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What are our Alternatives to the Mainstream Social Media Giants

Ben GrearDec 3, 2016, 8:50:05 AM
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Something to share with your friends on your current social networks.

There's lots of talk of forthcoming censorship from the big Social Networks and quite frankly I think its time we had a paradigm shift, I would rather be subscribed and sharing my information with an encrypted, open source, community vetted system; than a private corporation that is harvesting and selling my information, as well as controlling what i see in my feed.

So if the tide continues to turn towards an agenda of censorship and suppression of free speech. I say we all pack our bags and make the move.

So I've been looking at a few very promising alternatives to the mainstream Social Media Networks.

 

Minds             http://minds.com - Facebook alternative (Mobile App Available)

GAB                https://gab.ai - Twitter Alternative (Android App Available)

Twister           http://twister.net.co  - Twitter alternative

BitChute        https://www.bitchute.com/  -  YouTube alternative

Steemit           https://steemit.com/ - Reddit alternative (Android App Available)

Voat                  https://voat.co/ - Reddit alternative

GNU Social   https://gnu.io/social/  -  Join or Create your own Twitter like Server

RetroShare  http://retroshare.net/ - Create your own Private Social Network

Demonsaw   https://www.demonsaw.com/  - Create your own Private File Sharing and Communications Network (Android App Available)

BitMessage  https://bitmessage.org/ - Very basic Email and Message Board

Tox                     https://tox.chat/ - Skype alternative, voice and messaging (Android App Available)

Ring                  https://ring.cx/  - Skype alternative, voice and messaging (Android App Available)

 

Mobile Only

Signal            https://whispersystems.org/ Skype alternative, voice and messaging

Serval Project http://www.servalproject.org/ Create a mesh network  with local devices 

Guardian Project https://guardianproject.info/apps/ - (Mobile) A Collection  of privacy and encryption apps such as  orbot and orfox (Tor and browser for mobile)

 

Honerable Mentions

Diaspora             https://diasporafoundation.org/ - Early Alternate to Facebook (Similar to GNU Social) One of the first I had heard of to try take on FB.

 

I also want to mention 2 alternate Search Engines

Good Gopher     http://www.goodgopher.com  - "Is the world's first privacy-protected search engine that filters our corporate propaganda and government disinformation." It basically only returns results from independent and non Main Stream Media outlets.

DuckDuckGo    https://duckduckgo.com/  - Alternative to Google.  "It's the search engine that doesn't track you. We protect your search history from everyone – even us!"

 

and 2 Web Browsers

Brave                https://brave.com/   -  Brave is a free and open-source web browser based on Chromium and its Blink engine. It claims to block website trackers and remove intrusive internet advertisements, replacing them with ads sold by their company. The browser also claims to improve online privacy by sharing less data with advertising customers, although the browser itself targets web ads through analysis of users' anonymized browsing history. Brave intends to keep 15% of ad revenue for itself, pay content publishers 55%, ad partners 15% and also give 15% to the browser users, who can in turn donate to bloggers and other providers of web content through micropayments.  More info

CLIQZ    https://cliqz.com/en/  - CLIQZ’s ethos is to always put user experience and user privacy first, The browser includes a built-in quick search and "extra-precise" anti-tracking feature. A key feature of CLIQZ is its integrated search engine. Start typing a search query into the address bar and you’ll instantly see a selection of website suggestions. The suggestions however come from a separate web-index called Human Web which cliqz is continually compiling via a form of behavioural crowdsourcing.

 

 and to round off  the honerable mentions for privacy and anonimty  2 linux Distro's

 Whonix https://www.whonix.org/  - Whonix is a desktop operating system designed for advanced security and privacy. It realistically addresses attacks while maintaining usability. It makes online anonymity possible via fail-safe, automatic, and desktop-wide use of the Tor network. A heavily reconfigured Debian base is run inside multiple virtual machines, providing a substantial layer of protection from malware and IP leaks. Pre-installed, pre-configured applications are ready for use, and installing additional applications or personalizing the desktop will in no way jeopardize the user. Whonix is the only actively developed OS designed to be run inside a VM (so can be run within Windows or Linux) and paired with Tor

