Social Media Alternatives

Social Media Alternatives
Photo by Ian Schneider / Unsplash

In my last post, "Yuval Noah Harari: Hero and Hypocrite," I ended it with a promise to look into ethical, social media alternatives or ways to change social media. I was immediately overwhelmed and had difficulty tracing back some claims to academic journals and legitimate research. Fortunately, my friend, Dexter Docherty, an Oxford graduate who moved into social policy and strategic foresight so he could help create a more just world, pointed me in the right direction–Ethan Zuckerman.

My first thought was, holy shit, Zuckerman! I can't trust this guy if he's related to Mark Zucker… oh, Zuckerman, not Zuckerberg. As much as I would love for Mark Zuckerberg to have a valorous cousin fighting online foes on his perilous journey to fix the internet until the day he reaches his final opponent, Mark Zuckerberg, and must choose between family and saving humanity, that's not the case.

Ethan Zuckerman is a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he teaches Public Policy. He's been a tech startup guy (with, a nonprofit founder ( and co-founder (, and throughout it all, a blogger. He is also the host of Reimagining the internet, the podcast where I got most of the information for everything you're about to read.

I'm lost in internet hope.

As I stated in my previous article, I don't want to support social media sites that contribute to mental health problems, political polarisation and the climate crises. But I do. I'm on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok because I'm a broke-ass writer trying to get my name out there. As an independent writer, I have to think of myself as a business or, fuck me, here it comes, "a brand." I just threw up a little.

How did artists, intellectuals and creators come to focus more on becoming better brands rather than better people? Well, if you watch The Andy Warhol Diaries, you might think it started with him, but it definitely exploded with what Shosha Zuboff refers to as surveillance capitalism. "We collect information about you and your preferences. We use it to target ads to you to sell, which in exchange make services free." Zuckerman points out this isn't the only possible model for the internet. All you have to do is look at Wikipedia, one of the top 10 sites on the internet. It doesn't accept advertising, nor is it supported by subscriptions. Instead, it survives by donation, making me feel like a complete dick cause I haven't donated. Zuckerman then describes how we take this logic and apply it to a medium supported by taxpayers. You can visit to learn more about this. I want to focus on social media because it's something I can't seem to escape, and it's what made me call one of my heroes, Yuval Noah Harari, a hypocrite.

Thanks to Zuckerman's podcast, I learned about Diaspora. Lots of people have tried to reinvent social media. The problem with doing so is that you can start a great social network, and there are some exciting new ones out there, but they have a hard time getting up to a large enough size where they have network effects. So if you join Diaspora* or Mastodon, you may find that you don't spend as much time on it as you would like because your friends aren't on it either. "Diaspora (stylized as diaspora*) is a nonprofit, user-owned, distributed social network. It consists of a group of independently owned nodes (called pods) which interoperate to form the network. The social network is not owned by any one person or entity, keeping it from being subject to corporate takeovers or advertising. According to its developer, "Our distributed design means no big corporation will ever control Diaspora." That came from Wikipedia, by the way. Now, why haven't I switched to joining Diaspora pods instead of Facebook groups? Because there aren't as many people to reach and get information from. A better question might be, "Why aren't influential figures who make part of their living criticizing social media making the switch? Wouldn't that attract more people?" Those questions are directed at you, Harari.

An even better question might be, "Why the hell are you still on Twitter and not pushing Mastodon." I might start using Mastodon. No, not because I'm benevolent, but because I never got into Twitter to begin with. Mastodon and Twitter have similarities and differences in that "Mastodon is a free and open-source software for running self-hosted social networking services. It has microblogging features similar to the Twitter service, which are offered by a large number of independently run Mastodon nodes (known as "instances"), each with its own code of conduct, terms of service, privacy options, and moderation policies," (Again, Wikipedia). That slaps! So why isn't everyone making the switch? –and that includes Zuckerman. Because their following is on Twitter. And this is precisely why I feel "Lost in internet hope."

