The Situation with Social Media Platforms Nowadays
The Facebook Fiasco and the Twitter Tumble
If you haven't been living under a rock, chances are that you have heard about the recent developments in two of the prominent SM platforms lately. After their irrational banning of several users and their strict monitoring of various pieces of content being posted on them, these platforms have started acting more like bad parents than fora of free expression. In other words, they have gone against what they stood for and have punished a lot of their users for something that was always a given. I mention these two because they stand out, but you can observe similar behavior in places like YouTube, Medium, and more. Just try posting something there that goes against their worldview, in a concrete and possibly convincing way, and see what happens. I haven't experienced this myself since I abstain from all toxic substances I'm aware of (drugs, the dark web, and the aforementioned SM platforms, to name a few). However, I'm conscious of the injustice that has been done to content creators I've come to respect when they tried to published worthwhile articles or videos on these platforms. So, in defense of these people and the value of free speech that we all share, I'm writing this article.
The Value and Role of Free Speech
Free speech is a broad topic and deserves its own article (in fact, I've recently written one such article that I published on one of the alternative SM). Suffice to say that it's fundamentally important, perhaps now more than ever. Free speech isn't about getting into fights online (although this could be a side-effect). It's about being able to express your view, no matter how unconventional, and not fear that you may be punished for it. Free speech has allowed the flourishing of the Arts, the Sciences, and civilization at large. Also, for a society to be stable (especially if that society aspires to be a Democracy), free speech is a prerequisite.
If we were to look at cases when free speech was marginalized, we’ll notice that these cases correspond to the darkest pages of history. In the Middle Ages, for example, someone could get prosecuted and burned at the stake if he/she were to express opinions that disagreed with the doctrine of the Church. Also, in the less open-minded times of modern history, daring to express a worldview that contradicted that of established science (e.g., when Einstein and other Physicists expressed the possibility of the Ether), you could get ridiculed and possibly marginalized from the scientific community (Einstein managed to avoid that by publicly admitting that Ether was the biggest blunder of his scientific life).
Naturally, not everything that is expressed brings us closer to the Truth; the process of trial-and-error that free speech enables and fosters, however, does (so long as we use it properly).
Alternative Social Media Today
Social Media play a significant role today in many people's communications. After all, it is the most communication-heavy aspect of the world wide web and the key value-add for most people, when it comes to the Internet. In the spirit of what the latter stands for, lately, we observe the presence of several new social media which are alternative to the more established ones. Platforms like beBee, Minds, MeWe, and Voice, for example. There are plenty more, which I invite you to explore, but since these four are the ones I've more familiar with, I'll talk about them more in this section.
It's important to note that each social medium has a particular niche, so they can all co-exist without directly competing with each other. Many content creators use more than one of them to maximize their coverage. That’s a strategy that has been employed for all kinds of platforms, though lately it’s applied mostly on SM platforms.
If you enjoy writing articles, reading articles, and talking about all that, all while being able to share interesting videos and links, beBee is an alternative SM platform that can help with that. At the same time, it is a place where you can post your resume and do some professional networking. Although its critics pinpoint the fact that the platform hasn't evolved much lately and that it's overly tolerant of spammers (at least until they are recognized as such), it's gained enough popularity to sustain itself. Also, the fact that one of its founders regularly interacts with the users of the platform (not just post his stuff but also take the time to respond to comments and share other people's articles) creates a friendly atmosphere that is rare to find elsewhere. It's also interesting how powerful the dynamic of content sharing is on that platform, partly due to its various groups and the ability to create new ones easily. The fact that good quality articles may linger on one's feed for weeks or longer attests to the good design of the platform. Disagreements among the users are not uncommon, but they are generally resolved, and there is an overall constructive and positive sentiment in the comment section. This platform is also one of the few where you can express negative sentiment through a down-vote, something that isn't all that common, however.
The Minds platform does all that but is based on a different model and uses a blockchain-based rewards system. Built on the Ethereum blockchain, this platform started as a place where certain political views could be expressed along with those passionate about distributed ledger technology, especially blockchain and the cryptocurrencies based on it. Nevertheless, over the years it has attracted lots of content creators from various areas, while after the exodus from the conventional SM, it has experienced a renaissance of sorts, with lots of people from all walks of life joining the platform. Users who gain followers or post content that is valued and shared by others get rewarded with tokens. You can use the latter to boost your content, or you can donate them to other content creators to help them out. You can always buy tokens using USD and Ethereum if you wish. Like beBee, the founder of Minds regularly interacts with the users and often posts thought-provoking posts on his platform. The Minds SM shares the down-vote option that beBee has, though it's not used that much here either.