Qubes https://www.qubes-os.org/ - is very cool it incorporates the anonimity of whonix, but takes privacy to a whole other level as it is a complete Operating Sytem incorporating VM technology. Qubes takes an approach called security by compartmentalization, which allows you to compartmentalize the various parts of your digital life into securely isolated compartments called qubes. This approach allows you to keep the different things you do on your computer securely separated from each other in isolated qubes so that one qube getting compromised won’t affect the others. For example, you might have one qube for visiting untrusted websites and a different qube for doing online banking. This way, if your untrusted browsing qube gets compromised by a malware-laden website, your online banking activities won’t be at risk. Similarly, if you’re concerned about malicious email attachments, Qubes can make it so that every attachment gets opened in its own single-use disposable qube. In this way, Qubes allows you to do everything on the same physical computer without having to worry about a single successful cyberattack taking down your entire digital life in one fell swoop.  All of these isolated qubes are integrated into a single, usable system. Programs are isolated in their own separate qubes, but all windows are displayed in a single, unified desktop environment

 

So back to those social media platforms. If your a little more technical minded you will appreciate and understand the technolgy below. But don't be discouraged if your not, the concepts are easy to understand. So please read on.

They  are all completely free from censorship, and what you see in your feed is purely based on the other users you subscribe to. The exception being the monetisation parts of some of these services, but any paid/boosted post is clearly identifiable(For instance the boosted posts in Minds, which go through an approval process, I imagine to ensure any truly awefull stuff is not exposed to the entire network. Twister also allows those that mine the blockchain (essentially donating cpu to help run the network) to post in the promoted section which i don't think is censored at all. but is a different tab to your normal in feed. 

 

Minds

Minds can be thought if as an alternative to facebook. Some of the features include:

Security - The Minds social network includes full end-to-end encryption and asymmetrically encrypted chat messaging with private passwords.

Rewards system - Minds rewards content and engagement (swipes, votes, referrals and comments) with points, which users can then spend towards "boosting" posts. Users may also purchase points with PayPal and the Bitcoin cryptocurrency whish is what funds the servers.

Voting and swiping - With Minds, users can vote on content and other users using swipe gestures, similar to the app Tinder.

Whilst the developer did say a distributed network is in place its not in the true sense where users host content, I believe like Facebook the content is hosted on distributed servers.

The founder of minds has a few interviews i found interesting, he is an open source advocate and has some great ideals

https://youtu.be/rjyqXN95aw0

https://youtu.be/GJ64D9KHIQE

 

GAB

Gab.Ai is similar to Twitter with a mix of Reddit.  Gab describes its mission as "to put people and free speech first" by limiting censorship. "We want to empower the user to generate revenue from their content and not just abuse them for their data.” 

The site has the basic functionality to follow other users, and, like Reddit, features an upvote and downvote system on posts that appear in their feed. The most upvoted posts appear in a popular, or trending tab. Posts are limited to 300 characters. 

While there are some limits to freedom of speech on the site — threats of violence, illegal pornography, or the release of personal information without consent — Gab aims to put the onus on users to handle harassment. Through keyword filtering, user muting, and the ability to only see content from verified users (the process involves presenting a valid form of ID), Gab removes itself from the moderator role, which it sees as the problem on social media today. 

 

Twister

Twister  is  an alternative to twitter and you have a 256 character limit, it doies not display images in posts so is all text and hyperlink based

Now its based on a bitcoin fork and torrents, so it is a truly decentralised network as each user hosts a copy of the blockchain, which is the ledger recording encrypting and authenticating all the posts and activity on the network. The torrenting system is what actually transfers the posts between users.

Twister even claims its ddos proof due to no central server or domain to attack and you can remain as anonymous as you wish.

Wikipedia has a great write up if you want more info https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twister_(software)

But The main points being:

Decentralized Net - Twister is a platform of microblogging peer-to-peer. This means that the communication is established between computers without going through a central node that would be the one who recorded the information. There is not a company behind that provides the server or the machinery used, and that can detect in that case the conversations.

Censoreship - No tools exist within the software to censor what is posted, you control what you see via following or unfollwing users. However People who run a node can delete your posts in the DHT, but not block your account.

Completely private - Due to the fact that the messages are sent directly from a user to another, without going through a central node, and also, in an encrypted way, -from beginning to end, it is encrypted on the exit and decrypted on the arrival- they travel in a private way through the web as a black-box. Besides, the IP directions are also protected.

