In recent years, the tide of public opinion has slowly but surely turned against the intrusive actions of Big Tech companies. People are tired of corporations mining their personal information and censoring or manipulating their content online and, as a result, the biggest social networks, like Facebook and YouTube, are beginning to see a noticeable exodus of users.
Until recently, fleeing users had nowhere else to go. But the advent of decentralized, encrypted technologies has ushered in a new generation of social platforms that prioritize privacy, transparency, and free speech, allowing users more control over their posts and content. There are now dozens of social applications operating on peer-to-peer or blockchain-based networks.
Here are five great starting points in your journey away from Facebook and alike:
So, Minds is, by far, the oldest network on this list and has slowly cultivated an impassioned legion of users who consider it the heir apparent to Facebook. But Minds is vastly different than Facebook: it is open source, meaning that anyone can help improve the site’s design; it is decentralized and encrypted, which means that corporate data miners can’t poach user data and governments can’t monitor the site’s messaging app; and the site allows its users to earn money through their posts.
Founder Bill Ottman, who launched Minds in 2011 with an innovative model of “hybrid” investing that tapped both tokens and VCs, described the site’s origins: “We started Minds in my basement after being disillusioned by user abuse on Facebook and other big tech services. We saw spying, data mining, algorithm manipulation, and no revenue sharing,” he said. “To us, it’s inevitable that an open source social network becomes dominant, as was the case with Wikipedia and proprietary encyclopedias.”
Minds now has millions of active users. The mission for “Internet freedom” has only grown, underscored in 2018 when hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese users joined the site after their country passed a draconian cybersecurity law that restricted free speech.
Steemit is up there with Minds when it comes to popularity and, like Minds, it has a devoted core of users. Steemit’s design and architecture can best be compared to Reddit; however, unlike Reddit, Steemit users earn money when their posts are upvoted. And unlike Minds, Steemit uses a blockchain technology, which supports the site’s cryptocurrency, Steem. There are many ways to earn Steem—posting, voting, curating, purchasing, interest, etc.—and though there’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the language of the mechanics, the result is a thriving community in which some users make a living through their site activities.
Like Minds, Steemit is the playground of a robust diversity of ideas—some of them controversial—and attracts a good share of anarchists and counter-economic activists. Though it has close to half a million active users, Steemit devotees still dream of bringing this blockchain-based social network to the mainstream.
LBRY is a mix between a social network and digital marketplace for content creators. According to its creators, it is the first digital marketplace to be wholly community-run and controlled by its participants instead of a corporation or third party. Unlike Apple, Amazon, or YouTube, for example, LBRY is a peer-to-peer, decentralized, and distributed network; it is both protocol and service.
In 2018 the alternative news website Anti-Media—which had recently been deplatformed by Facebook during a widespread purge of anti-establishment pages—migrated its articles onto LBRY “to build a decentralized content delivery system for [their] website and an uncensorable hub.” This is the perfect example of how a blockchain-based network, which is impervious to censorship, can play a crucial role in the future of liberated media and content delivery. You can support and follow Anti-Media by signing up!
Nexus is another decentralized social media application fueled by blockchain and a passionate advocacy for anonymity. Nexus is a bit different than the others on this list because it is largely an e-commerce and ad platform community. Imagine a mix between eBay, Amazon, and Google AdSense except without a centralized server (plans call for a combo of Storj and BigchainDB blockchains instead). The Nexus platform, powered by the native cryptocurrency Social (SCL), facilitates a marketplace where users can “make deals or exchange value through cryptographically-signed and executed contracts.”
Founder Jade Mulholland says the goal is to “eliminate all invasion of privacy that large corporations are currently performing.” Mulholland adds that “Social, our cryptocurrency, can be used to do many things on the social network, such as buying and selling in the marketplace, purchasing ad space, and donating to crowdfunding campaigns.”
I’ve been using this one myself, and trust me when I tell you, it’s good.
Obsidian is a good option for people who don’t necessarily post on Facebook a lot but use its Messenger app. Obsidian’s Secure Messaging app is based on the Stratis blockchain, a proof-of-stake system that protects user data from “cookies” and outside surveillance. Obsidian is probably the youngest entry on the list and is still in its public alpha phase. As an open source application, Obsidian keeps a publicly available repository of its code on GitHub.