Social Media Platform Alternatives to Big-Tech Oligarchs
Politicized authoritarian platforms that centralize and cooperate to ban users at their ideological discretion have become industry standard. The narrow minded and selfish oligarchy of algorithm worshipers presumes authority to choose what speech will be considered free. They are self-appointed middlemen who determine what we may post, and what we may see. Their threat of sudden deplatforming and willingness to do so has created digital nomads out of anti-establishment voices that seek safe and permanent homes.
An alternatively minded idealist may build up a platform with free speech intent, only to be talked out of it when his lawyers arrive to write the terms of service. Even then, a platform can codify solid principles with intent to abide by them, then fail to do so. What matters is what happens at crunch time, when the rubber meets the road, when outside entities or governments apply leveraged pressure. Platform operators might be co-opted, boards may be infiltrated, corporations might be bought out, or suffer a rubber hose attack.
These are all weaknesses borne of power claims. If one has no desire to centralize a platform, but rather develops a protocol to release the innovation inherent in human interaction, they are affected less by these problems. The more a platform stands in the middle, the more incentive others have to lever them. An algorithm that rearranges content, giving some preference over others, is valuable to control. A chronological list allows for no manipulation, and would allow for us to test sychronicity. Can’t have that!
Content will always be so varied that no algorithm can flawlessly detect and apply moderation rules, so if moderation is needed, humans will be needed — and human decisions are prone to bias when making arbitrary decisions. Human moderation does have a place in a functioning cooperative. It is important that the rules are well understood and consistently followed.
Here I give an overview of some leading competitors to Big-Tech of three types: Communities, Social Networks, and Video Platforms. In alphabetical order.
DISCORD ( Terms of Service | Guidelines ) offers Communities, Video Conferencing, Voice Chat, Instant Messaging, and Chat Rooms/Posting Channels. It is a tech and gamer focused millennially branded platform to create customizable communities. It feels like Reddit and behaves like IRC 2020. Using #channels, which are chatrooms for voice, video, or text, moderators can choose their own rules, and even program their own functionality. There are overarching rules by Discord at large that apply to all communities, including warnings against anyone who would “organize, promote, or coordinate servers around hate speech“ or “organization, promotion, or support of violent extremism.“ According to Richard Stallman, Discord tracks users, requires a phone number for Tor users, and has been said to shut off accounts without explanation.
LOCALS ( Terms of Service ) offers Creator Communities and Subscription Paywalls. Users can create communities of followers who get access behind a paywall for subscribing. Locals guidelines apply to all communities, and creators can remove or modify the content of their following users at their sole discretion. Locals reserves the right to remove posts, creators, and users at their sole discretion, though they say they will use ‘strikes’ when they deem a first offense not worthy of immediate ban. Locals was co-founded by Dave Rubin.
REDDIT ( User Agreement | Content Policy ) offers Communities and Discussion. It allows anyone to build customizable communities for posting content for members to discuss. It has a content policy to which all communities must adhere, then leaves further more restrictive moderating choices to each community’s moderators. Its content policy says “Reddit is [not] a place for attacking marginalized or vulnerable groups of people,” and “Everyone has a right to use Reddit free of harassment, bullying, and threats of violence,” and warns against “Communities and users that incite violence or that promote hate based on identity or vulnerability.”
TELEGRAM ( FAQ | Technical FAQ ) is Open Source and offers Channels, Voice Chat, and Instant Messaging. It is a WhatsApp / Facebook Messenger alternative that focuses on security and privacy. Channels and groups operate as community text and voice chat rooms or like social media pages on the public directory. It uses end-to end encrypted and self-destructing messages in private messaging platform – so Telegram has no ability to turn data over to 3rd parties. “Anyone who claims that Telegram messages can be deciphered is welcome to prove that claim in our competition and win $300,000. You can check out the Cracking Contest Description to learn more.“
The FAQ states: “Q: There’s illegal content on Telegram. How do I take it down?” … “A: All Telegram chats and group chats are private amongst their participants. We do not process any requests related to them… if criticizing the government is illegal in some country, Telegram won’t be a part of such politically motivated censorship. This goes against our founders’ principles.” Also included, “While we do block terrorist (e.g. ISIS-related) bots and channels, we will not block anybody who peacefully expresses alternative opinions.“
CLOUTHUB ( Terms of Service ) offers Centralized Video Hosting, Streaming Channels, Social Network, Messaging, Forums, Groups, and a News aggregator. It is a Facebook alternative with some of what Youtube and Twitch offer, including Video Channels like Internet TV. Like most platforms, CloutHub’s terms allow it to moderate in any way it chooses, but they proactively include assurance language about protecting free speech, transparency, explanation of any moderator action, and opportunity for appeal.