Anonymity - In this application, our IP (the direction of our machine to go into the internet) is not recorded at any moment avoiding being followed by some entity or company. According to the developer, this guarantees the anonymity but does not mean that our IP won’t be detected from the ISP (Internet Service Provider) but that the content of the message won’t be visible except for some spy that knows how to decrypt breaking the algorithms. In order to be 100% anonymous, you would have to use a browser that masks the IP such as Tor or another one similar protecting more against spies.

Both these platforms do not boast to be fully polished, minds is still in beta but has been getting some attention. Twister is still very new, a windows port has only just recently been released. But i really like the idea. I recommend at least securing your handle on Twister. you don't sign up with an email, but rather a one time private key is issued and your username saved forever. if you loose that key your locked out of your account forever, there are no admins that can reset your password.

 

BitChute

BitChute is a YouTube alternative that uses a Peer2Peer Bittorrent technology to stream videos from other users. So there is no central server that content is stored on.  The Developers say "BitChute is a peer to peer video sharing platform. Its mission is to put people and free speech first. It's free to join and create and upload your own videos to share with others. The idea comes from seeing the increased levels of censorship by the large social media platforms in the last couple of years. Bannings, demonetization, and tweaking algorithms to send certain content into obscurity and, wanting to do something about it" 

So being both mostly decentralised and respecting free speech this looks like a very interesting alternative to YouTube.  I hope it gains some traction. find out more here

 

Steemit

Stemmit is similar to Reddit. But it is also based on somthing like bitcoin, The text content is actually saved in the blockchain. Images and other multimedia content must be embedded from other websites. But unlike Twister you do not actively need to participate in the blockchain, that is you do not need to download something on your device, and you are not hosting any of the distributed content. You access Steemit like a normal website. 

Users can also elect to mine STEEM (similar to Bitcoin) which have a market value and can be traded. Interestingly Steemit also reward users, you can earn STEEM by posting articles and the more votes it gets, the more you earn. More info on the STEEM Blockchain can be found here

Members can upvote good content, and the authors who get upvoted can receive a monetary reward in a cryptocurrency named Steem and two other tokens named Steem Dollars and Steem Power. People are also rewarded for curating popular content. Curating involves upvoting submissions and comments

Monetary system:

Steem - This currency is similar to Bitcoin, using Proof of work as a consensus mechanism. However, it does only reward miners with a small part of the rewards created in each block; the rest is paid to authors and curators.

Steem Power - Steem Power is an influence token and roughly represents the percentage of influence a certain user has compared to the rest of the community, measured in Steem. It cannot be traded directly. The more Steem Power a member has, the higher the impact of his votes on other content is. If a person has enough Steem Power, his votes will result in the author of the upvoted content being rewarded in additional Steem Power, and additionally in Steem dollars.

Steem dollars - The Steem dollar is an asset intended to be pegged to the US dollar. Steem dollars can be traded at cryptocurrency exchanges and used for payments of goods and services.There is an exchange integrated in the Steemit website, where Steem can be traded to Steem Dollars. A user owning Steem dollars also can convert Steem Dollars directly into Steem. If a person chooses to convert his Steem dollars to Steem he can do two things with this Steem: Sell or use the Steem as a cryptocurrency, or convert them into Steem Power.

 

Busy.org - While Steemit is the official application for STEEM, the beaty of the blockchain is it is a public ledger so anyone can query the ledger and present information. Busy does just this and is an alternative to Steemit for posting and viewing content in the STEEM Blockchain. You do still require initially creating your account on Steemit which youthen use to log into Busy. 

The developers say "We believe that we can be complementary to the existing projects like Steemit on this Blockchain. We are working on another approach, another strategy. Both are mandatory. In fact, Busy can bring value to the Steem ecosystem, by adding even more decentralization, diluting the power and providing more trust on the Steem blockchain. By not being the main/official app on Steem, it gives the Busy project more flexibility. Busy will work in close collaboration with Steemit team and have the support of Steemit inc. to bring more value to the Steem Blockchain making it more reliable, trustable, decentralized." Some good info on what Busy is can be found here.

 

Steemed.com  - Like Busy this is another altenative for querying and viewing information in the blockchain. What is nice about Steemed is it is a blockcahin explorer, so you can really drilll down and examine specific information on the blockchain.

This post lists a number of applicaitons that interact and query the STEEM Blockchain.

