Let’s talk about Social Media. Currently, most people primarily use a big corporate “portal” for that. These portals, like Twitter, Facebook, or even Gab and MeWe, are run by companies. They are also centralized. You, the client, run on the company’s server. Every client does. Now, most of these companies have been around for a long time. Their reputations vary. Facebook is somewhat infamous for being creepy. Twitter… not much better. This is, shall we say, suboptimal. The solution for some folks has been to use the products of alternate companies. The problem with much of these alt-media platforms has been that they are still companies. They are trying to manage communities as companies. Many of the same problems apply – and the larger those communities get, the larger the companies get. This is inevitable, really.
Enter Federation. Not like Star Trek – think Federalism from the political realm – except it’s more like confederation, really – anti-federalist style. Under this model of connectivity, there are a host of smaller servers, all independent, that use the same protocol. The world wide web, email, and other similar protocols (like IRC, our specialty) use a similar model. Under this model, servers may be whatever size they wish – but each server can have its own rules, its own community, its own moderators, its own managers, and identities. Each server “federates” with servers that their users follow people on – and are in turn followed on – and that propagation cascades those connections further. It is mostly user-driven, although admins can help that process along. There are all sorts of servers out there.
For federated social media to work, there needs to be a wide variety of users. Currently, many of the most well-trafficked servers cater to users that probably won’t appeal to us. That’s okay. This is true about the majority of corporate social media as well! What should we do?
For social media to be social again, we need to form up as communities – local first, global second. Taking an extant group (largely) intact to a new platform opens up a lot of possibilities for just that. Yes, Twitter is easier. Yes, Facebook is convenient. Are they better? No.
What community driven, federated social media allows for are distributed nodes of communities, who can act like communities – but with the ability to be in community with other communities! Our IRC server has one of the most unique IRC channels out there – #prosapologian. I can look at my Twitter or Facebook feeds and see dozens, if not hundreds, of people who were influenced by that channel over the years. Other communities have influenced those people, too. If we want better social media, we have to use better social media at a community level.
What RefChat does with chat, we’re expanding to do on social media, too. On our chat server(s), we bridge IRC and Discord with Matrix – a FOSS platform that was designed to make interoperability possible for a number of chat clients. For this new project, we’re using Pleroma. Pleroma, like Mastodon, uses the ActivityPub protocol to facilitate interoperability with other FOSS platforms – fediverse.party Corporate walled gardens are not a good idea. Look at what was done to Parler recently. It got crushed by competing walled gardens – fellow corporations Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon.
The fediverse is not corporate, and not a walled garden. Gab’s experiment with the fediverse failed, imho, because they were a corporate entity blundering into a network of non-corporate entities. (Yes, Gab, Parler and MeWe are corporations, just like Twitter and Facebook.) Gab no longer federates, and no longer can receive federated messages – initially, their foray into Mastodon was met with instance blocking, yes – but it was Gab’s decision to stop federating with other fediverse servers themselves.
While it is possible to crush individual nodes of the fediverse, it’s just as possible to re-open them somewhere else in a very short amount of time. It is a distributed network – just like the internet is. Fediverse server operators don’t profit off their servers. We don’t need or want to. We don’t have advertisers, we don’t want or have any use for your data; we are doing this because we like to – and for no other reason. Aren’t those the people you want running the service you use? People you know, and have been running your communities (in our case, literally for decades!) as friends and neighbors?
That is why federated social media is better social media. It works like real communities do, because they are made up of real communities, and served by people with faces you know, and live next door to, so to speak. You won’t get “thought leaders”, or corporate “sponsored ads”. The way it is constructed makes dogpiling and/or ratios a moot point. Do you want better social media? This is how you get better social media. I will caution you -there is a learning curve. The tech is not quite as polished (although it has a number of features that the larger services don’t or won’t have – there’s a tradeoff). There is a dearth of Christian voices in the fediverse at the moment. Do you want to change that? Participate in and propagate interconnected small communities.
These corporate platforms are not going to change – and I can promise you that they won’t improve. There is no reason to expect that yet another corporate platform is going to rectify the issues inherent in corporate platforms. We should know better than that. These federated networks have been around for a while – but we don’t have a significant presence on them as yet. Do you want a worthwhile community? Help build one. Stop contributing to the social dumpster fire and the building of large scale corporate surveillance culture. Think small, think connected – think communities.