Facebook is no longer satisfied with users and groups, and has begun to colonize much of our day to day lives: what can one do to replace the platform, and will abdicating ultimately help to overcome the company’s ultra-liberal agenda?
Earlier we wrote about the Turkish precedent in an attempt to take control of popular social networks, and about the strange (and, most importantly, useless) campaign of corporations entitled ‘Stop hate for profit’.
Can such popular social networks as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. be replaced?
Let’s answer right away: technically, yes, they can.
There are many alternatives, but these are affected by differences in promotion, technical development, functionality, and popularity by country. The main trends of recent years have been (especially against the background of scandals involving the leak of user personal information):
– an attempt to present safer products for users
– the issue of censorship
– eradicate advertising (direct and native)
We will give examples of popular (and not very popular) applications – not in order to advertise these platforms, but to demonstrate that there is enough space for alternatives. These alternatives are not perfect: they are still political engagement, there is not enough security, some of the applications have to be paid for, and some involve language barriers. Yet, in each case, one can find some pluses that one cannot find on Facebook or Twitter today.
MeWe – “AntiFacebook”
MeWe is already called the AntiFacebook, because the platform is visually and contentally well designed and similar in functionality to Facebook. MeWe allows users to better control all their data, news feeds and privacy settings.
Application slogan: “Your private life is #Not4Sale. No Ads. No Spyware. No BS.”
The pros of MeWe compared to Facebook are the lack of advertising and manipulation of news feeds. The commercial social network pays off by buying a premium account, entertainment content and storage. Simply put, the user pays for not seeing ads and ideologies if he does not want to.
CEO Mark Weinstein on Wednesday had strong words for his competitors at Facebook, calling them a “surveillance company.” “…If members want to have conversations about political points of view, or discuss the merits of various medical treatments, diets, exercise regimens, supplements, lifestyles, etc., it is not the role of a social media company to police such discussions. Censoring them would run contrary to MeWe’s core values”, he said.
The social network has a small team of moderators whose task is to detect and remove hate speech and other malicious messages, but the platform generally does not take serious steps to manage controversial issues (at least not according to user feedback).
Of course, the picture is a bit too nice – but there are obvious advantages compared to Facebook. One of the problems is regular payment.
Decentralization of Diaspora and Mastodon is still terrible, but the potential is revolutionary.
One of the important technological trends in social networks today is decentralization. The essence is not to give all the concentrated information about all users in one hand – such platforms have a risky structure, and have a lot of servers / points, arranged by the so-called “federation” principle. Thus, the information about the user appears only in the hands of the administrator of one of the self-created “servers” (and if desired and necessary you can create your own).
Conditionally, there are three levels of privacy: the global news feed (“federative”): local (within the “server”, where the administrator dominates – it can be a mini-state of several people to several hundreds or thousands) and home (quite private, for close circles). Fediverse is the main holder of rights to such projects today.
As an example – Diaspora, invented in 2010. Let’s say at once that technically today the social network is just in a terrible condition: nothing is clear at registration, the application has a lot of errors, and the main problem is that if there are not enough users.
But the idea itself, in our opinion, is revolutionary and has an amazing potential if properly developed. This is due to its technical base: the platform consists of many different networks – pods. User data is not collected and stored by the provider centrally, instead the infrastructure is distributed by the users themselves and the data is transferred by these pods. Only “podmin” (administrator of a particular pod) has direct access to all user data of its pod, including personal messages, private keys – the information does not go to anyone else.
If you have good technical know-how, you can actually manage your own subsystem, which essentially functions as a server. This means that you can be sure that your personal data remains confidential and in your own hands. Less technically gifted users can use “open pods” on the network instead (you must select an already known pod when registering). This is the main weakness of the application today – a newcomer comes into the application and has no idea what pod is and how (and therefore why) to choose.
But Diaspora is completely free from advertising. The social network is supported by the community and does not belong to any person or organization that protects it from corporate hijackings, advertising campaigns and other threats.
Decentralisation is one possibility of weakening censorship on a social network: copies of posts exist on each pod where there are subscribers at the author of the post. Therefore, for the censor to remove information from a network it is necessary to delete each copy – that can be difficult provided that servers are in the different countries. Thus, Diaspora has good potential as a platform for independent media. This, in turn, has both positive and negative sides, but in any case, removes the biased ideological dictate in the spirit of Youtube, Facebook, Twitter.
Curiously, at the startup stage, even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was among the donors. But apparently, realizing the revolutionary and competitive nature of the idea, the stronger players used a lot of means to prevent the project from developing. For example, in 2011 they prevented the project from raising money: Paypal froze the Diaspora account without any explanation, and the young founder of the project Ilya Zhitomirsky died in 2011 under very strange circumstances. Therefore, the development of the platform may have been deliberately frozen.