 

Voat

Voat Is a news aggregator and social networking, aesthetically and functionally similar to Reddit. and has been around since 2014. The website is a collection of entries submitted by its registered users to themed categories called subverses, in what is essentially a bulletin board system. Registered community members submit content such as text posts and direct links. Registered users can then vote for these submissions.

Voat claims not to censor and is about privacy and free speech, even if it’s speech you don’t like. "To put it simply, we are user and privacy focused, and will go to great lengths to ensure there's transparency around these type of decisions."

 

RetroShare

RetroShare is a great piece of software it is a decentralised, encrypted, Friend 2 Friend network, that packs a lot of features. Filesharing, serverless email, instant messaging, online chat, and BBS. Based on a friend-to-friend network built on GNU Privacy Guard (GPG). It is not strictly a darknet since optionally, peers may communicate certificates and IP addresses from and to their friends, but you can help mask this using Tor or I2P and by the fine grain control you have over your Node and your Identities you use within RetroShare.

File sharing - File transfer is carried on using a multi-hop swarming system (inspired by the "Turtle Hopping" feature from the Turtle F2F project, but implemented differently). In essence, data is only exchanged between friends, although it is possible that the ultimate source and destination of a given transfer are multiple friends apart. A search function performing anonymous multi-hop search is another source of finding files in the network. Files are represented by their SHA-1 hash value, and HTTP-compliant file and links may be used to link to and identify files on the RetroShare Network.

Communication - The services that RetroShare offers for communication are :

  • private chat
  • private mailing system allow secure communication between known friends and distant friends
  • public and private multi-user chat lobbies
  • Forum system allowing both anonymous and authenticated forums which distributes posts from friends to friends
  •  Channel system offers the possibility to auto-download files posted in a given channel to every subscribed peer, similar to RSS feeds
  •  Posted links system, where links to important information can be shared
  •  VoIP calls
  •  Video calls     
  • Tor and I2P networks support, for further anonymisation

Unlike most of the others on this list, there is no central server or even distributed list of users. You need to exchange keys with friends and build a network of friends, So in this sense you are creating your own mini encrypted darknet.

If you are new to RetroShare and want to meet other RetroShare users, There is a chat server that simply lets you connect to an already established network of peers, so you can chat and axchange keys with others https://retroshare.rocks/

 

Demonsaw

Demonsaw is very similar to RetroShare in that it allows you to create your own private darknet to communicate and share files. However, unlike RetroShare there is no P2P protocol, clients connect direct with the server and not with each other so your IP address is never disclosed to peers. You can think of the server more like a router, as no information is stored on the router, it merely acts as a conduit to connect peers. All communication and file sharing going through the router is encrypted so even those hosting the router are not able to see the content being shared. Private groups can be created allowing for even extra layers of encryption and privacy.

Features include:

  • A secure and anonymous information sharing application that makes security simple and gives you back control of your data.
  • Chat, message, and share files without fear or consequence.
  • Host your own private routers or join public networks.
  • Fed up with diminishing privacy rights? Demonsaw is 100% CISA-proof.
  • Demonsaw uses multiple layers of asymmetric and symmetric encryption. All keys are created at runtime and never shared.
  • Social Crypto makes security easy by leveraging shared knowledge (websites and files) to derive strong encryption keys.
  • No logins, no passwords, and no registrations.
  • Demonsaw is a fully decentralized, mesh-based network that doesn't use P2P. Your IP address is safe.
  • Demonsaw looks like normal web traffic. You can use demonsaw anywhere without being blocked or monitored by anyone.
  • Governments, corporations, and ISPs will never know what you're communicating or sharing.
  • Available on a number of platforms, Window, Mac, Linux and Android

 

GNU Social

GNU Social is a Free and open source software microblogging server written in PHP that implements the OStatus standard for interoperation between installations. While offering functionality similar to Twitter, GNU social seeks to provide the potential for open, inter-service and distributed communications between microblogging communities. Enterprises and individuals can install and control their own services and data, at the same time users that are part of one GNU Social network instance can interact with users of another.

Think the Telephone network you subscribe to one Telephone Company and they control what plan your on, what services they offer, and hold your information. But the Telephone Company's networks talk to each other allowing users from different networks to communicate.  

The GNU Social Team call it the Federated Social Web, "No matter which server you're on, you're part of the family!" This is very similar to Diaspora which was one of the early alternatives to first challenge the Social Media status quo and is still running today with an  active user base. 

