As I struggled to finish this post, I decided it might be a good idea to start this off with a bit of a disclaimer. Social networks have never been something I cared much about. The idea of sharing details of my life and my thoughts with people has never been something I found very appealing. I’ve been chipping away at this post for longer than normal because it has ended up being full of opinion. Just know that the following content is full of opinion written by someone who never cared much for social networks to begin with so the opinions are coming from that perspective, but the facts about privacy and censorship presented are worth your consideration.
Whether it was Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, or something else, you can probably remember the first social network on which you were active and you probably reminisce about those early days in a nostalgic, positive light. Social networks used to be new, exciting, and a lot of fun. Whether you were looking at your friend’s photos from the party last weekend, flirting through DMs with someone you wanted to go out with, or tinkering with some HTML snippet you found to get music to auto-play on your MySpace page, there was some aspect of social networks that took up what was probably an unhealthy amount of your time because of how exciting it felt to you.
Today, the experience is quite different. Now you get to worry if your latest tweet is going to have some language that might get you suspended or banned. You login to Facebook and get presented with stories and ads carefully selected by AI that knows you better than you know yourself; all to manipulate your thoughts and get you to buy something. Your YouTube videos are no longer monetized because, well, who knows why anymore. You log into Instagram and see Photoshopped photos of fake people and read toxic comments made by trolls on your photos, all while Instagram collects every ounce of data they can about you. It’s a much different experience now. If you take a second to think honestly about it, you will probably realize that the time you spend on the mainstream social networks is not having a positive impact on your life anymore.
Let’s take a second to consider how awful the mainstream social networks have become and explore a handful of new social networks that respect your privacy, allow you to speak freely, and offer those new and unique experiences once again.
Mainstream Social Networks Invade Your Privacy While Censoring You
For me, I feel as if the mainstream social networks are the single most harmful influences on society over the past couple of decades. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have acted as public forums where terrible ideas born from hatred and misery have coalesced to create harmful movements that have negatively impacted western culture.
Twitter seems to be full of incredibly hateful, toxic people that say and do whatever will get them likes and retweets. There is no limit to how ridiculously far someone will go to project a “-phobia” or an “-ist” issue into literally any current event so they can watch their likes and retweets go up. These people are no different from heroin addicts in my mind as their addiction to likes and retweets causes them to say and do things that can destroy relationships, cost them their job, create a rift between them and their family, and ultimately transform them into different people. The parallels to drug addiction are uncanny. Meanwhile, the powers-that-be at Twitter HQ can determine that something they said goes against what Twitter has accepted as truth and can cut these addicts off without warning for a short amount of time or permanently. It’s like being forced into rehab and spending every minute of it thinking about getting that fix once you are back out.
Facebook is in the business of manipulating thoughts and feelings. They want you to vote a certain way, click on an ad to buy a product, or post something that will help keep others interested in using the platform. All the while they are collecting mountains of data to further understand which buttons of yours to push and how to get the reaction from you they seek. Again, at any moment you could post something that is far enough outside the moving target of their accepted truths to get yourself suspended or banned. Are you someone who is on the fence about getting the COVID vaccine and question whether or not you really need one? Better not post about it or you might get banned or suspended. The minds at Facebook only want to perpetuate their group-think while selling you crap you don’t need.
There is not a single mainstream social network that isn’t collecting an absurd amount of your personal information, either. They all do it, they all use that data to manipulate you, and they all eventually get hacked, leaking that personal information to anyone that wants it. Recently, Facebook was hacked once again, exposing the personal information for 533 million accounts to the world.
Most people aren’t willing to admit they have a social media addiction. Almost everyone I speak to about quitting Facebook or Twitter utters the same generic excuse for staying on there.
- “I use it to keep in touch with family and friends that I don’t see very often.”
- “I just get on there to read the news/keep up with current events.”
- “I just kill time on there/play the game on there”.
You get the picture. How is having your data mined and sold while having your thoughts and emotions manipulated worth what little positive you may get from the whole experience? There have been many studies that have concluded that people who spend more time on social media are less happy, have a more negative opinion of themselves, and are more likely to take part in various forms of self-destructive behavior. Going back to the comparison to drug addiction, consider that many social-media addicts are compulsively taking part in something that is negatively impacting their life while they are not only blind to the fact that quitting will improve their mental well-being, but they even feel like it would have the opposite effect making the idea of quitting unfathomable. You have to ask yourself what you are getting from it all.
There are New & Different Social Networks That Respect Privacy More
In the past few years, several new social networks have popped up. I won’t pretend like they are all good, but a handful of them won’t censor your speech as much, allowing for open discussion without fear of negative repercussions. It is important to note that a lack of censorship doesn’t mean you can make threats of violence, post graphic imagery, etc. That kind of behavior can still get you in trouble. You are, however, allowed to voice opinions and arguments that counter the narrative and go against the hive-mind, which is something you cannot do on Facebook and Twitter.
