A Few Thoughts On Social Media

Social media has certainly changed how we interact with one another. It’s been a blessing for allowing people to connect over long distances–even more so during a pandemic. It’s also been a curse by allowing people across the political to spread disinformation.

Social media platforms started to crackdown on accounts that violated their terms of service. Some of those accounts were temporarily suspended, but others–like former President Donald Trump–were permanently suspended. There are reasonable arguments to be made why not allowing government officials to use social media platforms to spread disinformation. There also reasonable arguments on why it can be dangerous to allow a few social media outlets to not apply their Community Standards equally across accounts.

The rallying cry made by conservatives was to escape the power of a single company to be the arbiter on content. That’s a valid concern, but the exodus from the walled gardens of Facebook and Twitter led to the new walled gardens of MeWe and the now seemingly defunct Parler.

The appeal of Facebook and Twitter is understandable–it’s pervasive in our society. I can see updates from friends and family back home, keep in contact with friends across the world, easily share things that interest me, make new friends that have a common interest, and message just about anyone that I’d like. The walled garden is easy and convenient. You don’t have to put much effort in staying in contact with folks since they’re in the same walled gardens. However, the trade-off with ease and convenience means that the companies that maintain the walled gardens have access to (and sell) your data, and you have to play by their rules.

There’s an alternative that has sprung up in recent years that hearkens back to the early days of the Web: the federated universe or fediverse. Now, don’t be fooled that the services that operate on distributed, federated servers are the Wild West. I won’t go into the nitty gritty details, but servers are hosted by individuals. Those servers have rules of conduct, but you can access users across the federated network. This article from New Atlas does a good job of giving a more thorough description about the fediverse.

Here are a few services in the fediverse that you can check out and explore:

  • Mastodon is analogous to Twitter
  • Diaspora and Friendica is analogus to Facebook
  • PeerTube is analogus to YouTube
  • PixelFed is analogus to Instagram
  • Matrix is analogus to Discord and Slack

There are a number of other services that allow you to connect to other people, but be sure to read the Community Standards for that particular public server if you decide to sign up. Don’t want to use public servers? There’s nothing that stops you from hosting your own server and making it a new node on the fediverse. If you want to go old school, IRC is still around as well as XMPP (formerly known as Jabber).

I don’t plan on closing off my Facebook and Twitter to stick it to “Big Tech”. They’re tools, but I have other tools in my toolbox than just those two. I’d recommend checking out others too–just to learn what else exists beyond the walls of “mainstream” social media.

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