 

Sealion.club is one of the networks that utalises GNU Social. They say they're are a microblogging alternative interested in preserving Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression. We aren't shy about vocalizing it, either, much like our namesake.

A variaty of GNU Social networks based around different interests and themes can be found at federation.skilledtests.com 

 

BitMessage

Bitmessage is like a basic email and message board, it is a decentralized, encrypted, peer-to-peer, trustless communications protocol that can be used by one person to send encrypted messages to another person, or to multiple subscribers. Bitmessage encrypts each users' message inbox using public-key cryptography and replicates it inside its P2P network, mixing it with inboxes of other users in order to conceal user's identity, prevent eavesdropping and allow the network to operate in a decentralized manner. The Bitmessage communications protocol avoids sender-spoofing through authentication, and hides metadata from wiretapping systems.

In addtion to an inbox or being a simple email system, Bitmessage implements 'chan',  A decentralized anonymous mailing list. Unlike traditional mailing lists used via email:

  • a chan cannot be shut down by taking down any server or a group of servers due to decentralized nature of chans.
  • a chan cannot be effectively censored since any Bitmessage user who knows the chan passphrase can read the chan or post any message into the chan.
  • within a chan, user messages are anonymous to such a degree that messages contain neither the sender's nor the receiver's Bitmessage address.

 

Tox

Tox is an alternative to skype its a peer-to-peer instant messaging and video calling protocol that offers end-to-end encryption. The stated goal of the project was to create a system that would be distributed, peer-to-peer, and end-to-end encrypted, with no way to disable any of the encryption features; at the same time, the application would be easily usable by the layperson with no practical knowledge of cryptography or distributed systems. 

There are ports for most platforms inlcuding Android mobile

 

Ring

GNU Ring is an open-source SIP-compatible softphone and instant messenger for Linux, Microsoft Windows, OS X and Android that can work without a central server. Ring is free software released under the GNU General Public License. Ring is free software for universal communication which respects freedoms and privacy of its users.

Features:

  •    A telephone: a simple tool to connect, communicate and share.
  •    A teleconferencing tool: easily join calls to create conferences with multiple participants.
  •    A media sharing tool: Ring supports a variety of video input options, including mutliple cameras and image and video files, and the selection of audio inputs and outputs; all this is supported by multiple high quality audio and video codecs.
  •    A messenger: send text messeges during calls or out of calls (as long as your peer is connected).
  •    A building block for your IoT project: re-use the universal communications technology of Ring with its portable library on your system of choice.
  •    Open source
  •     Supported by an active community
  •     OpenDHT protocol
  •     Decentralized communication
  •     Peer-to-peer discovery and connection

 

Signal Mobile App

Signal mobile App - End to end encrypted text and voice. Using Signal, you can communicate instantly while avoiding SMS fees, create groups so that you can chat in real time with all your friends at once, and share media or attachments all with complete privacy. The server never has access to any of your communication and never stores any of your data.

 

Serval Mesh

Serval Mesh is an Android app that provides highly secure mesh networking, voice calls, text messaging and file sharing between mobile phones using direct connected Wi-Fi or an Access Point, without the need for a SIM or any other infrastructure like mobile cell towers or Internet access.  Serval Mesh can use the Wi-Fi capabilities built into Android to connect with other devices within range. This does require a near by Access Point, or turning on the portable HotSpot feature of one device. On some device's Serval Mesh can use Ad Hoc mode to communicate directly with other devices within range, No access point needed, allowing communications to be easily relayed over multiple hops forming a true mesh network. To do so requires root permission on the Android device

 

The Guardian Project

The Guardian Project - Other great privacy and encryption apps for messaging and calls as well as tools such orbot and orfox (Tor and browser for mobile)

 

 

 

Favourites

At the moment I feel that Minds  and Gab are gaining quite a bit of traction, are very active and are definitely worth checking out as a viable uncensored alternative to Facebook and Twitter.  If BitChute gains some traction it could become an alternative to YouTube for popular content.

RetroShare and Demonsaw are awesome if you want to share files without hosting them at an untrusted 3rd party, essentially creating your own DarkNet to share and communicate within. 

I really like the idea behind the ones that implement the blockchain technology, like Twister  and the Steem ecosystem as this creates a proper decentralised system and by committing posts to the blockchain, posts cannot be censored or removed.

 

Let me know in the comments of any others you have tried

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