By Jody McCutcheon
Recently, many people have been searching for alternative social media sites after feeling seriously betrayed by social media giants.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden has even decried Facebook as ‘surveillance disguised as social media‘, since the CIA and NSA have long been monitoring all of our activities on that platform – every like, post and comment. Using nine internet firms including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, the NSA tracked online communications in a sweeping surveillance programme known as Prism. Britain’s electronic eavesdropping agency GCHQ was also accused of gathering information on the online companies via Prism. No matter where you live or who you are, they know your name, address, and even have a database to be able to spot you via your personal pictures anywhere in the world, thanks to CCTV cameras and Facebook’s facial recognition software.
Facebook has also been caught selling our data to every corporation and organization that comes a-knocking – even really nefarious ones like the CIA and Cambridge Analytica. And let’s not forget that Facebook also owns two of the other most popular social media sites in the world: Whatsapp and Instagram. Do you really feel comfortable using those now?
And then there’s Google-owned YouTube. Once a way to communicate news and ideas to the world via video, it has more or less blacklisted many non-traditional ideologies it doesn’t like—for example, they’ve hidden LGBTQ content and censored or demonetized channels they consider to be ‘alt right’. No surprises there, since Google has also lowered the rankings of any sites they feel go against their political position, calling those ‘fake news’. Right now, their focus is on anything against the mainstream narratives on political issues like Syria or Russia. But how long before they bury alternative health news that threatens mainstream medicine, information about veganism that threatens beef and milk lobby groups, or even corporate disasters similar to what happened at Rana Plaza? We have many reasons to worry.
Despite all these pitfalls, social media still has its claws in us. We’re social creatures. It fills a need. We want to connect, to share, to stay informed. Social media is basically a newspaper, greeting card and a personal letter all rolled up in one—and interactive, to boot. No wonder some of us are hesitant to quit social media altogether, despite all the caveats.
But with mainstay sites like Facebook and YouTube behaving so badly, doesn’t it make sense to look for alternative social media sites for your connection fix, while also taking more control of your own privacy and data protection?
Below are what we think are seven of the best Facebook alternatives, and new options to choose instead of more mainstream social media sites.
Launched in 2016 by Ayman Hariri, the son of former Lebanese PM Rafic Hariri, this Instagram and Facebook rival allows you to post pics, links and recommendations for music, books and movies. There are filters, just like with Instagram, but unlike Instagram, you can add direct links to images, so it’s easier for brands to let you shop on this platform.
Vero’s biggest feature is that it uses no algorithms, curation or manipulation on its post feed, so you’ll always get new posts in reverse chronological order, and never have any held back. Also, you control your own privacy levels, choosing exactly who gets to see your posts.
Initially, the network was free for the first million users who signed up, but now it’s free until further notice. As of March, 2018, Vero had 3,000,000 users. Assuming the subscription service does come into effect, the site will be ad-free—no monetization of users’ behaviours! The idea behind the collection of fees also means there’s no need for money-raising through data-sharing.
Accounts are created and verified via private phone number, and you’re not forced to use your real name—although the website’s manifesto page encourages you to present yourself as you would “in real life.”
Calling itself The Creators Network, Ello is a Pinterest-like network launched in 2014 for those who create art or enjoy looking at others’ art. Your profile is based on your interests and your preferred content (writing, architecture, visual art, etc.). The more wide-ranging your interests, the more categories you can choose. Once you’re set up, your feed consists of posts catered to your specific interests. You can comment, like, repost, follow and buy, and meet new people in the ‘Discover’ section. Best of all? You can also share and sell your own content.
Ello is free to use, although they’re considering the idea of offering some paid services in the future. And with the goal of being the alternative social media network of choice, Ello is marketed on three principles.
- They don’t sell user data to advertisers or third parties. In fact, data collection is restricted to what you provide on the Settings page and in posts: name, email address, location, creator type, etc. The rest of your data is anonymized.
- They are emphatically ad-free.
- They don’t force you to use your real name.
If you’re the creative type, Ello could be the social network for you. It even offers an opportunity to earn commission on the sale of your art.
Diaspora is an interesting case study. The creators of this open-source project were obviously very skeptical about centralized power, so they dreamed up a decentralized system. Launched in 2010, the Diaspora platform actually consists of many different networks, called pods.
