Monday, January 2, 2023

How alternative apps try to address issues with social media

Fediverse and crypto technologies have been utilized by startups to create social media apps that are healthier, safer, and more democratic. But are they capable of competing with the major tech giants?

Written by Monir Ghaedi, quitting or cutting back on your use of social media might be a good New Year's resolution. Many people who have done it, either permanently or temporarily, report increased productivity, concentration, and happiness, according to studies.

However, the so-called digital detox is not so simple. Many of us use social media because it is easy to stay in touch with friends and family, read news, and participate in online debates. The issue lies in the fact that the algorithms of all of the major platforms, which are intended to increase the amount of time users spend using their apps, frequently force us into a vortex of advertisements and entertaining videos.

Elselien Kuepers, a Dutch doctor who is 33 years old, had to switch to a less well-known, non-commercial app. She told DW that it gives her a more relaxed and authentic experience.

Kuepers uses the app BeReal, which lets people post a picture of their day every day. Users are given two minutes to take a picture of themselves and post it after it sends out daily notifications at random times. She stated, "Two minutes is not enough time to stage a photo that looks fake." Since the app doesn't even let you use filters, what you post shows exactly what you're doing right now."

Pictures of people eating, walking, or playing board games can be seen on her timeline. There are pictures that are crooked, and there are pictures of people whose faces are only half in the picture. I find it considerably more energizing than Instagram, which is loaded up with altered and fussbudget pictures," she said.

BeReal became the 10th most downloaded social media platform in the summer of 2022, demonstrating the widespread desire for a different and less problematic social media experience. In response, a slew of new businesses have sprung up in recent years, varying in their degree of success or ability to compete with established tech giants.

Innovative solutions to common big tech problems The controversy that surrounds most traditional platforms like Tiktok, Facebook, and YouTube stems from the way their business models or algorithms work.

Social media companies sell the fragmented time an average user spends on an app to advertisers. Platforms occasionally sell user data to third parties and analyze it for app optimization.

The most well-known issues with social media are primarily caused by this business model: issues with data privacy, the spread of false information, and the creation of echo chambers in which users are primarily exposed to ideas and users who chime in with their own views are all contributing factors to the deteriorating impact on mental health and its addictive potential. The connections to Big Tech functional models are highlighted in a December 2022 research paper by Ulm University professor of molecular psychology Christian Montag and his colleagues.

According to what he told DW, "I think that these problems will not be solved as long as users pay for the usage allowance of a social media service with their own data," he said.

How new apps try to fix common problems with social media Other social media projects try to avoid this problem by designing decentralized network structures where users or user communities control the flow of content across the platform rather than algorithms.

One of these is Mastodon, which uses a federation of interconnected servers instead of a single main server to host the accounts and the content they publish, each with its own set of rules and protocols.

Fediverse is a structure that lets users from one server communicate with users and groups from other servers. Communities on Mastodon have more freedom to set their own rules than communities on Twitter do. Be that as it may, their substance is presented to the public through their clients, who are generally individuals from numerous networks, keeping them from transforming into shut circles like the current protected, closed off environments.

Mastodon, like a lot of other apps with similar structures, tries to let users vote on which posts should be deleted. Some apps let juries of randomly selected users make the call.

Mastodon, one of the apps that users started signing up for after leaving Twitter, made headlines after Elon Musk took over Twitter.

Steem and Mind, two other alternative apps, have incorporated blockchain technology into their monetization strategies. Users can use crypto tokens to reward or commission posts. Because they can be tracked, these tokens are frequently more transparent than regular transactions. This indicates that all transactions take place within the platform, and it is clear who sponsors a post and how.

The viability of apps based on the Fediverse has been questioned by some experts. It may be challenging to moderate content and deal with harmful or inappropriate posts due to these platforms' decentralized nature. Users may find the Fediverse to be less welcoming and secure as a result of the lack of a supervisory body.

However, Montag is optimistic regarding these experiments' prospects: I feel that Fediverse could be the future," he said while highlighting the way that contending with the ongoing significant stages will not be simple.

New applications have complex frameworks with convenience issues, while the ongoing goliaths have been molded by long stretches of testing and deal a more helpful and vivid experience to clients, Montag added.

Treating social media as a public good At a time when startups are looking for better alternatives, some organizations and groups are trying to hold the big tech companies accountable. One of them is the Center for Human Technology (CHT), which has been pushing for tighter regulations to control social media companies, change their business models, and get rid of their harmful functions.

According to Montag, market innovations are just as important as regulation of social media giants and mitigation of the harm they cause. New start-ups may be able to compete with established firms if regulation is implemented, in addition to mitigating the harm done by large tech companies. He stated that we require protocols that enable users to communicate across platforms, similar to how two people converse over the phone with different service providers.

Scientists are debating whether social media should be considered a public good or not. In such a situation, we would need to envision paying a membership expense for decentralized stages that regard our security."

Splitting virtual entertainment away from a plan of action that depends on clients' information and time, is the main way we could think of "better" online entertainment, he stressed.

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