Two principles to protect internet users from decaying platforms

Don’t just try to make platforms better — make them less important.

Cory Doctorow


A giant robot hand holding a monkey-wrench. A tiny, distressed human figure is attempting — unsuccessfully — to grab the wrench away. Image: EFF CC BY 3.0

Today (May 10), I’m in VANCOUVER for a keynote at the Open Source Summit and later a book event for Red Team Blues at Heritage Hall; on Thurs (May 11), I’m in CALGARY for Wordfest.

Internet platforms have reached end-stage enshittification, where they claw back the goodies they once used to lure in end-users and business customers, trying to walk a tightrope in which there’s just enough value left to keep you locked in, but no more. It’s ugly out there.

When the platforms took off — using a mix of predatory pricing, catch-and-kill acquisitions and anti-competitive mergers — they seemed unstoppable. Mark Zuckerberg became the unelected social media czar-for-life for billions of users. Youtube was viewed as the final stage of online video. Twitter seemed a bedrock of public discussion and an essential source for journalists.

During that era, the primary focus for reformers, regulators and politicians was on improving these giant platforms — demanding that they spend hundreds of millions on algorithmic filters, or billions on moderators. Implicit in these ideas was that the platforms would be an eternal fact of life, and the most important thing was to tame them and make them as benign as possible.

That’s still a laudable goal. We need better platforms, though filters don’t work, and human moderation has severe scaling limits and poses significant labor issues. But as the platforms hungrily devour their seed corn, shrinking and curdling, it’s time to turn our focus to helping users leave platforms with a minimum of pain. That is, it’s time to start thinking about how to make platforms fail well, as well as making them work well.

This week, I published a article setting out two proposals for better platform failure EFF’s Deeplinks blog: “As Platforms Decay, Let’s Put Users First”:

The first of these proposals is end-to-end. This is the internet’s founding principle: service providers should strive to deliver data from willing senders to willing receivers as…