Ad-free, Diaspora is built on three egalitarian philosophies: decentralization, freedom and privacy, thus returning social networking to the people. Similar to the Facebook setup, you can post status updates, share content and leave comments on others’ posts. Developers encourage users to report offensive content, as when ISIS propaganda surfaced on the network in 2014. Otherwise, censorship can only happen with approval by pod admins.
Since it’s decentralized, Diaspora can’t be owned by any one individual or corporation. Data is carried on individual pods, rather than being held by a central provider. Indeed, with enough knowhow, you can even operate your own pod, which basically acts as a server. Thus you can be certain that your private data remains private. You really do own your own data and control your own privacy settings. Otherwise, you can register at any pod of your choosing, communicate with any other user on any pod and download desired data from the network at your leisure. You choose who reads your posts. And you needn’t use your real name.
For those who care about having a smaller, more selective friendship group, check out Path. Birthed in 2010, Path wants to use technology and design to bring you “happiness, meaning, and connection.” While the initial friendship group limitation of 50 has since been lifted, Path continues to emphasize a small, “Inner Circle”–type community of your closest friends, in order to return a sense of intimacy to social networking.
As on Facebook, you can share content (posts, photos, videos), your mood, your current television and music preferences and send private messages. Path’s simple design is effective enough that Facebook has admitted to copying it.
The basic Path service is free to use, but not ad-free. A page on their website describes the do’s and don’ts for prospective advertisers. However, a freemium model, Path Premium, allows you—for a nominal charge—to unlock various camera filters and stickers, which you can post on friends’ paths or message to them. And Path Premium is ad-free.
The self-proclaimed “front page of the internet” is a social news aggregate and discussion forum that’s been around since 2005. Registered users (redditors) submit content in a variety of subjects—news, science, music, books, video games, etc.—and other redditors vote the content up or down. Submissions with more upvotes remain nearer to the top of their subject board, or subreddit, while those with enough up votes hit the site’s front page.
Reddit has hundreds of millions of redditors, yet remains as independent as anyone can expect so well-attended a site to be. It’s a relevant forum of online protest for advocates of privacy, net neutrality and internet anonymity. The Reddit community is very much a self-policed one.
Reddit isn’t ad-free, but there’s a way to make it so. Redditors earn “karma” for submitting posts and comments. The more karma you receive, the more exclusive features are unlocked for you, including ad-blocking.
Launched in 2017 in the wake of YouTube’s stricter censorship and demonetization policies, this YouTube competitor is a peer-to-peer video hosting service. The idea behind Bitchute is similar to Diaspora’s decentralization concept: the site uses WebTorrent to operate P2P video-sharing over the BitTorrent network. WebTorrent works inside web browsers and requires no installation.
The cost of bandwidth is normally the biggest obstacle for new video-sharing platforms. With their ad revenue, YouTube can afford it—but consequently, they must also toe their advertisers’ censorship line. This isn’t a problem for Bitchute: they needn’t provide bandwidth because users provide their own.
To register with Bitchute, you can give your name or remain anonymous. In order for Bitchute to collect your personal information, you must give consent. Rest assured, unlike YouTube and Facebook, they won’t sell it to third parties or advertisers. But refusal to offer your personal information may result in an inability to engage in certain service-related activities.
This blockchain-based blogging and social networking site started in 2016. Perhaps the most innovative alternative to mainstream social media sites, it rewards authors with payments for their contributions with a cryptocurrency called Steem. You don’t mine Steem with an expensive computer rig, but rather by creating and commenting on content, which then is written to the Steem blockchain and stored in a permanent blockchain ledger.
So far, Steemit claims over 900K user accounts and over USD$40,000,000 of payments to contributors – incredibly innovative, considering Facebook uses all our content that we give for free, in order for them to make a profit. It’s free to create one account and post content, but if you want to create multiple accounts (which theoretically would allow you to post and vote on more content), you’re charged a fee. You must provide an email address and phone number to join, thus allowing admin to verify that each user has signed up for only one free account. Anonymity isn’t discouraged, but if you claim to be someone specific, you must give evidence that you are that person.
Did we miss any alternative social media sites you love? Tell us in the comments, below!
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