Over the past fifteen years, I have built a large network of friends and family on Facebook. I have shared memories with them, both good and bad, and Facebook gave me the opportunity to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in decades. A few years ago, I joined Twitter too and found it to be another useful tool to connect with people, albeit mostly strangers with overlapping interests. For a long time, I have also maintained a professional network on LinkedIn, and more recently, to promote my upcoming memoir, I created a second Twitter account and dabbled on Instagram. These social media sites have become part of my daily communication routine.
Recently, though, I am finding that social media tools aren’t working for me. Heated political debates, misinformation, and triggering images have infiltrated my daily feeds. In response, I unfollowed or blocked people (including family members) that I didn’t agree with. It seemed to work for some time. Then the ads and sponsored posts flooded my feed. I didn’t have control over what I was seeing. I found myself being spoon fed the most mind-numbing garbage I had ever seen–bakers perfecting their cookie-icing game, hair stylists perfecting their balayage game, bodybuilders perfecting their weightlifting game. None of it appealed to me. Yet I held on because there were a few individuals I interacted closely with whose posts and comments brightened my day.
A few weeks ago, I walked away from Twitter. Under the mismanagement of Elon Musk, I found myself at odds with the company’s new policies and practices and the owner’s personal agenda. I wanted no part of it. Mastodon offered a breath of fresh air. I created an account and started from square one, with virtually no contacts in common with my account on Twitter. Nonetheless, I was free.
Yesterday, I made the decision to leave Facebook. I opened an account on MeWe and took with me a few people who mean the most to me. I may never reach the number of followers that I had on Facebook or on Twitter, but at the end of the day, I decided the quality of interactions was more important than the quantity.
In this post, I will share the thought process that drove my migration from Twitter and Facebook to Mastodon and MeWe. It is my hope that readers will feel less hopeless about sticking with social media giants and more empowered to explore other options out there.
I will focus on a few key aspects of the sites, including:
- Who owns the site, what is their philosophy, and what is their business model?
- How long has the site been in operation?
- What is the user’s experience?
- What is the site’s policy on censorship?
I will focus on Mastodon and MeWe, but keep in mind there are a lot of great social media sites that are comparable. When making the switch, it is important to focus on your personal preferences and to envision what your experience will look like in the long term. You should also think about the data you contribute and how it will be preserved and protected. Putting in the effort now to research comparable sites will save you time and effort down the road.
Mastodon, an Alternative to Twitter
Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter prompted an exodus of people from the social media platform. These Twitter “refugees” can be found on a few alternative sites, including Post and Mastodon.
Mastodon was created by Eugen Rochko and released in 2016 as an open source code, meaning that the code is freely available for download and to be modified. Mastodon mimics a lot of the functionality of Twitter. Unlike Twitter, it uses a federated network of servers operated and maintained at minimal cost by volunteers. The design may seem complicated, but it shouldn’t serve as a barrier to the Mastodon’s use. There are plenty of third-party apps that give users a seamless experience. Because the network is staffed by volunteers, there is no need for advertisements. And because there is no company behind Mastodon, there is no algorithm controlling what you see and don’t see. The user sees all the posts from all the pages they follow in the order they come in. On Mastodon, the user has full control. As someone who does coding, the open source, federated design is very appealing to me.
The Mastodon experience depends on the server you affiliate with as well as the app you use. There are lots of different servers, and this part creates some confusion. It’s important to keep in mind that the server you select is not set in stone; rather, you can change servers at any time and keep all your data and followers. Thus, a server is merely a client you use to access the network (you can think of it like a cell phone provider). Servers vary in some important aspects:
- Content moderation rules vary from server to server, and it is important to choose a server that matches your beliefs on filtering content. Hate speech is not allowed anywhere on Mastodon, but adult content may show up unless you filter out that content, for example.
- The posts you see depend on the servers that your server subscribes to. For example, the server I belong to (home.social) filters out posts from servers that notoriously promote hate groups and bots. Similarly, your posts only reach your server and the servers that subscribe to your server. This is a main drawback to Mastodon.
- You may want to put some thought into the size of the server you choose (the largest may experience some lagginess), the amount of time the server has been around, and the philosophy of the individual(s) who operate and maintain the server.
Some things that I really like about Mastodon include: you can follow hashtags, there are no ads, and you have access to a variety of third-party apps so it’s easy to find one you like (I personally like Toot! on the iPhone).
MeWe, an Alternative to Facebook
For a while, individuals have been frustrated with various aspects of Facebook, whether it’s their lax handling of private information, their censorship policies, or their excessive ads and sponsored posts. In my research, I found MeWe offered most of the features I liked about Facebook without all the noise.
MeWe is owned by a company called Sgrouples and markets itself as the “anti-Facebook” because of its stringent privacy policies. Launched in 2012, MeWe gives the feel of Facebook without any ads or sponsored posts. Sgrouples makes its profit through premium features that users can purchase or subscribe to. These premium features are available but don’t seem to be pushed by the app in any way. There is no algorithm to filter the content you see in your feed; you see everything in the order it comes in.
The feel is very similar to Facebook. You can limit your posts to be viewed only by your contacts, or you can choose to share content publicly. You can post text, photos, and videos, and your contacts can comment and react. The MeWe app is fairly seamless too. On my iPhone, I can upload photos easily, and I receive notifications anytime one of my contacts reacts. I haven’t explored the Communities, which are like Groups on Facebook, and I also haven’t looked to see if MeWe has an alternative to Facebook’s Pages. To be honest, I’m not particularly interested in these capabilities.
On the topic of censorship, it is worth mentioning that MeWe leans towards not moderating content. This aspect made the site appealing to some far-right groups seeking an alternative to Facebook. The owner of Sgrouples has made it clear that MeWe is not necessarily a right-leaning platform and that the site caters to left-leaning groups as well.
The things that I like about MeWe include: you can react with a variety of emojis to a post, the privacy settings are reassuring, there are no ads, the design is very intuitive.
Some Additional Thoughts
There are certainly alternatives to the social media giants, but the one thing these competing sites don’t have is the massive audience. If gaining a large number of followers is your objective, Mastodon and MeWe likely won’t compare. I found some of my Twitter community on Mastodon, but my following is an order of magnitude smaller than what I had on Twitter. Maybe with time, it will grow. And if not, I honestly don’t care. In regards to my migration from Facebook, I was able to convince my closest family to move to MeWe; it’s not nearly as busy as Facebook, but I’m happy with it. In my opinion, social media is not about the quantity of interactions but rather the quality.
It is quite scary to walk away from a community on social media, but sometimes it is the best thing you can do. I have not closed my accounts on Twitter or Facebook, but I am phasing them out. The best part about it is that it feels like the right move for me. The forced content and negativity were bad for my mental health. When I log in to Mastodon or MeWe, I become optimistic about the future, and that is a great feeling. I will put the time I save “doom scrolling” into things that matter, like reading books, writing, and playing with my kids.