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Today is Data Privacy Day and it’s got me thinking about viable alternatives to Facebook that don’t monetize your attention, sell your data, feed into your worst mental habits and instincts, and generate society-altering echo chambers. This query is highly personal for me so I’ll provide some context.

For the past 8 months I’ve been on a privacy binge. I deactivated my Verizon account and iPhone and bought a flip phone with cash, buying a minutes card to refill it every couple of months. I also got rid of Facebook. I’ve realized recently that the self-imposed isolation was not doing my mental health any favors. I was turning into the classic cantankerous old man, the “get off my lawn, you damn kids” kind. I’m 26. In fact I now identify with this cantankerous old man trope so deeply that I feel that I actually understand and empathize with those people - they are lonely and desperate for human contact, but either can’t admit it or can’t easily find it. In any case, I decided that I need to stop being a hermit and socialize again. I’m waiting on the Purism phone dev board to ship later this year. However I’m ambivalent about returning to Facebook. I feel like I’ll be trading hermit-ism for mindless scrolling and FOMO and being a cash cow cog in the Facebook machine.

So I started looking for privacy-oriented alternatives. The only one I found so far is Minds. It seems oddly Twitter-ish, has weird monetization and boost incentives, and is planning a token sale, the last of which is a red flag to me.

So from a personal standpoint, I’m wondering if anyone has experienced anything similar.

From a technological standpoint, I’m wondering if anyone has used Minds and/or has found another/better privacy-oriented social media platform. Another way to put that is “Are there ways to stay in touch with friends and plan get-togethers and hear about things your friends are planning without selling your soul to the devil?”


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    I think the Fediverse (GNU Social / Mastadon) is the decentralized social network with the closest to critical mass so far. You can either join a node run by someone you trust, or run your own. If by privacy you mean you don’t want the server operator collecting usage profiles on you and so on, that might be a good fit. Messages are still usually public though.

    If you want messages private and not easily scrapeable on the public internet, the Fediverse isn’t quite as good of a fit, although there are ways to do it with GNU Social at least, by setting up private groups on a single node. But that’s not as widely used, and you’d have to get your social group all on a GNU Social node. Another approach might be to make an ad-hoc Signal group (you can add multiple people to a group-messaging session). Messages there are end-to-end encrypted and it’s relatively easy to get people on Signal (many people I know are already on it), but messages do go via a centralized server infrastructure, so Signal can collect metadata even if not the message contents (I think I probably trust them more than I trust Facebook/Twitter, but still).

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      I used Mastodon a few months back. I found its feature set closer to Twitter than Facebook; to me it’s a good platform for seeing news, cool tech trends, or following people I respect in the tech world. Not so much for staying in contact with real-world friends, organizing outings, etc.

      I also find the “join a node run by someone you trust” to be a barrier to joining. My non-tech friends probably will as well.

      I really don’t mind the server being centralized. As long as (1) the company has a clear mission statement and has not given reason to doubt that mission, and (2) has a zero-knowledge infrastructure (I think metadata is ok), I am happy to use it.

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        One option with Mastodon is to just run your own private instance for friends. It’s pretty easy to setup, and will run fine on a $5 a month Linode instance.

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          Maybe give Diaspora a try; same basic ideas, but I believe is closer to facebook than twitter.

          Edit: I think the idea of not minding a centralized solution and only using a company you can trust are sort of opposed. If your solution is centralized and you lose trust in the company, you’re stuck with abandoning the network or your principles. If you’re using a federated network then you can still use the network without supporting that specific company (node/instance). And I’m not sure what’s so hard about trusting an individual/small group of people instead of a company.

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            Agreed on the last part. Companies are composed of constantly changing and potentially large groups of people all hidden behind a shallow corporate identity.

            Trusting individuals makes a lot more sense to me.

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        Yes, Patchwork, built on top of Secure Scuttlebutt (SSB), is the best I’ve seen so far.

        Mastodon / GNU Social are so-so in terms of privacy, not very good, but better than Twitter.

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          Patchwork still has to solve the problem of multi-device accounts and it would be nice to have it work inside the browser instead of requiring electron, but it’s definitely the coolest social network around.

          The multi-device stuff is being worked on and browser support might be coming soon, thanks to incoming firefox 59 ssb support in web extensions.

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            There are other SSB clients that don’t require Electron, but none of them are really as polished as Patchwork is. Check out Minbay and Patchbay, among others.

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          The big question here seems to be: how will it make money if not by making you a product like Facebook does it? Ads?

          It seems to me that a (primarily?) self-hosted, decentralized solution is the only sensible way out, and it comes with the obvious downsides: a/ people don’t like things that can’t be easily regulated, b/ it’s hard to gain a market share with this unless your social group is a bunch of nerds.

          Maybe actually hanging out with your friends in real life and sharing information the old-school way, or simply engaging more in direct messaging, for which there are privacy-focused platforms, is the best choice you have. In the end, people tend to share very superficious things on Facebook and fish for attention (been there) instead of engaging you directly in a meaningful way.

          What is it that you’re really missing?

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              Not everything can afford to lose money.

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                It costs so little to run a small instance that a few small donations often end up funding the whole operation. You can literally run pleroma on a raspberry pi which is a federated solution not decentralized but also a lot LESS centralized than say one website that one person hosts.

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                  Heck, my brother runs his own website (a fork, if that’s the right word to use, of lobste.rs) off of a computer he has hooked up in his closet. It’s not particularly cost-prohibitive to run a website unless it’s absolutely massive.