“CloutHub uses advanced systems to flag our prohibited terms and pornographic images, videos and documents. In the event the system identifies these items, the post will simply not process.” with an opportunity to report for review if the system flags improperly. This is common and an efficient way for the platform to moderate without investing human capital to do so, but this sort of imprecise auto-moderating has been the source of injustice for users elsewhere where the appeals process is insufficient. If 3rd party services are used for this function, it can also make the platform beholden to that 3rd party or otherwise leverageable.
CONNECTZING ( Terms of Service ) offers Social Network, Groups, Events, Classifieds, and Private Messaging. It is a Facebook alternative. Its Terms of Service say, “Join the social media network built by American Patriots who know what it means to fight for Freedom. Connectzing will not give voice to our enemies – Foreign or Domestic; … provide a platform for colluding against America; … sell integrity or truth to the highest bidder; unlike Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.“ TOS also state that Connectzing reserves the right to remove information “deemed offensive.“
DONALD TRUMP had advisor Jason Miller announce that DJT would be returning to social media with his own platform. He said “It’s going to completely redefine the game,” and called it the “hottest ticket in social media.” Former Trump campaign manager and senior adviser Corey Lewandowski said the platform will debut in 3 to 4 months from March. No details or descriptions of platform features have been announced.
GAB ( Terms of Service | History ) is an Open Source, Federated Social Network that offers Video Hosting, Streaming Channels, Groups, a ‘GabDeck’ TweetDeck Clone, Teleconferencing, and ‘Gab Pay’ payment processing fuctionality. It is a Facebook / Twitter / YouTube alternative focusing on free speech, decentralized, open source, transparent technology, and privacy.
The Terms of Service apply only to the main social instance of Gab. It is an open source fork of Mastodon (not an instance of Mastodon beholden to Mastodon’s administrators.) “At Gab, we believe that the future of online publishing is decentralized and open. We believe that users of social networks should be able to control their social media experience on their own terms, rather than the terms set down by Big Tech.” Gab’s terms of service state, “We strive to ensure that the First Amendment remains the Website’s standard for content moderation.” Gab reserves the right to take any action whatsoever and does not obligate itself to transparency.
Gab adheres to DMCA Digital Millennium Copyright Act but distinguishes itself by clearly stating the requirements copyright infringement claimees must adhere to per the law, as opposed to other platforms that focus the majority of requirements on the uploader.
MASTODON ( Code of Conduct ) is an Open Source, Federated Social Network Twitter alternative that says “your feed is chronological, ad-free and non-algorithmic—you decide who you want to see!“ There is a main “instance” of Mastodon that anyone can join that is public, but users can also join one of many other instances with different rules. The effect is similar to Reddit, where users can join whichever community has the guidelines and content focus that fits that user’s preference.
Rather than terms of service, Mastodon provides a code of conduct, which contains guidelines that allow for heavy moderation of the public instance, including the usual offensive content, but also “fake news, anti-vaccination spam” and “conduct promoting the ideology of National Socialism.” There are also the servers whose posts are not served to the public timeline, but Mastodon entity is still capable of suspending any server they wish. And they do, though they appear to have been transparent about suspended servers with a published list and reasons for suspension. These reasons include “spreading conspiracy theories,” “hate speech,” and being “Gab like.”
MEWE ( Terms of Service ) is a Social Network that offers Groups and a Messenger. It is a FaceBook alternative that says it has “no ads, no targeting, and no newsfeed manipulation.“ It earns money with upgraded features like custom emojis, additional storage and live voice and video calling. Its FAQ says, “Unlike other social networks, at MeWe we have absolutely no political agenda and no one can pay us to target you with theirs… We have a strict and clear Terms of Service protecting our members: haters, bullies, porn, spammers, bots, lawbreakers, violence inciters, etc. are prohibited.” Its terms warn: “We may suspend or terminate your account or cease providing you with all or part of the Services at any time for any or no reason, including, but not limited to, if we reasonably believe you have violated these Terms. “
MINDS ( Bill of Rights | Whitepaper | Content Policy ) is an Open Source, Social Network that offers Video Hosting, Cryptocurrency Rewards, Decentralized Data Storage, Reputation, Advertising Boosts, and a YouTube Migration Tool. It is a Facebook and YouTube alternative with additional features; well developed technology and principled. A ‘Santa Clara Principles’ jury system is used that places moderator decisions in the hands of 12 random users that are not subscribers to user on trial. A count of actions taken by moderators, appeals, and actions overturned in the past 30 days is displayed transparently. The “Manila Principles On Intermediary Liability, a digital bill of rights, outlined by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other leading digital rights organizations” is employed. Immediately bannable offenses are still reviewed by minds admins rather than jury, and include unlawful posts, doxxing, impersonation, and users who “Incite a true threat of violence.”
