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The Future of Social Media, Part II

As progressives, we are not strangers to being understated, misrepresented, maligned, and covered over. We understand how it feels to be unfairly targeted by oppressive forces, and to be on the sharp end of them. As progressive voices we have had our livelihoods pulled out from under us like a Victorian dinner trick (Tim Black and Jimmy Dore on Youtube, etc), we have been put into ‘Facebook jail' for simply using its features, we have been told what is and isn't spam to post as our own updates, and had our ‘reach’ intentionally suppressed unless we pay more to promote our own content, and sometimes even after we have.

Even though many people, if not most, use social media in order to communicate with friends and followers, the information they provide over these networks is made commercially available to anyone willing to buy it. As has been recently shown, sometimes that information is used against the best interests of those who provide it, while the webmaster, who should be protecting said interests, mocks his users for trusting him with their private, personal information.

There has got to be a better way…and there is.

In the previous installation of this series, the differences between a centralized network and a decentralized one were discussed, as well as the superior overall benefits of the latter. Several decentralized networks were covered in brief, and in this installment we'll take a closer look at each one, weighing the pros and cons.

Let's quickly recap the main aspects which make a decentralized social network preferable: security and autonomy. When you are a member of a decentralized social network, you are in charge of your own content. Unless your account is hacked, nobody will gain any information that you do not make publicly accessible. Also, there is no way for the network to censor your content, or control what you post. Further, even if a centralized social network swears up and down that it is totally transparent about their networks, and use open-source coding, how will you know that this will always remain the case, after all the people (and therefore all the money) go to this new social network? The only way to even approach being sure, is to use a decentralized network where the controls can't be seized by only two hands.

While it's encouraging to see so many people migrating away from Facebook’s audacious data-milking, it's a bit disconcerting to see so many of them migrating to Minds and MeWe, both of which are centralized. After recent revelations, many Facebook users are now faced with the very real issue of whether or not to delete what for many has become a scrapbook of memories going back more than a decade. How much more time do people want to invest in a network that's just waiting for the highest bidder?

In addition to being centralized, Minds is problematic in that it takes money from people to promote their content, and also takes money to remove these promotions from page views. Nobody really gets what they want except Minds. MeWe, based on Android/iPhone technology, is potentially even more of a security risk than Facebook, because suddenly you're not just 'checking in' to places, you're potentially reporting your every movement.

One of the main reasons why many are finding that they have way more personal info stored in Facebook than others is because they used the Facebook app on a device that also contained their calls, texts, and contact information. They gave the app permission when they installed it on their device. Facebook representatives said that users gave this information "voluntarily” because so many failed to read that tedious 'fine print' when they installed the Facebook app on their device. Unfortunately, that legalese and jargon-laced Terms of Agreement document gave Facebook the right to their call list, contacts, and other personal information.

Speaking of that, have you seen the permissions that MeWe "needs"?

But that's enough about centralized social networks, let's get into the good stuff.

If you want to publish your own content, whether it be written in the form of blog entries, articles, art, videos, or music, there are two decentralized options which will allow you, the producer of said media, to control it: Steemit and Synero.

Although not as publicly touted as MeWe, Steemit boasts just as many users as of April 2018, and you won't have to worry about your content being blocked, blacklisted, edited, or otherwise censored by a central control. As long as you have the key to your account, you control what you put out to the world. You can also control what you see in your news feed, in a way Facebook never wanted you to have because their business model was based on controlling that for you.

The same can be said about Synero, although the process of joining that network was much quicker and easier than with Steemit. When you join Steemit, be prepared to wait one to two weeks or more while they verify that you are not already a member of their network. You will not get an email message confirming your submission, but do not send another submission in because you can complicate the process.

However, once you get into the Steemit blockchain, there are decentralized alternatives to both Soundcloud/Bandcamp and Youtube, called Dsound and Dtube, respectively, which coexist on it. Creating a Steemit account will grant you memberships at both. Since both blockchain and Rchain (Synero's network) are decentralized, both are associated with their own attention economy based on electronic currency. This being the case, there are some lowest-common-denominator clickbait mongers who grab attention with eye candy, without any real substance. They add to their own cumulative value by attracting clicks.

But you don't have to be that kind of user, in order to benefit from the network's publication potential. You may not care about bitcoin, you may not have any friends on either Synero or Steemit, or your content might get blocked at the places where you try to share it, but if you want to make sure your content stays where you put it so that you can share it on other social networks, then look into joining either one or both of those networks.

What about a decentralized Facebook replacement for most, where the emphasis is on staying in touch with contacts? For that there are networks designed to fit that bill. One is Diaspora (JoinDiaspora), and the other is Akasha. We'll focus on the former though, as the latter has not launched yet. It is scheduled to premier during the third or 4th quarter, 2018. Until that time, Diaspora is the main choice to replace Facebook. Although some cosmetic tweaks like header banners that Facebook had are in order, it has a newsfeed system which is similar to Facebook's and is customizable in a similar way because you can organize and rename your 'aspects', which are basically contact groups. However, there does not currently seem to be any way to create a non-personal page on the Diaspora network.

Another possible alternative which just came onto the radar, is Ong. This decentralized social network will exist as both a browser experience, or a mobile app, which is currently under development. Like many of the others, this one revolves around an attention currency, but this one is less of a content server, and more like a social network. The interface is simple and easy, though there are personal touches that make the experience of using it feel more like Facebook. Signup was easy and, so far, it also feels a lot like Diaspora.

My advice would be to use either Steemit or Synero for protected content that you want to share, and Diaspora or Ong as a decentralized replacement for Facebook. Considering the rather tenuous nature of social media outlets currently, there's really no telling where everyone will wind up settling. So cover your bases, make an account at each place, and see which one you like the best. Then you’ll have a backup in case one goes sour.

There are also replacements for Twitter (Quitter) and Slack (Riot). So far both are just about exactly what you'd expect form decentralized clones of those networks. Their coding is open-source, and they offer most of the features that their more well-known predecessors boast.

It can seem overwhelming to join two or three new networks, but why not strive to decentralize every aspect of your online experience? Remember that, when the corruption and compromised networks became painfully obvious during the 2016 presidential primaries, they happened across the board - Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Youtube, Amazon, Google - nothing was safe. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security, simply because there's a perceived lack of need to resort to desperate, obvious tactics. At this point, these networks are still compromised. “When it really matters” is NOT the time to be caught off guard, as was the case then.

Apart from any other shortcoming inherent in any of these networks, the thing that binds them all together, unfortunately, is a current lack of users. Though the numbers are increasing, they cannot compare to billions of users worldwide. It will likely take some time before there is another network to rival Facebook, but let's make sure that time is not wasted on a network that is just waiting to be monetized, prioritized, polarized, and privatized at our expense, rather than for our mutual interest. We need to make sure that the network we migrate to is decentralized, not only for the safety and sovereignty of our own information, but for the integrity of our vital social links.

Let's not make the same mistakes again, let's learn from them. Think of all that we've lost because we allowed our social connections to become compromised. Do we really want to repeat that?

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