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A Prehistory of Social Media

Driscoll, Kevin. “A Prehistory of Social Media.” Issues in Science and Technology 38, no. 4 (Summer 2022): 20–23. “The standard account of internet history took shape in the early 1990s, as a mixture of commercial online services, university networks, and local community networks mutated into something bigger, more commercial, and more accessible to the general public. As hype began to build around the “information superhighway,” people wanted a backstory. In countless magazines, TV news reports, and how-to books, the origin of the internet was traced back to ARPANET, the computer network created by the Advanced Research Projects Agency during the Cold War. This founding mythology has become a resource for advancing arguments on issues related to censorship, national sovereignty, cybersecurity, privacy, net neutrality, copyright, and more. But with only this narrow history of the early internet to rely on, the arguments put forth are similarly impoverished. What this origin story leaves out are the thousands of people running highly local networks of personal computers (PCs) who created early online communities at a grassroots level. Because they foreshadowed the intensely personal and interactive blogs, forums, and social media platforms that emerged later, exploring how these communities developed and sustained themselves not only provides a fuller history of the internet, but offers insights into how we might build healthier online communities that are more just, equitable, and inclusive…”

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