PANQUAKE is a blockchain based startup that is in the fundraising phase. It promises it will not sell user data and will be advertisement free; it says it will moderate transparently, with no shadow bans or timeline manipulation. It is not yet in beta, but says features will include unique tools including one that compiles multiple messages from multiple sources into a single link. It is endorsed publicly by Julian Assange’s mother as well as two members of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), security expert and former Technical Director of the NSA Bill Binney and ex-CIA Analyst Ray McGovern.
PARLER ( User Agreement ) is a Social Network Twitter alternative that became a popular alternative among Conservatives, Parler says it is a solution to special-interest influence on Big Tech “built upon a foundation of respect for privacy and personal data, free speech, free markets, and ethical, transparent corporate policy,“ but like most platforms, the community guidelines effectively allow any moderator action without codifying an obligation of transparency on the part of Parler. “Even when the law may not require us to flag or remove reported content,” they say they will, whenever they “deem it necessary to prevent our services from being used by someone in the commission of a crime or civil tort.“
Parler has recently changed content moderation policies to satisfy Apple’s requirements for inclusion in the app store, prompting competitor Gab CEO Andrew Torba to tell Parler’s new CEO, “They own you now.” IT specialist CodeMonkey Ron Watkins criticized Parler for its security vulnerabilities, unnecessary collection of personal information, and allowing impersonator accounts to stand. He has called it “the Mike Pence of social media.”
In contrast to cryptocurrency systems where users are in control of their own tokens, Parler’s token system is more like reward points: “You agree and acknowledge that you do not in fact own the Virtual Items and the amounts of any Virtual Item do not refer to any credit balance of real currency or its equivalent.“
SPREELY ( Terms of Service ) is a Social Network that offers Forums, Messaging, and Rewards. It is a Facebook alternative that says its core mission is “protecting your right to speak freely… without fear of the ‘thought police’” and that it “intends to police the platform in accordance with the first Amendment to the Constitution,“ with “Community Guidelines… based on your God given rights.” They say that “personal data is kept confidential, and members can chose to opt out of being served ads and having their data collected.”
Spreely promises to allow users to build your own newsfeeds rather than having one built for them “at the whim of a top secret algorithm.” Spreely rewards give users credit toward discounts on American made products.
THINKSPOT ( Welcome | Speech Statement ) offers Video hosting, Podcast Hosting, Discussion, PDF E-Book Hosting and Sales, E-Book Reader Annotations, Newsletters, and Follower Subscriptions. After Patreon banned Carl Benjamin, Jordan Peterson left it and announced the launch of Thinkspot with Dave Rubin early 2019, but it’s not clear what public association Peterson or Rubin may have with it now, aside from reposting work there from other platforms. It has been in beta for well over a year. It aims to provide a free speech alternative to Patreon, and uses Stripe exclusively for payment processing of subscriptions to newsletters, videos, podcasts, articles, books, pdf’s, and more. Each digital content upload or post has additional features, such as crowd-sourced annotating of E-Books, and forums to encourage “quality discourse and long-form discussion,” which means, among other things, no memes or picture responses in comments.
Peterson early on said that the platform would only ban or remove users if ordered to do so by the U.S. Courts, a vision that is not borne out by the current terms of service. There are assurances that the platform “encourages free expression and respects Free Speech” and they say “contributions to the site will be evaluated by a group of peers who hold quality, genuine discourse in high esteem” who aim to “facilitate civic discourse without pressures from mainstream media, arbitrary corporate terms of service, special interest groups, and advertisers” while ”refusing to give into outside pressures that seek to limit free speech. “ But the terms say “we continue to reserve the right to suspend your account for violating these terms,” and “we may remove any content or comments from contributors or users at any time if we deem the content is in violation of law or otherwise violates these terms.”
BITCHUTE ( Terms of Service | Guidelines ) offers Video Hosting. It provides a flagging and reporting tool, where uploaders apply content sensitivity ratings, and viewers have ‘user side filters’ that allow them the choice of filtering out content of lower ratings. The platform reserves the right to override ratings through a moderation process, and users “are expected to consider that others may be influenced and/or incited by the content you produce.”
