There are two main user concerns with social media platforms: user privacy and censorship. User privacy is typically trampled for commercial purposes, like ad targeting. But if they can collect your data at all and there’s no transparency in what they’re doing with it, there are more pressing concerns about surveillance.
The Snowden incident exposed Verizon providing subscriber info to government surveillance programs. Facebook was run through the wringer for the Cambridge Analytica scandal. I was already annoyed by the ads and the culture that they promote. The privacy violations, though, made me so uncomfortable that I walked away from Facebook forever after that.
Choosing better alternatives
Social media is only a power for good if we have boundaries. When choosing your platforms, it helps to:
- be intentional about what you’re using it for, and
- understand the business model the platform uses to make money.
Ads are a sure sign that user privacy is not much of a priority and that’s a precedent that’s wise to avoid. A huge plus is when an app is decentralized, meaning that data is neither transferred or stored in a central server controlled by the people who make money off the platform.
The apps listed below have creative business models that don’t require mining your data to make a little coin. The best ones are built with a very specific purpose in mind. This makes them arenas for exchange and productivity, rather than for mindless meandering.
Alternatives to Facebook
An open source, decentralized platform. These people promise to protect your data, and anytime you want to see how they’re doing that (or what they might be doing with your data) you (or anyone) can peruse the source code and see how the app is designed. Being open source demonstrates a commitment to transparency since anyone can see the code at any time.
Where the money comes from: Diaspora was launched via crowdfunding, and operates as a user owned non-profit.
Per their website: "No ads. No data mining. No algorithms." This platform is artist based and focuses on the sharing of both original content and user’s personal tastes, like the old MySpace was originally meant to be.
Where the money comes from: Vero will eventually become a subscription-based platform. They allege this will be a very small annual fee, roughly the price of two cups of coffee. So no big deal there if the platform works well for you. They also have plans to take a small commission on products sold through their site.
Per their website: "No Ads. No Spyware. No BS." Privacy is their main selling point and packaged in with it is a commitment to user autonomy. They promise to never manipulate, filter, or change the order of user’s news feeds.
Where the money comes from: MeWe makes money by up-selling premium features, like chat, storage, and MeWePro.
An open source platform where you can "post videos, blogs, images and statuses," with secure message and video chat features. They express a commitment to transparency and accountability by keeping their code and algorithms open source. The content policy is governed by a community jury to mitigate partisanship and censorship.
Where the money comes from: Minds uses a token system (similar to Reddit). Users can use tokens to have their posts appear on other people’s feeds. While in this sense there is a form of “advertising” at play, the selected audience for promoted posts is entirely random, rather than targeted. Tokens can also be used to tip other users and users can make their content exclusive for paying members. The tokens have real monetary value because users can actually purchase tokens to support other users or promote their own content.
A decentralized platform with a focus on unregulated speech. Gab Social allows users to run their social network through their own server. Among the Facebook alternatives on this list, Gab seems to be the most hated by Big Tech and other interests who profit by trampling on free speech and user privacy.
Gab has been completely banned from the Google Play store. According to its founder, it has even been cutoff by PayPal, Stripe, and Visa itself. How’s that for demonetization? The claims by those who fight Gab are that its unregulated speech promotes hate. Mainstream media and Big Tech have gone as far as attributing acts of violence by certain users to the platform. But, as every responsible adult knows, the individual is always the one who is responsible for the crime and free speech means we don’t punish people for words. Gab doesn’t choose their users; the users go there because they feel marginalized on other platforms. The establishment’s distaste for Gab seems like an indicator that they don’t want certain people to be accommodated, which really shouldn’t be their call at all. But they make it their business because making it hard for their competition is great for business.
Where the money comes from: Gab has gathered capital through crowdfunding and an ICO (Initial Coin Offering, which you can think of as the cyptocurrency version of an IPO). They also offer premium features for a subscription fee, payable through cryptocurrency. While this makes it harder for them to be regulated by any centralized authority, it also makes it much less convenient for people who wish to donate or pay for premium services.
Alternatives to Whatsapp
WhatsApp and these alternatives suggest a different approach to social media. These apps are commonly thought of as apps for small circle chat rooms (i.e. for family chat rooms or work groups). But if a mass migration away from the major platforms is what’s needed, a massive shift in how we use social media could help facilitate it. These apps offer secure chats, meaning that any content you share will be uncensored, and your privacy will be protected.
There’s a group capacity of up to 200,000. The platform can also be used like other platforms with a public channel that has no limit to subscribers. Much of Telegram is open source, though not all of it. Still, you’re not supporting an ad machine like Facebook, who (presumably) uses WhatApp for data mining purposes.
Where the money comes from: Telegram runs off donations.
There is no limit to the capacity for group chats. Extra security features are included, like self-destructing messages upon which you can set a timer. Signal offers total transparency where Telegram doesn’t -- the app is completely open source.
Where the money comes from: Signal runs off donations and government grants.
Alternatives to Instagram
Has a commitment to remaining ad-free. As a bonus, it's invite only, which ought to make it harder for bots and fake profiles to invade the platform. It seems to be marketed as an alternative to Facebook, which it definitely can be, but its more comparable to Pinterest or Instagram.
Where the money comes from: Ello will remain a free experience, but one that relies on upselling users on small, optional features to enhance their experience.
This is just as much a stock photo app as it is social media. The content sharing is image based, like Instagram, but users can make money if somebody uses a photo of theirs. While Instagram has become a mainstream social media app for all people -- even those without a strong interest in photography -- EyeEm is more of an artist-based community.
Where the money comes from: They take a percentage of profits on photos purchased.
Alternatives to YouTube
BitChute is a decentralized, peer-to-peer video sharing platform. It's a place to catch up on videos that have been banned from YouTube. Because of this, there is a lot of right-wing political content. Those interests (like YouTube) who profit from curating and data mining are spinning rhetoric about it being a safe haven for right wing hate speech. The fact is, they make more money if users don’t use competing platforms so let’s take their accusations with a grain of salt.
You won’t turn into an alt right troll if you visit BitChute -- at least, not if you’re a discerning and responsible adult. You will have access to different perspectives and unregulated speech. And the more people start using BitChute, the better and more diverse the content will be. So let’s start a mass migration over to a platform that allows you upload and watch whatever you want.
Where the money comes from: BitChute relies on donations and a variety of premium memberships. Users can also pay content creators directly, a feature intended to combat the demonetization strategy of censoring those users that YouTube would prefer don’t have a voice in modern political discourse. BitChute has been banned from PayPal. Your contributions can be made over Visa or Patreon.
This app is very similar to BitChute, but their running theme is to collect, specifically, the videos that have been banned from YouTube. This makes it a place to check in regularly and see what, exactly, is being blocked from mainstream social media.
Where the money comes from: Donations can be made on the altCensored site. It's unclear if there is money flowing to the developers in any other way.