Another model of decentralization, reminiscent of Twitter, is Mastodon. Mastodon instances are not controlled by individual vendors and can be created on the users’ own capacities. Any user can deploy their own instance node on a social network or join an existing one.
The service and evaluation pages are much better designed than Diaspora, but Mastodon compensates for this by being extremely ideologically charged.
“If you don’t manage your own instance, when you’ll have to choose the one where to create your account, make sure that the content you plan to toot is within the rules and compatible with the ideology of said instance’s administrator. Yes, I know, it may seem surprising but, as stated above, by entering a public instance you become dependent on someone else’s infrastructure, who may have an ideological way to conceive its Mastodon hosting service. As such, if you’re a nazi, for example, don’t open your Mastodon account on a far-left LGBT instance. Your account wouldn’t stay open for long… The moderation rules are described in the “about/more” page of the instance, and may contain ideological elements” one user said.
“You can be with a community that resonates with your values and ideas of moderation… If there is a server fundamentally opposed to yours, or one that refuses to keep its offenders in check so moderating them on your end individually ends up being too much work, there is an option to either sandbox or block an entire domain. ”
Many believe that the Ello project could be a leading, unadvertised alternative to Facebook and other social platforms.
Critics, on the other hand, believe that it cannot really be considered a true alternative to Facebook because it lacks many of the basic functions necessary for competition. For example, private communication between users through the chat function is impossible. However, the application is already quite popular as a complement to other social networks.
The application has also been developed as an alternative to Facebook since 2015. The annual subscription fee is designed to help developing Vero Labs, its main source of income. The idea is to keep the platform free from advertising in the long run and not to share user information for profit. In addition, the company wants to generate revenue through transaction fees.
Messages on the time-line are not filtered by a preliminary algorithm, but appear in chronological order (the lack of chronology is very annoying to many Facebook users today).
Chinese analogues (at least as possible model)
China is the clearest example of how one can circumvent international totalitarian applications, right up to the prohibition of destructive information elements.
China’s success in information policy is largely due to its multilevel organization: from ideology and natural customs to control over compliance with the rules. Well known applications popular in China are WeChat, Qzone, RenRen (Facebook-like and popular among youth), and Sina Weibo. All these are replacing the traditional Chinese social network more than ever. Of course, there is strict censorship on these sites – but the censorship is the country’s own, in the interests of its national state, not some supranational ultra-liberal oversight body with 0 input from the state or democratic processes.
Vkontakte: “Russian Facebook”
Almost all Russian citizens are registered in the Russian analogue of Facebook – Vkontakte (originally the work of Pavel Durov). In terms of functionality, it is quite a good replacement for Facebook, and even superior (video, music, freedom of opinion). The only problem is that it does not have many internationally renowned politicians to subscribe to.
Telegram – both a messenger and free media
One of the most revolutionary applications today is Telegram – another brainchild of Pavel Durov, which replaces not only Whatsapp, but also many other popular social networks. The application was appreciated by people all over the world – a lot of features, preservation of anonymity, the ability to both send messages, and conduct anonymous or public channels – is great replacement for the constantly censored “walls” of social networks or websites.
It is worth adding that Durov’s products are based on the philosophy of freedom and security of users: he has repeatedly warned about the dangers of using WhatsApp and vulnerability iOs. In addition, he personally came across Facebook fraudulent advertising allegedly on his behalf.
Recent events showed once again that all WhatsApp users are at risk. My thoughts – https://t.co/hrNz9Kd7ZD
— Pavel Durov (@durov) January 31, 2020
He also recently criticized Apple and Google for their tax schemes and monopoly structure:
Apple and Google impose an insane 30% sales tax on all digital goods sold on every mobile phone in the world. The result – users pay higher prices, start-ups and entire industries get destroyed or never appear. Regulators have been ignoring this absurdity for 10 years. https://t.co/5QqJYyLrME
— Pavel Durov (@durov) June 17, 2020
Thus, the following conclusions can be drawn:
– Technically replacing Facebook, Twitter and other popular giants is possible
– As these giants become too involved in ideology or commerce today, many users are willing to change sites
– Attitudes towards social networks are gradually changing: the convenience of a “universal” global platform may have to be abandoned in favour of national applications or decentralized systems.
Thus, to live without censorship and control in the virtual world means to do it at your own risk in the darkness. All social networks have limitations, and that’s okay. But perhaps it makes more sense to put your information under the control of one state / one server owner, than anonymous ultra-liberal and irresponsible capitalists who are ready to sell it to intelligence agencies.
The Chinese show a similar example of an alternative approach: by agreeing to strong control of their state, they get security in return. Maybe this is more freedom than being blocked on Facebook for lack of love for some abstract human rights and being powerless to leak their data to the intelligence services of a foreign state…