By Dr. Linda C. Ashar, J.D.
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Public University
Note: Neither the author nor APU endorses or opines upon the best use or preference of any social media platform mentioned in this article.
No one can seriously dispute that Facebook is the giant planet in the universe of social media with 2.6 billion active monthly users. It has never been the only platform for the gathering of family, friends, and acquaintances. There are many other social media sites, but none so ubiquitous or well-established.
The current divisiveness of politics in the U.S. has pulled at Facebook’s fabric, as people who chafe at the platform’s monitoring of arguments, disinformation, and nastiest of posts leave for allegedly more open, friendlier venues. There are even guides on how to do it.
It is not just Facebook. Some complain Twitter’s rules are too restrictive as well.
So where do the disenchanted go when they post a “Goodbye Facebook” farewell? It turns out there are many options.
Commonalities of Interest and Privacy Concerns in Social Media
Parler is the platform some users are extolling in their Facebook and Twitter goodbye posts. The attraction here, according to these farewells, is “no censorship.” There may be a little more to it, though.
Although Parler claims not to lean toward any particular political persuasion, its membership is perceived and courted as conservative, as promoted, for example, by Republicans like Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). Conservatives departing Facebook for Parler might expect to engage in unchallenged, like-minded conversations. Indeed, gravitation to interest groups is a large component of Facebook itself. It is not surprising therefore that people might prefer to associate with a dedicated platform.
Other platforms are formed around group commonalities of interest or demographics. One structured similarly to Facebook and Twitter is MeWe, promoted as the “next-gen” social network. MeWe’s slogan is “We are uncompromising about trust, respect and integrity.” Its home page lists a 10-point bill of rights that includes “your face is your business.” This is a comforting beacon, according to some users who fear Facebook is too pervasive and intrusive into users’ profile and using patterns.
Sociall is a social media platform that proclaims to be “reinventing social networking” with apps on Apple’s App Store, Google Play, and APK. Sociall refutes Facebook’s algorithms by claiming user data is private and not exploited by the platform.
The Fediverse Alternative
Fediverse, a system of social networks, is of growing interest to people weary of linking into big corporate systems for social media participation. The social media app says it is “running on free open software on a myriad of servers across the world.”
This is, by definition, a different paradigm than Facebook’s monolithic platform. Where Facebook is an enclosed department store tower, Fediverse is far-flung market of independent shops and artisans.
Mastodon is an example of a Fediverse platform. It does not operate as a single website. Rather, Mastodon links users to communities, with a 500-word posting limit. Each community has its own code of conduct. This is a distinct shift from Facebook’s setup. Mastodon’s headline tags are “putting social networking back in your hands” and “ad free.”
“Control” is the attractive buzz word of Diaspora, a decentralized network in which users match up with an independent server (a “pod”) as their base from which they can link to other networks (e.g., Twitter) they choose for specific contacts. The hallmark attractions are independence and users’ data “not being held on huge central servers owned by a large organization.” Another feature of Diaspora is that “you do not have to use your real identity.”
Friendica is primarily a hosting service on Fediverse, to link in one’s own server or connect with a public server. Essentially, this is a platform where users can set up their own personal social networks.
A growing microblogging alternative in Fediverse is MissKey. This platform offers many creative customization options, including connections throughout the Fediverse and autonomy. MissKey is open source software, meaning anyone can participate in its development.
These are a just a few of the alternatives to the Facebook giant in the social networking world. Current discord and Facebook’s ever-growing corporate bureaucracy and profit model are giving more users pause to consider these other options.
It is not likely any of these alternatives will put Facebook out of business. Still, user unrest and the marketing hooks that these other platforms offer raise important issues that Facebook would do well to consider.
There is a definite push-pull about whether the platform host should police the content of posts. Facebook and Twitter have rules about bullying, violence, false information, animal cruelty, and pornography, for example, generally called “community standards.” Many users agree with this, while others believe in principle that there should not be any censorship.
There are other rules that also bother users. The central theme, though, is control; It is a “my platform, my rules” argument. The user does not own Facebook; Facebook does. What these alternative sites offer to users, in varying degrees, is a sense that they are in control.
Let There Be No Illusion: There Is No Privacy in Social Media
Another compelling issue is privacy in social media. Let there be no illusion; there is none.
As cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier has explained: “Surveillance is the business model of the internet. Everyone is under constant surveillance by many companies, ranging from social networks like Facebook to cellphone providers. This data is collected, compiled, analyzed, and used to try to sell us stuff. Personalized advertising is how these companies make money and is why so much of the internet is free to users. We’re the product, not the customer.”
So when a social media platform offers privacy as a priority, many ears perk up, though one might be forgiven for being skeptical.
Ultimately, social media is an involvement most people want and have come to need, especially in the locked-down pandemic world of 2020. It is newsworthy that Facebook is not the only game in town.
People can explore alternatives for their social media outlet that might better fit their lifestyle and world view. And it seems they are indeed exploring.
About the Author
Dr. Linda C. Ashar is a full-time Associate Professor in the School of Business, American Public University, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in business, law, and ethics. She obtained her Juris Doctor from the University of Akron School of Law. Her law practice spans more than 30 years and includes employment law and litigation on behalf of employers and employees.