The good ideas are out there, but we're too human (maybe self-interested and short-sighted) to make the switch. And these aren't the only options. There's Pubhub, which "…is the name for a new Dutch community network based on public values. PubHubs stands for Public Hubs. It is open and transparent and protects the data of the network's participants. PubHubs aims to connect people in different hubs, such as your family, sports club, school class, museum, local library, neighbourhood, or municipality. In each such hub, a relevant part of one's own identity plays a role. PubHubs focuses on reliable information, if necessary with digital signatures, and on trusted communication, if necessary with guarantees of the identity of participants." The name is a bit too similar to pornhub, in my opinion, but at least it won't autofill on your search because I assume you use private browsing. Anyway, there's also, which is still in its demo stages and states, "Instead of Facebook's algorithm or Twitter's trending topics, you get to choose how the information from all of the people you follow is filtered." As you can see, more ethical platforms exist, and I think there'll be more in the future.

Even though we have alternatives, people still opt for the big ones. Apparently, it's not about the quality but the size—which is utterly depressing news for me on so many levels.

Maybe we need to dig deeper. Perhaps it's not enough to search for alternatives or pressure the monopolies to change. Maybe we need to listen to Ben Tarnoff and unprivatize the internet—who's also on Twitter, by the way. In his conversations with Zuckerman, he says, "…the problem is not that markets are excessively consolidated or under-regulated. The problem is the market itself. Well, deprivatization aims for an Internet where people and not profit rule. Where instead of the goal being to make markets work better, the goal would be to make markets matter less, to shrink the space of the market, to diminish the power of the profit motive, and to create spaces that can genuinely encode democratic practices." He then gives a more concrete example of the 800 community networks around the United States that are either publicly owned, owned by municipality, or cooperatively owned (owned by the users themselves).

Gosh darn, Commie. Just joking. But you might think it has some obvious Marxist undertones you may or may not agree with. Tarnoff says, "Obviously, on the classic Soviet model, what this means is public ownership of the entire economy. I point to another model, which is the tradition of the Spanish anarchists during the Spanish Civil War and the social world that they created in Barcelona, which was rooted in the principle of self-managed enterprises of worker ownership of autonomy. I'm not precisely an anarchist, but I think, broadly, this is a tradition that really appeals to me." Even after listening to the podcast, I'm still unsure what he wants. But imagine if we all owned a part of Meta or Twitter or whatever other giant social media site, not as shareholders, but as users. They profit off the information they give us, so why can't that profit go back to us, the community?

As someone who wants to break down borders and see equal opportunities for all, the internet seems like the best tool. Even though my focus is on sharing stories from the inescapably foreign (stories about acculturation and language learning), I need to think about how I can do this in the most ethical way possible. Of course, I want my information to be secure and for my focus to be pulled towards learning rather than advertising, but what I didn't find in my research is how these sites would store and process the information in a way that doesn't contribute to greenhouse gases. This is still the most significant problem for all of us. As global citizens, we need to work together to lessen the damage we've already done and the catastrophes coming our way. Will spreading information on Facebook and Twitter outweigh the harm they do? Maybe. I really don't know. Will spending hours on TikTok do anything to solve the world's problems? I doubt it, but it does provide a creative outlet. For me, it's my language-learning journey with Spanish comedy. As you can see, I'm not ready to make the switch. I've invested thousands of hours in building a subscriber base (well over ten thousand hours, if you include research and schooling), and I don't even want to think about the money invested in getting my creative works out to the world. I'm self-interested, but I'd sacrifice myself for those I love. I can't wait for people to see my work, but I'm scared as hell. At times I feel empty, while other times, I'm overwhelmed with emotion. I want the best for the world, and I want the best for myself. I'm human. And social media platforms know how to use that to their advantage.


Please, share this however you feel comfortable. Social media isn't the only option. Your word of mouth isn't stored in a cloud as data that contributes to greenhouse gasses. Your word of mouth means this site can stay in existence. One day, I hope to have enough subscribers so I can do everything on, a nonprofit, open-source, carbon-neutral organization.