Honestly, I have no idea. As someone who has never been able to break into the tech industry job market, giving you an answer to that question would require a lot of reading. But, I do know how open source software has helped regular people.
What I’m talking about here, specifically, is decentralized social networking. Now, I am 100% certain that open source software has helped people outside of this particular aspect, but this is what I want to focus on for this article, because it is real important. Especially in this current day and age.
Because, let’s face it, we’re living in extremely hostile times. Even more-so hostile than things used to be. I mean, a lot of people are focusing on Donald Trump’s recent call to ban transgender people from the military, but if you think that’s his first hostile action against marginalized people, you’re not paying enough attention.
As some may know or not know, social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr heavily regulate content. They almost engineer it in a way so that you see what they want you to see, so that advertising data collected by these networks, including Google, dictates to you what they believe your shopping habits are or should be, and what furthermore, what they think you should be speaking about (because advertising data can be used in a lot of subtle ways). And if you’re a creator, especially a marginalized person who has issues finding regular work, all three of these networks will hamstring you for sharing outbound links and even attempt to goad you into paying to actually reach people.
On top of that, you have Facebook, who constantly bans black men and women, Twitter, who spends more time changing their font style and verifying white nationalists than regulating hate speech (no source available for this at this time, although ask anyone who isn’t a Nazi on Twitter if this is true and they’ll clue you in) and Tumblr, who will hide your posts if you’re outbound links point to domains that aren’t specifically whitelisted.
So basically, corporate centralized social media is really not a great place for someone to be if they’re trying to make a living outside of regular expected means under capitalism, or if you’re basically just someone who is marginalized and in trouble. Your voice, apparently, has less worth to Zuck, Jack and Verizon.
This is where open source decentralized social media comes in and why it’s so important.
By now you’ve probably heard of Mastodon, but there’s also GNU Social. Both of these networks act exactly like Twitter and Facebook. The difference is that literally anyone with entry-level network and computing skills can jump in and set one up.
What do I mean by “set one up?”
Well, if you’ve ever felt like you wanted to own a social network and control the process of administration your dang self, you can! And, on top of that, you’ll still be connected to everyone else. This usually involves renting something like a VPS (I suggest Digital Ocean or OVH) and then some basic Linux knowledge (although, I started my GNU Social instance from scratch with literally no knowledge of Linux and SSH related tasks and with Google at my side and a few friends, my instance is up, running and working like a charm).
When I say, “connected to everyone else,” this is where the whole decentralized thing comes into play. Basically, because literally anyone can rent a server and setup an instance of Mastodon or GNU Social, you’ve got all these copies of these two open source platforms running. So what’s the next logical step? You connect them all together as one through federated networking.
So let’s say you have an account on Bloodsuckers Social Network, and your friend Elizabeth has an account on Mastodon.Social, two instances of two completely different social networks that will immediately connect and federate with each other when the two of you follow each other.
And the more people you follow, the more you “federate” with the sea of decentralized instances, further connecting you to this network of people you may not have even known existed.
But how does this help people? Well, I can’t speak for Nazis because even though they’ve setup instances where they think they can be free to speak hate, most good instances are already blocking and silencing them network-wide (which severely limits their ability to reach decent human beings through federation).
I can, however, speak for marginalized people in saying that decentralized social networking has been literally a goddamn miracle. Away from the toxic centrist, politically apathetic mindset of the Zuck, Jack and Verizon, where nobody controls what you see but you, where you can speak your mind and even say “fuck” without being silently shadowbanned and disappeared from people’s timelines just because some corporate overlords don’t like what you have to say.
Which also means that when you speak about your work, or when you need help, nobody is working to literally kneecap you before you even start. And while Mastodon and GNU Social may not yet have the federation collective userbase of Twitter, there are still tons of people utilizing these networks. Like, tons and tons of LGBTQ+ people, at the very least.
This is just one way that I know for sure open source software has helped people. Accessibility still may be a little tough for noobs but if I can get into it, I think anyone can. The future is open source and the future is decentralized.
Interested in joining a Mastodon or GNU Social Instance? Check out these lists for Mastodon and GNU Social to get started. And for a list of instances that you might want to stay away from, go here (includes places that are accepting of white nationalists, false-flag freeze peach zones, i.e. places that encourage unrestricted “free speech” that is more often than not entirely hostile to minorities, and instances that are generally just hostile and extremely explicitly bad).