The largest social media companies, spearheaded by Facebook, are seemingly invincible today. Despite being ravaged with regulatory investigations, privacy scandals and Congressional hearings where its CEO has been repeatedly grilled, Facebook’s net income rose to $6.09 billion (up by 18 percent annually), and revenue rose to $17.65 billion (up to 29 percent annually in Q3 2019. Although not as robust financially, Twitter isn’t too far away either. This perhaps best reflects the state of social media today — one where most users continue to stick by it, resigning to the hard truth of no privacy in order to stay connected to peers.
In such times, the need of the hour calls for decentralised social media, harking back to the days of decentralised, non-mediated, user-hosted chat and file sharing services. While the likes of Facebook and Twitter are mostly used because they are already established ecosystems, the likes of Mastodon, SocialX and more are now receiving increased attention with the decentralised model that they follow. In effect, this might just make for a pivotal juncture in the history of social networks, one that changes the tide in light of rogue practices by the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
What is decentralised social media?
Every conventional social media platform today is a centralised one. In other words, these platforms have a central server, from which the platform is hosted. This server is owned, operated, controlled and moderated by the respective company, making these social platforms a corporate entity. In every such platform, the policies are entirely dependent on the companies themselves, who own the data that is shared by their users, and choose what to do with it. As we’ve seen with the Cambridge Analytica, the biggest social media data scandal to do, such a model is not really the best idea.
Enter, decentralised social media. In this model, there is no central server that is owned by a corporate entity. Multiple local servers are hosted by users, using which more users can come onboard the platform. Instead of the central operation model of a conventional social media, decentralised social networks operate via a federated network of servers. In comparison to the conventional model, the new structure breaks the onus of corporate companies tapping in to user data, and the private architecture makes it free from state-sponsored surveillance and censorship. In essence, such a distributed network not only protects privacy and bypasses forced censorship, but also hands the control of social media back to the users.
Best alternatives to Facebook and Twitter
In light of Twitter’s recent fiasco with casteist allegations against the platform, the importance of a decentralised or distributed social network has come to the limelight. Here are some of the more notable decentralised networks that work as the best alternatives to the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter of today.
Mastodon: Emerging as the prime benefactor of Twitter’s recent debacle in India, Mastodon has an interface that any Twitter user will find familiar. What makes Mastodon better is that while remaining similar in design to the microblogging platform, the operation is via distributed servers. As a result, the open source platform avoids the corporate oversight, data collection scares and privacy-breaching acts, while giving you 500 characters per post to express your outrage.
SocialX: Presenting itself as an alternative to Instagram, SocialX is a photo- and video-first distributed social network. Alongside being open source and distributed, SocialX also rewards its users with the SOCX cryptocurrency, which can be traded on three platforms so far. SocialX uses blockchain to protect its user data, making it stand out from the usage-tracking platform that Instagram has evolved to be.
Minds: Minds is a decentralised crypto social network that rewards users with Ethereum tokens for usage. Furthermore, alongside using blockchain to protect the server-wise user data, Minds also allows users anonymous sign-ups, hence adding to the aspect of user data privacy and no cross-platform tracking of your usage trends, if you are on Minds.
Diaspora: This not-for-profit decentralised platform is user controlled, on top of letting you group your contacts depending on how close they are to you, and what you want them to see. As a result, there are no corporate interference or advertisement interference, giving users the freedom of posting what they wish to without privacy-breaching trackers attached to them.
Manyverse: Unlike most other platforms, most of Manyverse’s operations are offline. The platform is offbeat in terms of how it is coded, and only works on your Android phone. To make things more secure, your account is tied to your device via hardware encryption, and the nature of this social network lets you access it even when you are offline, since most users and their data are tied to hardware.
Steemit: Steemit is built on the STEEM blockchain, and offers its users rewards with its cryptocurrency of the same name, for joining and operating on its platform. The decentralised platform is more vibrant than the austere Manyverse, or the slightly complex Diaspora, making it an understandably popular decentralised social network as of now.