manifesto, I really want to think you for listening to me ramble on about everything wrong with the modern web. I know this was sort of a jumbled rant and some words and phrasing may not have made much sense (I'm really not good with words), but I hope I was able to get my point across well enough! I hope this has also encouraged you to reject the corporate internet, at least consider making your own website, and help us revive the core original cyberspace. Personal websites, the freedom of expressing ones individuality, and building positive, caring communities with one another. If you have any questions for me, don't be afraid to reach out!
Thanks for reading!!
(This is a living document and is constantly changing. Please be sure to check back for changes, updates, and added points to the manifesto!)