How to Be a Better Web Citizen {#Opinion}

The Problem

Today's post is not a hack, a trip, a trick, or an app, but a simple reminder.

The web is a tool, and like any other tool, it is only as useful- or as harmful- as the hand that wields it. The unassuming hammer can, when used improperly, destroy anything in its path, but it is not inherently destructive. In the hand of a master craftsman, it can create extraordinarily beautiful things. The web is no different.

At the same time, the web is shaping the way we live our lives in a very fundamental way. It’s changing shopping, reading, communication, education, even thinking. That being the case, it’s vital that we, as citizens of the web, use the tool at our disposal to build beautiful things. We must be craftsmen, not harbingers of doom, because whichever of these roles we choose, we are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Solution

Here’s an example. TechCrunch recently shed some light on some of the Facebook team’s design decisions deliberately aimed at confusing us into eroding our own online privacy. Here’s the gist:

In fact, Facebook keeps “improving” their design so that more of us will add apps on Facebook without realizing we’re granting those apps (and their creators) access to our personal information. After all, this access to our information and identity is the currency Facebook is trading in and what is driving its stock up or down.

The piece is troubling in and of itself, but its implications are far more so. Consider that our country’s current legislators have no idea how to legislate the internet. At best, they’re guessing, and at worst, they’re working on legislation that will violate our rights at the request of powerful lobbying groups.

In short, there is no precedent for internet law. When there is no precedent, lawmakers look to make them. Facebook would like to become that precedent. Imagine legislation being crafted based on the deceitful “redesign” decisions that TechCrunch exposes in that piece.

Facebook, of course, is not the only offender. It’s simply the most likely to have a huge impact on society at large, due purely to its size. Make no mistake, though: hoards of others would love to encroach on that territory.

So what would be the proper course of action? Find an alternative. I understand that it may be inconvenient, but the stakes are high, and the reward is well worth the effort. Here are a few (obvious) recommendations: Twitter,Google+,Path,Tumblr. Plenty more exist, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find one. Don’t just click one of those links, though, and create an account. Do your research, and find out where those entities stand on issues that you care about- then reward the winner with your patronage.

Think Before You Read

Now, consider the news that you read online. By and large, news sites on the web- even those that still get the bulk of their revenue from print offerings- use ads on the site. The more pageviews they rack up, the more advertisers will pay that news site. So, if you read a site that engages in headline-baiting, or deceitful journalism, you’re increasing their revenue simply by opening the page. Don’t like HuffPo’s tactics? Find another source. Try Evening Edition, social news site Reddit, or the unparalleled New York Times. Again, do so consciously, after doing some research.

Aside: on the same note, when you come across a site that requires you to click out of three pop-ups, hides their content amongst a splattering of atrocious ads, and asks for your email before you’ve experienced their site, find one that takes you- and their own content- seriously.

Other Ways to Help

If you’d like to support developers and designers who are making great things, find out how to donate to their projects. Choose to purchase apps that offer a paid version to show your support and encourage indie startups.

Be more careful with what you share online. Instead of asking “Do I want to say this?” before posting something, ask yourself “Does this provide any value to my followers?”. Respect the time that it takes someone to read what you have to say, even in 140-character micro-thoughts.

The web isn’t going away. Every day, it is a bit more embedded into our daily lives, and the shape that it will take in the future depends on the shape that we allow it to take now. Be more conscious of the web entities that you use, the techniques that you practice, the connected world that you inhabit. Our kids will thank us for it, and people will make better things because of it.