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In my previous post, I talked about how despite their myriad issues – with digital rights in particular and human rights in general – Facebook is not going to change.
But what other alternatives are there? Twitter has been relatively more responsive to demands for Big Tech to take a stand against disinformation and even against glorifying violence. But ultimately, Twitter – and other corporate social media platforms – have many of the same problems Facebook does.
Enter the Fediverse:
“The Fediverse (a portmanteau of “federation” and “universe”) is the ensemble of federated (i.e. interconnected) servers that are used for web publishing (i.e. social networking, microblogging, blogging, or websites)…”
In this post, I’ll talk about four reasons Fediverse platforms are better than Facebook, how they address corporate social media’s problematic parts, and why we encourage everyone – especially those fed up with Facebook – to seriously consider making the switch. For the purposes of this post, we’ll focus on Mastodon — the most popular Fediverse platform. But whatever platform you choose to enter the Fediverse, they are all not very different from each other.
Reason 1: Fediverse platforms are interconnected.
“The Fediverse is the ensemble of federated servers that are used for web publishing.”
To understand the concept of federation, the best analogy I’ve encountered is email. Whether you have a Big Tech email account – Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo Mail, Apple Mail, for example – a work email account, a self-hosted email account, or any other, you can send an email to any person regardless of what kind of account they have, even if they’re not on the same platform.
This is not the case with popular social media accounts. You can’t like a Tweet through your Facebook account. You can’t comment on a YouTube video using your Instagram account. You can’t follow TikTok accounts using your Pinterest or LinkedIn accounts. And so on and so forth.
Federation means Fediverse platforms can interact in these ways. If you create a Mastodon account (a Fediverse Twitter alternative), you can like a post on Friendica (a Fediverse Facebook alternative). With that same Mastodon account, you can follow accounts on and watch videos on PeerTube (YouTube alternative) and follow accounts on and view photos on Pixelfed (Instagram alternative).
Reason 2: Fediverse platforms are more transparent.
Facebook can promise to improve but, ultimately, we will never be able to confirm whether these changes are reflected as the software is not open source. The problem with closed source software is that developers cannot check details such as what proprietary algorithms actually do and what information is collected (and what’s ultimately done with it).
As free and open-source software(FOSS), Fediverse platforms such as Mastodon have source code that can be inspected and scrutinised. This allows people to more clearly understand what happens under the hood without the need to resort to reverse engineering.
Reason 3: Fediverse platforms are (more) free.
“Ask yourself who is paying for Facebook. Usually, the people who are paying are the customers. Advertisers are the ones who are paying. If you don’t know who the customer of the product you are using is, you don’t know what the product is for. We are not the customers of Facebook, we are the product. Facebook is selling us to advertisers.”
Because Fediverse platforms are not built for advertising, they don’t need to use manipulative algorithms made to maximise your time on the platform even at the expense of promoting content that disinforms, polarises, or extremises. They don’t have to resort to targeted advertising – the foundation of the attention economy and surveillance capitalism.
Reason 4: Fediverse platforms are decentralised.
As I’ve argued in my previous post, one of the main issues with Facebook is that the power to change it is concentrated in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg and a few influential people.
Don’t like the Mastodon server you’re on? You have many other options because Fediverse platforms are decentralised (but still interconnected). Try a different instance that may have a more like-minded community or responsive moderators vs hit-or-miss AI moderation from corporate platforms. If you don’t like any of the available instances, you can start one yourself. You can even create a separate development fork, adding features you like or removing features you don’t (although this possibility introduces its own problems). And if you don’t like Mastodon at all, you can still interact with all your Fediverse contacts by just creating an account on any of the various Fediverse options available.
Unlike Mark Zuckerberg (and other Big Tech executives), the developers behind Fediverse are more accessible. They’re usually active on their platforms and they (usually) listen to their community of users and contributors. The bottom line is that the power to influence Fediverse is not monopolised by one man (or group of men, as is usually the case).
Because it’s more transparent, interconnected, free, and decentralised, it’s also more democratic. And these values are quite needed, especially with the impact corporate social media has been making (and continues to make) on democracy.
While I’ve outlined four main arguments for switching to Fediverse, it bears repeating that at the moment, not everyone has the capability to do so. But for those who have the option, know that even if the change seems daunting – after all, Facebook has made it very difficult for users to quit – many others have already done it and more are following suit.
If, at the very least, I’ve piqued your interest, here are steps you can take to learn more about Fediverse and start creating your accounts.
About the Author
Red Tani is EngageMedia’s advocacy and communications director. He helps advocates tell meaningful stories that create impact using the power of video, online tools, & other technology that is free, secure, and ethical.