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Nipping at Big Tech's Heels: Competition in Social Media

There has much bemoaning and hand-wringing by members of Congress on the alleged dangers of social media.

Concerned over harmful content and hate speech on digital platforms, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has called for new regulation to help clean up the platforms and implement greater control over acceptable speech. The Facebook founder has every right to do this, yet he has simultaneously pushed conservatives into a tizzy about their future on the platform.

People who are upset with the major platforms, however, have other options. While they may have a limited reach for the moment, missteps like data breaches or ideologically-drived content moderation can easily increase their appeal. Here are several to consider.

  1. Reddit - a simple, highly trafficked website that allows users to post and comment on various “subreddits” on seemingly unlimited topics. Acceptable content is decided by each subreddit’s moderator(s) and based on the topic and purpose of the subreddit in question. 
  2. MeWe - a social media site which goes all-in on privacy and not sharing your data with others. The site showcases its own privacy bill of rights, and touts itself as the anti-Facebook. The design of the app prioritizes the protection of content, letting users easily control their own level of privacy.
  3. Ello (the “creators network”) - a more artsy version of Pinterest, this site is ad-free, doesn’t force you to use your name, and won’t sell your data. You can create your own content, and tailor your own feed to make sure that you get what you are looking for. They bill themselves as the place that artists of all stripes can produce their own work.
  4. Sociall.io - This is a decentralized platform that encrypts all communication between users, including all person-to person messaging. The service allows you to buy and sell products on the app and it provides its own cryptocurrency for the transaction. 
  5. Diaspora - a social media site that values decentralization, freedom, and privacy. Giving you much more control on what you post and who you connect and join with is the goal. Diaspora allows you to post without using your real name, and gives you the ability to own and make decisions on what you want to do with your information.
  6. Mastodon - this is a competitor to Twitter, and has gained some significant traction. It functions similarly, except it is decentralized, meaning that it is harder to track and collect data. 
  7. Vero - a subscription-based social media service that does not sell your data. The company currently offers “free-for-life” subscriptions to encourage early adoption, but plans to move to a paid service in the future. It emphasizes rich media sharing on the app, from photos, links, movies, and places to books and music.
  8. Codias - a social media network for conservatives, especially those who feel they are being discriminated against by Facebook. The platform emphasizes political engagement and activism. Instead of “friends,” users designate other user as “allies.”
  9. USA.life - another conservative network. This one is unique in the sense that it provides its own search engine, 1776Free, to give relief to conservatives who feel censored by Silicon Valley. This is a conservative Facebook, allowing people to connect with one another.
  10. BitChute - another platform that is similar to YouTube for uploading videos and content. The site has received widespread attention (Brookings, CBS, Washington Times, Daily Dot, The Spectator) for being a refuge for creators who have been banned from YouTube.
  11. Shoelace - In interest of full disclosure, this is a social media company that is owned by Google. However, it does provide competition for Zuckerberg, proving once again that he is not the only game in town. Since Facebook has long been used in organizing and planning events, this app is used to create and help people plan real-life activities, since for many this is the most important role Facebook serves.

There are more where these came from, ready to take on the bigger websites and networks. Of course, it makes sense that the future would bring more platforms tailored to different goals. We have already seen this in the way the marketplace looks already. Twitter is for voicing your (often snarky) opinion, Snapchat is for taking “momentary” pictures, and Facebook is a large scrapbook. They each serve their purposes, but in a niche-filled world, why not more? Pinterest serves as an example. Those who use the app curate visual content they want to come back to. The entire purpose is to give the user the best experience possible, with the ability to organize pictures and graphics in a clear way.

While social media is about connection with others, it is also about connection only with certain others. Social media has fostered eclectic communities where people who are interested in cars, self-made art, movies, and other hobbies can increasingly splinter off to form new communities on whole social networks tailored specifically to their interest. A social media platform designed around movies could allow users to splice clips and comment, with utility features designed for that particular interest.

Regulation of big media is problematic on multiple fronts. It is now threatening a closer union of big business and government; and if you think big government is awful, big government and big business together is only worse. Except for Reddit, all of these websites are fledgling services and are barely getting off of the ground right now. A heavy dose of regulation would swamp their progress, preventing them from being able to challenge the current deities of Silicon Valley.

While we may gripe about the dominant social media players of the moment, there are other companies out there. Businesses rarely last forever, and even Facebook could become another Blockbuster or MySpace. Better that we maintain a competitive market in which all participants can put their best bits forward.