DLIVE ( Terms of Service | Community Guidelines ) offers Decentralized Blockchain Video Hosting and Streaming, Open Source, Earning, and SuperChats with VIP Fans. It is a Twitch alternative with rewards for both viewers and content providers: “Unlike traditional platforms, the reward system reward[s] the community for their contributions rather than a corporation.” Dlive reserves the right to remove any content in its sole discretion. And according to Quite Frankly, it has. He says that, without any copyright complaint, they used that sole discretion to suspend his stream for two hours with a warning that he cannot play other people’s videos from YouTube without written permission from each one.
FOXHOLE ( About ) offers Video Streaming Channels. Foxhole is an Twitch alternative for hosting livestreams. There are no terms outlined, but the text “Foxhole is a comfy bunker.,“ and “*Disclaimer Foxhole & Pilled.net aren’t responsible for the views and expressions from the users here.“
Dark to Light Podcast’s Quite Frankly uses Foxhole among the streaming platforms that broadcast his nightly show.
FRANK ( Terms of Service ) has not yet launched, so its features are unknown. Mike Lindell had announced his free speech social network will be launching April 20th, and described it as a cross between Twitter and YouTube, and it’s Terms of Service indicate that it may have ‘user contributions’ in the future, but so far it has static videos. The TOS reserve the platform’s rights to remove users and content at any time for any reason, and does not obligate itself or promise any transparency. It also will “Disclose your identity or other information about you to any third party who claims that material posted by you violates their rights, including their intellectual property rights or their right to privacy” and applies content standards that prohibit anything ‘objectionable’ without defining objectionable.
LBRY / ODYSEE ( Terms of Service | Community Guidelines ) offers Decentralized Video Hosting, Open Source, Earning and Cryptocurrency Blockchain. It is an early YouTube alternative with millennial branding through Odysee label. Video hosting is on Odysee website which is a front-end for the protocol that connects distributed hosts to viewers of content. “Building protocols, not platforms, is the best way to secure a free, open internet… We think users should own their content (and their privacy) instead of handing it over to a corporate giant and their advertising buddies… Prosperity and freedom starts with the ability for people to communicate freely with one another. The ability to censor is the ability to control the narrative and spread propaganda. For the purposes of discovering truth and fighting injustice, censorship-resistance is absolutely vital.”
RUMBLE ( Terms of Service ) offers Video Hosting, Earning and Video Clip Licensing. It is a YouTube/Vimeo alternative with paid subscription upgrades for earning / ad revenue sharing and tools for video editors who want to license stock video that is not in Creative Commons. ‘Featured’ Channels and ‘Editor’s Picks’ set the tone of the site and influence organic viewcounts / earning, rather than just most popular videos among authentic users, or a home screen customized by the user. “You acknowledge that Rumble.com has the absolute right (but not the obligation) to delete, move and edit content and material for any reason, in any manner, at any time, without notice.“
THETA TV ( Terms of Service | Guidelines ) offers Video Streaming. It is a Twitch alternative that calls itself blockchain-based video peering technology, but it does not appear to be meaningfully decentralized, and the ‘cryptocurrency’ that is earned cannot be transferred outside the platform, making it more like reward points. It has guidelines / rules for creators that include restrictions beyond illegal activity including ‘misinformation’ and ‘content that marginalizes any communities, groups, or people’ and reminds streamers to ‘be mindful of any sexually suggestive behavior, content, and attire displayed on stream,” warning that any will be addressed “on a case by case basis.” Additionally, “Channels with content deemed low effort / not in good spirit will be given less visibility on the platform,” where that is defined by staff on a case by case basis rather than any transparent ruleset or guidelines. Theta reserves the right to “disqualify, disable, and/or remove any earnings” at their sole discretion. Theta says it plans functionality for video hosting to make it a YouTube alternative in the future.
VIMEO ( Terms of Service | Guidelines ) offers Video Hosting and Streaming, and is a YouTube alternative with paid upgrade plans. It’s guidelines warn users about uploading content that “conveys false or misleading claims about (1) vaccination safety, or (2) health-related information that has a serious potential to cause public harm,“ “spreads false or misleading information about voting,“ or “Contains conspiracy-related content where the underlying conspiracy theory makes claims that (1) suggest that a real-world tragedy did not occur.“
* Disclosure and FYI: I have chosen WordPress for my personal site, Gab and MeWe for social networks, Telegram for messaging and channels. I also have a Clouthub and a Minds account. I have no particular financial interest in your choice of platforms and have no stake in any involved companies or cryptocurrencies.