Did you get as fed up with Facebook in 2016 as I did?
The way Facebook’s and Google’s algorithms help shape public opinion is a violent cancer in today’s society. Brexit and the Trump election are only the beginning, as Artifical Intelligence will only become more precise very quickly in targeting people.
Also, on a side note, the amount of ads in my Facebook stream have become an unacceptable abscess during the last year.
Please take the time to read this article on the recent US elections and social media to understand why I believe that Google and Facebook are inherently evil and need to be avoided.
On the other hand, I enjoy public discussions of news-worthy events and connections with far-away people as much as anyone else.
Facebook is far from alternative-less. The most promising alternative for me is Diaspora, and every now and then I try to convince my friends to make the switch, knowing that it’s the critical mass of people on Facebook that makes everyone stick with it.
Diaspora is an open-source, community-developed and -run social network. Its web site behaves not much unlike Facebook. It is comparatively unpolished and is missing loads of features (like events and groups), but the primary functionality of staying in touch with people and posting content and commenting on them have been there since forever. Diaspora’s progress is slow, but the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks.
The profiles are hosted entirely decentralized on so called pods (just web servers, really). Anyone with enough tech skills can set up such a pod, and everyone else can join an existing pod. Ideally, your pod would be run by a person/community that you know personally or trust for other reasons. I know the admin of my profile’s pod personally, and I trust him 100%. You receive a handle that looks like an email address, with your user name followed by the @ and then the pod’s name/web address. Diaspora’s software then pulls the necessary data (posts, photos, comments etc.) in the background from all the different pods that your contacts are hosted on. Profiles are planned to be movable (not functional yet, it seems) from one pod to another and your contact network would then be re-established automatically.
Mobile apps exist, but they are not developed by the main programmers. I just installed the Android app dandelion (via the open source app store F-Droid) and found it perfectly usable.
Diaspora’s design has a number of key advantages over established social networks that make it the only viable alternative that I can see for the future:
It is open source software.
The code is public and reviewable and therefore insusceptible to backdoors. You trust your pod’s admin to install clean code.
That means that it is safe from spying from intelligence agencies or other intrusion, at least to the point where your pod’s administrator can inform you about a detected intrusion.
Also, the open design allows for interesting future features. For instance, I can see community-developed fake-news filters (or at least flags), just to mention one particular idea after recent events.
You own your own content,
both physically (in case you ran your own pod), as well as retain the copyrights to your content, unlike Facebook. Because Diaspora is not a company but a decentralized network of self-organized pods, it’s insusceptible to corporate interests which means that there is no interest in running ads and the project cannot be bought by a corporation. The licenses of open-source code are final, they cannot be reverted into a commercial license.
Some pods cost money to host your profiles, but that’s only a fair compensation of the host’s costs and I encourage you to at least regularly donate to your pod. The design of Diaspora turns you back into the receiver of a service, paid or free, and not into the provider of personal data to be monetized by corporations through advertisments (Google’s and Facebook’s business model). See If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.
And its decentralized design will prevent or at least significantly hinder the disruption of the network by governments or other evil-doers. You can block access to Facebook because it uses one access point, the company’s main website facebook.com. But you can’t block access to thousands of decentralized servers because for every single one another ten will pop up elsewhere. Technically they’re just web servers and indistinguishable from other web services. Obviously, the pods communicate with end-to-end encryption.
Here is how you can make the switch:
Read this page and click on the sign up now link.
My own handle is firstname.lastname@example.org and I would love to connect with you over there. Never mind the almost empty profile. I’ll post more from now.
Remember: the switch away from Facebook without missing out on its key functionality is possible as soon as a critical mass of people dares the transition. So try to convince as many people as possible to come along.
Thereafter, you’re looking into a much brighter and more sane social media experience.