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                    If it’s public, please add it to the list of sister sites: https://github.com/lobsters/lobsters/wiki

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                I don’t think it needs to make money at all, hence the Wikipedia proposal. But it needs to keep the lights on.

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                What I’m really missing is the ability to easily organize somewhat distributed groups of friends and stay updated on their lives. By organize I mean take a group of friends where 2 or 3 live in NJ and 3 or 4 live around NYC, get some kind of a group chat going, and land on a time/place to meet.

                I’ve been doing the old school thing for these past 8 months, and what I’ve discovered is that

                1. email is a pretty good platform for carrying out long-format discussions
                2. my flipphone has terrible audio quality and weak signal to the point where it hampers conversations
                3. the inability to quickly shoot off a text message on the flip phone is more debilitating than originally imagined
                4. If I’m going back to NY and want to hang out with people, I just ask one of my friends there to use his FB or phone to organize a time and place to catch up, shifting the burden and the price of being on FB onto him

                Answering your question helped me realize that something like a simple, standalone alternative to FB messenger and FB events might do the trick. The two biggest barriers I see are:

                1. Network effects, obviously
                2. How to pay for this

                In regards to 2 - is it possible the Wikipedia model would work? Essentially, donations? That would allow the platform to potentially be open source which would strengthen any claims it make towards privacy.

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                  it’s always felt like the obvious solution to make money is to charge money for a subscription.

                  But app.net tried this and failed pretty hard. Wonder if it’s ever possible. I would totally pay money to get ad-free Facebook/Twitter, but that would go against their overall business models.

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                  Have you looked into ZeroNet?

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                    I have, but it requires a Bitcoin wallet and downloading a binary. Whatever I end up using needs to be simple and accessible enough for me to convince at least some of my friends to use.

                    It needs to be the kind of thing where privacy is inside the Trojan Horse. The experience is great, and if you happen to care about it, it also has privacy. It can’t be the kind of thing where the user has to jump through hoops.

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                      ZeroNet doesn’t require a bitcoin wallet. In fact it doesn’t use bitcoin at all. I don’t know why this became a thing. Maybe because ZeroNet site addresses are valid bitcoin addresses, and you can import the private key for a site into bitcoin if you want, then people can send coins to your site address and you can receive them. I don’t know of anyone who actually does this though.

                      You don’t need to download a binary. It’s written in Python and open source. Clone the repository and run if you want. If you have non-tech friends there are “bundles” which contain everything needed to run and stay updated.

                      I wrote about using their decentralized microblogging system on a post about ZeroMe if you want to look at it further.

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                        In fact it doesn’t use bitcoin at all.

                        Huh, that’s new to me. I had assumed it was more deeply tied in because the front page mentions bitcoin prominently, and even uses the phrase “your bitcoin wallet” (which seems to imply I have one). Although on closer reading, to be fair, it just says that it uses “the same cryptography as” my bitcoin wallet, not the actual wallet. There’s also another blurb saying “Decentralized domains using Namecoin cryptocurrency”, which added to my impression that I probably needed to be deep into the cryptocurrency scene to use this.

                        I’ll give it another look!

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                    We’re not there yet, but we’re working on something along those lines - a decentralised social network where you are in control of your data - Peergos. Privacy and security are our primary goals.

                    • We try to hide the metadata including the social graph, as well as your actual data.
                    • Multi-device log in
                    • You can log in to any server you trust (not just the one you signed up with) including running it locally yourself
                    • Social layer is currently limited to following and sharing files, but we eventually want to add more of a social feed + messaging

                    You can read more in our (WIP - no diagrams yet) docbook: https://peergos.github.io/book

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                      couldn’t you just do social activities in real life instead of using social media?

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                        I have a lot of interaction via social media (broadly defined, includes real-time chat) with people in other parts of the globe. Meeting them “IRL” is prohibitive in time and cost, yet we all derive value from the interaction online.

                        The same goes for people who I have met IRL and who are still in close physical proximity. Time constraints (read: kids) often makes meeting in real life hard to schedule. When we do plan to meet, social media takes out of the friction of planning and execution.

                        In fact, the main value FB brings to me is as as meeting and event organizing tool.

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                          I think this does not answer @dmonay’s original question and sounds a bit accusatory in the sense assuming that the author lacks real life social activities. Nonetheless, I think that social media is a big waste of time and a quick chat from person to person is worth more than thousand text messages. I also don’t like the trend that more and more people—at least in my social circle—try to communicate solely through instant messengers instead of giving a quick call. (Better to stop here before it goes even more offtopic.)

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                            Privacy focused social media just seemed like a huge oxymoron to me.

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                              Sort-of. If I share something privately at a small gathering and the details get out, I know it’s because somebody there talked. I can reason about that; I can ask my friends which of them did it. I can’t assume that about facebook etc.

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                                Let me reframe this in a way that will seem more obvious to you.

                                “Privacy focused communication just seemed like a huge oxymoron to me.”

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                                  Never write a letter or destroy one if you care about secrets.

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                                If you want privacy and dislike social media you can stop using it. Lobste.rs included. There is no irony because I am not suggesting staying on lobste.rs either.

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                                  The fact that you are here implies you like social media. Nobody in here is talking about not liking social media, so who is your audience here?

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                                    The whole original post is someone grappling with wanting social interaction but hating being a cog in the online advertising machine. I’m just saying it might well be possible to opt out without being a hermit by trying other things (religion, sport, social clubs). To be honest, I often wonder if i do like social media or not, it clearly is addictive, and by some metrics it does not pay for itself.

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