Wikipedia founder attacks Facebook and Twitter

“A like does not replace normal human interaction,” says the founder of the online encyclopedia Jimmy Wales. And comes up with a harsh judgment on social media.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales

When the Wikipedia founder speaks, the tech world listens. On Monday, Jimmy Wales spoke to the nerds, who have long since ceased to be, but have become an influential milieu, in the conscience. At the DLD digital conference, he was the judge who decides on good and bad technology. The decisive criterion for him is: Does a site or a platform allow people to delve deeply into topics or, on the contrary, motivate them to behave superficially?

In his opinion, the following qualify as “good tech”: Streaming platforms such as Netflix, where good documentaries can be found. “There I can dive deep into complex, high-quality entertainment.” Or search engines that help with research. And of course Wikipedia, with a wink: “Obviously the best thing on the Internet.”

“Junk Food for the Brain”

Wales keeps its thumbs down on two platforms in particular: Facebook and Twitter. They would be addicting and tempting users to behave superficially. “A like does not replace normal human interaction,” says the Wikipedia founder. The reason is the business model, which is based on advertising and therefore on the fact that users spend as much time as possible on the platforms. “They’re like junk food for the brain.” You can eat that too, but if you feed on it, it becomes harmful.

His advice therefore: Use less or – if you find that you can’t do that – delete your accounts there. If you are looking for alternatives, Wales has a direct solution for you: He used the presentation for a few advertising blocks for his own projects, including a social network. He has, as he explains in his presentation, a situation from his own everyday life in mind: Once a week he meets on Zoom with his family spread all over America to play board games. Social media should also enable this type of interaction.

Technology as a solution

While the Wikipedia founder presented himself as a judge, many other DLD speakers also gave thoughtful, but mostly less absolute, tones. Technology is never good or bad per se, but has always been part of the solution and part of the problem, said the legendary Silicon Valley entrepreneur Reid Hoffman, who once founded the social network LinkedIn and also worked for PayPal and Apple.

In his view, the Internet is in a process of renewed transformation. After initially the focus was on connecting all people with one another and creating similar access to information all over the world (“Voice to the Unvoiced”), the question of social cohesion now plays a much more central role. Hoffman, who was actively involved in the recent presidential election campaign for Joe Biden, aimed in particular at the cultural divide in American society. It is about conveying different perceived truths together again. There are sufficient techniques for this, scientific experiments as well as legal proceedings or investigative commissions.

Everyone at the conference agreed that the tech world is facing fundamental reforms. Only: That has been the case in the past few years.