My friends know that I have a real problem with supporting the Walt Disney Company. They know that the main thing that bugs me about Disney is their use of copyright and trademarks as a means of ensuring that nobody else can even think about a Disney character without Disney somehow getting a cut of that. They've been responsible for changing our culture such that a movie of theirs that was released over 90 years ago is still not in the public domain (yes, there was a time when books, movies, and recorded works went into the public domain). My friends know that I will not see the Disney Star Wars movies, and that asking me to see the Marvel Cinematic Universe is pretty much a moot point. I've taken a stance of non-participation with as many Disney products as I possibly can. It's not that I think the products are inferior, it's that I find the company's overall goals are not aligned with a world that I want to live in.
You might wonder, then, why I bought an album from them yesterday?
I couldn't cut out Disney completely from my life. There are certain franchises they have that still stir up feelings today (Don't tell them this but if they ever had the intestinal fortitude to make a "The Black Hole" remake I might, might have to see that, if for no other reason than morbid curiosity).
So does that make me an unprincipled hypocrite? Should I don my lightsaber and Mickey Mouse ears and catch up on everything that I missed?
For me non-participation isn't quite the same as a boycott. A boycott is when you completely try to remove yourself from purchasing the products of a company. With a company like Disney that's near impossible -- they have acquired so many companies over the years that it would be like playing minesweeper on an 80x80 grid with one non-mined square. For me non-participation is about actively removing myself from the marketing conversation of Disney. When someone asks me what I thought about the latest Disney product I tell them that I haven't seen it. If they ask why then I give them my reasons for non-participation. I'm an insulator to Disney's marketing. Disney wants to be so ubiquitous in our culture that you can't help but be sucked in to talking about their products. My non-participation is a reminder that Disney's lock on our culture is harmful and hopefully gets people to think about their own participation.
Now, I have no illusions that I'm somehow damaging Disney's bottom line. But I hope folks will have that conversation and be aware that Disney's actions in our culture have had a significant negative impact for how we are able to use our culture. The same laws that allowed Disney to use fairy tales and folklore without paying the original authors have been corrupted to where it would be difficult to release any animation or movie of these same fairy tales and culture.
This non-participation also applies to Facebook and Twitter. I've decided I'm no longer OK with how either of those platforms treat their users, so I've chosen not to participate on those platforms. I've removed my accounts (as much as I am able) and chosen other platforms to engage with. Unfortunately this can lead to being rather insular, especially in the developer and game designer communities. Just about every developer and game designer I know has a Twitter account. Most of them also have a Facebook account. Whether they like or use the accounts is immaterial; they still have a means of participating on the platform.
Part of the reason these accounts are valuable is because they allow us to communicate within our communities. They offer a quick and easy way to reach an audience of like-minded folks who share our values and interests. But these platforms have also determined that their engagement goes up when we are introduced to folks who don't share our beliefs and interests. They create a climate where our emotions are used to keep us addicted to their platform. They create a potent algorithmic mix between content we enjoy, content that is promoted, and content that enrages us.
I've mentioned alternative platforms in the past (Mastodon, Pleroma, Diaspora, et al). These are platforms that you can use instead of Twitter and Facebook. They have their own advantages and disadvantages, but the main disadvantage they have is that people don't tend to find the same communities they had on other platforms. On Mastodon I don't have the same friends that I might on Twitter. Folks that I used to engage with on Google+ and Twitter are not on Mastodon or Diaspora. And those that do make the jump tend not to stick around, in part because the other platforms are so addictive.
So, what do we do? Do we just accept that Twitter and Facebook are now stewards of our social media conversations?
Non-participation is how we break free of these platforms. If we tell our communities that we're only interested in participating on platforms that aren't Twitter or Facebook (and our reasons for not participating) then we start the conversation of how we want to participate. We can choose if we want a culture in which algorithms dictate what we get to see. We can set our own terms for how we wish to engage with others.
For me that decision is clear: I'm not on Facebook and Twitter, and have no plans to be on those platforms. I choose not to participate on those platforms. Others might feel the need to be on Facebook and Twitter to promote their work. That's fine. You can choose your own nuances in this. If you're still on Facebook and Twitter I'd recommend taking a step where you make it clear that you're keeping your account as a placeholder so people can get in contact with you but your primary location is on a different platform (whether that's Mastodon, Pleroma, Diaspora, or what-have-you). Much like choosing how much you'll engage with a company that you don't agree with you can choose how much you are willing to participate.
I invite you to explore your options related to these companies. The deals they are making are rotten to our culture. It's up to us to renegotiate the terms and conditions.