If you really like the kind of content you find on Facebook, but you also enjoy free speech, MeWe is the platform for you. There you can find all sorts of content, especially links to articles, beautiful photos, videos, and of course, memes. There are personal chats, group chats, and lots of groups, where people can have special interest communities. Interaction among users is primarily through the plethora of emojis the platform supports, short comments, and shares. Note that because of the highly dynamic nature of the MeWe feed, the number of interactions of a post is significantly lower than that of the previous platforms. Nevertheless, it's easy to find a post you've enjoyed and build your own group on this platform. Although MeWe is free to join, there is a subscription-based version of it that offers additional features. Even if you may come across the occasional thought-provoking article, most of the content on this platform is geared towards multimedia, memes, and links to content on other platforms. Also, discussions on MeWe tend to be shorter and more reactive than engaging. Nevertheless, it's a great place to hang out if you want a short break from work and want to share or consume the latest memes on a topic.
Voice is the latest free speech SM I've discovered, so I'm still exploring it. Nevertheless, it's much more mature than I expected after watching a review on it from one of its beta-testers (the review was made last summer and was somewhat critical of the platform's limited functionality). The UI is slick and very similar to that of Medium. Its objective is also similar. Nevertheless, there is a key differentiator that it leverages: the way the content propagates and the use of tokens based on the EOSIO blockchain. At the time of this writing, Voice is invitation-only and has a no-tolerance policy towards bots. The registration process can be a bit frustrating if you are used to the simple sign-up forms of all the other SM platforms. Still, it's worth the effort, and once you are in, things are super smooth, and the users you find are more real than anywhere else (e.g., everyone has a profile picture, and most of the users have published some content, even if it's a promo article). The fact that good content is rewarded reminds me of Minds (no pun intended), though the way it is done is quite different. When you "voice" an article you like, you make it more valuable, and you have to spend a certain number of tokens (how much depends on how popular the article already is). These are tokens you invest in that article and that you may never see again. If, however, that article you've voiced is voiced by other people too, you get all your tokens back plus some revenue based on the article's income. You can also like and comment on the articles, while there is a small number of communities for easier referencing.
Leveraging Alternative Social Media
Naturally, it's unlikely that someone is going to drop the SM currently used and get on board these alternative SM (unless, of course, that person is fed up with censorship). So, if you still derive value from the conventional SM platforms but are curious to explore the alternative ones, you can start doing so, building your community there. Once you feel comfortable enough and have built confidence in them, you can use them as your primary SM. They are not perfect, but if you engage with them with an open mind and a positive attitude, chances are that you'll see that reflect on you. Note that you may still find people there whom you'll disagree with, sometimes fiercely. That's normal in a platform like that, and if seen with the right mindset, it can be a growing experience. Much like in real life, you are bound to come across people you don't like. That's fine, however, and it's part of living in a civilized society. The more you experience that, the thicker your skin can get, helping you keep your cool. This situation is the exact opposite to echo chambers, which tend to have a weakening effect on people, making them oversensitive and at times aggressive. Alternative social media can help us be more tolerant, gain a broader perspective (by viewing things from different perspectives), and connect with people we normally wouldn't. Just for that, it's worth leveraging them, in my view.
Sustainability Matters for SM Platforms
The million euro question that comes to mind when you are evaluating a new platform is whether it’s sustainable or not. After all, what happened to Parler recently shook the ground a bit since it showed that some platforms aren’t as stable as they seem, especially if they aren’t aligned with the interests of big tech companies. Still, currently, there is a large enough population in these alternative SM that it's a matter of time before they are entrenched on the web. Some of them may not make it, but at least some of them will. That's why it's good to have a portfolio of sorts consisting of different free speech platforms. This way you can mitigate the risk, while at the same time increase your exposure to a larger audience. So, in that sense, these platforms can be sustainable collectively, even if an individual one still runs the risk of closing down. I wonder if the same can be said about the conventional SM, that seem to have lost their competitive advantage…