Many of these new social networks also have MUCH better privacy policies and data collection practices. This means that your phone or your browser cookies aren’t being mined for data so the company can try to show you personalized ads or build an AI model from your data to influence your thoughts. In fact, a few of the new batches of social networks were built on decentralized technologies which usually means there is no chance of censorship of any kind and the site makes money from selling tokens or upgraded experiences instead of ads so they don’t need your data. Several are also open-source, which means their source code is publicly available.
The thing that most of the young social networks lack is a massive user base. Many have a few million users which pale in comparison to the hundreds of millions or even billions of users that the more mainstream networks have, but it proves to be enough of a user base to keep your newsfeed filled with fresh content. The fact that you probably can’t find your friends or family members on these social networks is a likely deterrent for many. Personally, I found that being on Facebook years ago caused nothing but drama in my life and I’m not the type of guy that seeks or tolerates drama. That was honestly the reason I closed my Facebook account back then, as I became more focused on privacy later.
Still, you can always try to persuade your friends and family to try a new network with you if you can’t stand the thought of being on a new social network without them. I quite like meeting new folks on these social networks as I find that it causes absolutely no drama in my life!
It is worth mentioning that the one thing ALL social networks have in common is the possibility of developing an unhealthy addiction. There are definitely people on some of these alternative social networks that are addicted to likes, re-posts, etc. If you truly want your fix, I guess you can get it anywhere. You have been warned!
Here are a Few Social Networks to Check Out
It’s not a complete list, mind you. It is merely a list of social networks that I have either tried personally or have at least done some looking into them because they showed up on my radar. I’ll try to make comparisons with some of the more mainstream social networks to help describe the experience on these social networks. I just can’t promise that my comparisons are super on point, considering that my experiences with the mainstream networks are limited and dated these days.
- Who’s it for? Everyone
- What’s it like? Its own unique experience.
- *Good for privacy, only tags inappropriate posts NSFW but still allows them to be posted.
- My take? The best social network, period.
- Signup link (my referral link) https://www.minds.com/register?referrer=tinfoileverything
Minds is the only social network I visit daily. It is a blockchain-based social network full of people from different countries and walks of life which makes it a very interesting place. I would say that there are parallels to both Twitter and Facebook, but Minds is really its own unique experience.
Because of the algorithm manipulation, data mining, spying, and lack of revenue sharing on Facebook, the founders of Minds created and launched their social network as an alternative in June of 2015. The codebase is open-source, meaning that you can not only view the code if that tickles your fancy, but many users have even made contributions to the platform. If you’re not a developer, this might seem insignificant, but the fact that the code is publicly available means anyone can read it, which would make it easy for someone to discover if there is anything malicious or concerning in the code. In other words, you can rest assured that you’re not being spied on through Minds, as someone would have called that out by now.
Minds has been a common place to go for those who have been exiled from Twitter and Facebook. In the past couple of months, Twitter has purged anyone that goes against the hive mind and is a bit too edgy for their taste. As a result, Minds has seen an uptick in activity as several of the exiles made their way to Minds and are actively posting there. To me, the surge of new users on Minds has really made it a much more interesting place to be.
- Who’s it for? Mostly conservatives and Christians.
- What’s it like? Twitter with longer character limits and a few extra features.
- Good for privacy, only seems to censor anti-Christian posts.
- My take? A good place for those who want to exist in the Christian/conservative echo chamber.
- Signup link https://gab.com/auth/sign_up
Gab is a social network that is structured a lot like Twitter and claims to be a place for free speech. The reality is that you can say just about anything as long as it isn’t too anti-Christian. The founder of Gab, Andrew Torba, is a highly religious person, and I take no issue with that at all. To each their own. I have religion too, but I don’t force it down anyone’s throat and am tolerant and accepting of anyone else’s beliefs. Torba doesn’t exactly feel the same. You can slam both political parties, say what you want about culture, talk smack about any country or leader, but if you say something against Christians, you might get a warning or get banned. It is hypocritical in my mind and I don’t care for the selective application of free speech.
Gab is doing some things right, though. They have their own infrastructure, so the rug can’t be pulled out from under them like it was for Parler. Gab also has Gab TV for videos, but it is 100% conservative content. I feel like conservatives do need to have a voice, and that place sure as hell can’t be YouTube. The issue to me is I believe we need more of a discussion and debate from both sides of the political spectrum, and Gab fails to deliver anything but conservative content.
Gab also created the Dissenter browser which I find quite interesting. Their tagline is “Meet the Free Speech Web Browser” and it delivers on that promise. Dissenter is a Chromium-based browser that blocks ads and trackers much like Brave. The difference is that it has its own commenting system built-in for each website. Users can comment on Dissenter for any site they visit and other users of Dissenter can see these comments when they visit that site. It truly feels like the wild-west internet of the early days in the comments. A lot of it is pretty toxic, but if your feathers aren’t so easily ruffled then it can be fairly entertaining to read through it all.
Personally, I don’t care too much for Gab. Still, I’m glad that it exists as the world needs more options and I drop there sometimes and manage to at least get a laugh or find an interesting article. It would be a lot better if the folks at Gab didn’t selectively enforce their free-speech stance. I do find it kind of difficult to find interesting content to view and people to follow.
- Who’s it for? Mostly conservatives, but there are others on there.
- What’s it like? Twitter with longer character limits, but less censorship.
- Not sure it can be trusted anymore, mostly free of censorship except for porn/nudity.
- My take? I don’t trust them anymore. It was alright prior to being attacked by big-tech companies.
- Signup link https://parler.com/auth/access
Parler is yet another social network that feels like Twitter except with a longer character limit for posts. In its early days, I was quite active on Parler. It was easy to find tons of memes, interesting articles on alternative news sites, etc. It is safe to say that the vast majority of users on Parler are conservatives which, again, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it would be even better if there was more diversity.
After the “riots” of January 6th, big-tech launched a coordinated attack on Parler. Amazon took it down from its AWS hosting services. Then Google and Apple banned the Parler app from their stores. Parler disappeared for a while, and I believe it had nothing to do with the accusations that the “riots” were planned on Parler, but had everything to do with the fact that Parler was growing rapidly and Google and Apple wanted to kill off the competition for Facebook and Twitter. Several reports have shown that most of the troublemakers on January 6th coordinated their efforts via Facebook, yet no action was taken against Facebook.
Parler is back with a fresh coat of paint and the same annoying UI bugs as before. The difference is that they canned their CEO, John Matze, who was a vocal free-speech advocate. I no longer feel like Parler is one of the best places to be, as it feels like their new overlords sold out to the angry mob in order to get Parler operational again. I have also lost trust Parler as I feel that posts are probably being heavily monitored and more data collected. I can’t back this up as it is just an opinion I’ve heard that I feel is probably accurate. You should check out Parler for yourself, but I recommend doing so with a bit of caution.
- Who’s it for? Everyone
- What’s it like? A less tyrannical Facebook
- Claims to be more private but I can’t vouch for them, mostly censorship-free.
- My take? It’s ok, but I don’t feel like it is for me. It's too similar to FB.
- Signup link https://mewe.com/
I don’t have a lot to say about MeWe. It feels a lot like Facebook, except you have to dismiss a full-page ad trying to get you to upgrade your account every few times you visit. I have been able to find groups for Linux, privacy, conservative news, etc which is nice, and I think most folks will easily find groups, users, and content to keep them entertained on MeWe.
Just like the others I’ve previously mentioned, MeWe markets itself as a free-speech platform. Your speech on MeWe is definitely freer than on Facebook or Twitter, but I have still read reports about censorship, although I have not been able to verify them.
Your feed on MeWe isn’t generated by an algorithm that’s trying to influence your thoughts or purchases. Instead, it is just what you expect; post from people you follow. There is also more diversity on MeWe as far as ideologies and political leanings are concerned, which I appreciate. Conservatives have flocked to the platform so they can have a voice, but there are also plenty of folks from the other side of the fence there merely because they like it. MeWe has several million users at this point and seems to continue its growth.
The Fediverse Apps
- Who’s it for? Everyone
- What’s it like? A group of decentralized social experiences, some modeled after the mainstream social networks.
- The best privacy, no censorship.
- My take? A fantastic idea based on interesting technology for an incredibly private and uncensored social networking experience, but a bit of a learning curve for the average user.
The Fediverse isn’t a social network like the others, but a collection of different, decentralized social networks built on blockchain technology that are all interconnected. Each of the apps is their own, independent entity, most of which are open-source, but they all adhere to the same communication protocols allowing identities to communicate with other servers.
There’s a little of something for everyone in the Fediverse. Do you like the experience of Instagram but hate the fact that Facebook owns it and that it is the worst mobile app regarding data collection? No problem. Try out Pixelfed. Interested in having an experience like Twitter? Check out Mastodon. The collection of little social networks is immense, and a lot of them are focused on a very specific experience or subject matter.
There are too many Fediverse apps to go over here, but there is a decent site that helps make sense of them you can check out at https://fediverse.party/. Here you can find info like the size of the user-base, amount of active users, and a general overview of several of the Fediverse apps to help you decide if you want to try one out. Note that most Fediverse apps have been banned from the Google Play Store. Google doesn’t like apps and services that don’t control the speech on their platforms. Usually, you either have to download a Fediverse app directly and sideload it or use it in a browser window.
Other Social Networking Links
Rather than just give you my biased opinion on all of these sites, I thought I’d dedicate a section to some other links with reviews, lists, and tools to help you on your social media journey.
- Interested in a tool that deletes old Twitter posts automatically? Checkout Forget
- Want a much larger list of alternative social platforms? I found a great little write-up from a user on Minds (although the info is a bit dated now as more of the sites he mentions have matured and work better than they did at the time of writing). You can find the article at https://www.minds.com/blog/view/928935693803081728
- Here’s a list someone posted on GitHub covering more of the Fediverse apps: https://github.com/emilebosch/awesome-fediverse
- Here's another list of alt social networks from PrivacyTools.io: https://privacytools.io/providers/social-networks/
- A site that can aid you in deleting your account from various services: https://justdeleteme.xyz/
- A large list of alt social networks from decentralizationcentral.com: https://decentralizationcentral.com/Services/Category/2ceb9130-7de2-4534-bf5d-d942dcfc90ec