The Best Private and Secure Social Media Alternatives to Facebook

Facebook steals your data, these services do not.
Odin Odin (62)
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Privacy concerns have come to the fore of public consciousness since the Cambridge Analytica scandal highlighted just how few protections a social Media giant like Facebook offered its users in terms of maintaining their privacy. Following the break of that scandal, an increasing number of social media users worldwide, many of whom may not have given the matter much thought before, started questioning how these “big data” interests use the information that users hand over in exchange for the social services provided.

These new privacy-conscious individuals were just the latest in a long line of people from various cultures who had dealt with oppression from their government or outside actors, and who knew the importance of having strict control maintained over their lines of communication. Groups from Amnesty International to the Electronic Frontier Foundation had long been working to explain to the general public why phrases like “but I have nothing to hide” isn’t the right way to respond to government surveillance, but now people were starting to question just what “private information” means to the big social media companies that connect our lives.

Since Cambridge Analytica, a number of privacy-conscious efforts have taken shape, and some that started earlier have gained new ground. The goal of many of these efforts is to provide users with a social media experience that doesn’t track their data or, like with Cambridge Analytica, open up a doorway to user manipulation through the curation of what content they can view at any given time. While a number of these efforts have fallen to the wayside or proved less successful, some have managed to hit the mark and are poised to transform the world of social media forever.

My criteria for picking social media sites are as follows:

  • Accessible: I aimed for sites that I believe an average user could join with only a little learning curve.
  • Anti-bullying/hate-speech: the social media site must have strong protections in place to ensure that minorities are protected and respected and that everyone feels safe.
  • Offers reassurances beyond marketing speech regarding the privacy of users’ data — and clearly outlines how any data collected will be used. It’s not enough that data not be sold, it’s preferable that it isn’t shared at all.
  • Premium services: because paying for a service disincentivises the service from the collection of data for profit. But the cost has to be low enough, and the benefits clear enough, to help users overcome the inherent friction.
  • Real security measures put in place to protect users’ data and privacy, like E2EE encryption. That said, understanding the basics of Internet security really should be considered a basic skill these days, so I encourage everyone to read the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s guide to best online practices.

Why did I not include (insert app here)

I cut a few of the common names out of my list, most notably Diaspora and Frendica. Why? Because they’re difficult to use, learn, and their memberships are extremely small. I really wanted to be excited about both of them but neither offered a user experience I thought would be acceptable to most people and, unlike some of the other platforms on this list which are still growing, both had been around for a long time without much change in usership. That doesn’t mean they’re not still viable or that they might not make a comeback, but right now I can’t really recommend them. The same goes for Okuna (which is rebranding as Somus) — I love the idea but they’ve not even hopped out of a private beta yet, so it remains to be seen if they’ll become popular at all).

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MeWe (Facebook Alternative)
  • Is this a good alternative social media platform?

  • No. Despite apparently good intentions, MeWe has been totally overrun by hate speech and misinformation.

TLDR: MeWe excels at not collecting user data and providing a super privacy-centered experience. Unfortunately, the site is heavily impacted by hate speech and misinformation groups based on anti-science and bullying. It needs to be noted that the creator and a number of people on the advisory team have stated that this is not their intent for the platform and that their goal is just better privacy for everyone, however, the leadership’s unwillingness to remove bad actors has polluted their service for everyone.

Platforms: Desktop, Android, iOS.

MeWe positioned itself as a true alternative to Facebook, one designed to deliver on the promise of anonymity, privacy, data protection, and security. However, as with so many platforms designed to cater to “free speech”, MeWe quickly became mired in problematic extremist ideologies, replete with misinformation, instances of known hate-groups, and very concerning private groups for organizations like the New York Police department where “PC” — for politically correct — speech is actively discouraged.

Their app is solid and polished, so it’s actually quite disappointing that these issues exist. Should people use it only for their own private groups of friends it might prove viable, but as soon as one attempts to access any public area of the site it immediately becomes clear it is mired in an unfortunate mixture of problematic actors. Ironically, in the section related to “bullying” there were a number of hate-speech groups with large memberships.

I reached out to MeWe several times, hoping to hear how they planned to address the problem of hate speech endemic to their platform, but received no response from their team or their founder. I wrote a more detailed brief about MeWe here for those wishing to understand the problems with the app.

Minds (Facebook Replacement)
  • Is this a good alternative social media platform?

  • No. Sadly caters to hate speech.

TLDR: While MeWe didn’t mean to become a haven for hate-speech, Minds started out with the goal of holding a space for it (ostensibly so that it could be overcome through dialogue and reason, but that has not actually been the outcome). Their marketing is slick, focused on how they’re a bastion for privacy and a “neutral” platform, but what that actually translates to is a proving ground for various extremist beliefs.

Platforms: Android, iOS, Windows, MacOS

Minds states that: “Our research-based approach in handling misinformation and other types of controversial lawful content is to facilitate civil discourse through free speech, which is the only way to change someone’s mind. It is your choice to engage with someone, keep scrolling, report or block.” And yet, despite the inclusion of Daryl Jones on the platform's official podcast, Minds fails to provide anything more than a proving ground for hate speech.

Briar (Blogging, feeds, groups, forums)
  • Is this a good alternative social media platform?

  • No, but in the future, it has the potential to be.

TLDR: Briar has a ton of potential as a messaging app and a social app, and its groundbreaking use of Bluetooth as a connection alternative to wifi or cell data is powerful, but the design is still in its infancy and it will need a large userbase to function well. Download it and support the team!

Platforms: Android, with other implementations planned.

While Briar is designed as a secure messaging platform, it has a number of exciting proto-social features that could make it a really powerful community tool. These include obvious ones, like message groups, but also “forums” with embedded replies and a “blog” feature that allows for reblogging (a la Tumblr).

Briar is still in its infancy so there are a huge number of features that it cannot handle, but the potential there is incredible. Not the least because of its main defining trait: Briar doesn’t need an Internet connection to share data. Wait, what’s that?

Briar can use a device’s Bluetooth connection to share information with other Briar users, making it an extremely powerful tool for emergencies and any situations where an Internet connection is unavailable.

The development team has mostly been concentrating on marketing Briar as an app for social movements that need to operate within restrictive regimes, but I hope that they acquire some good marketing expertise soon and upgrade their design and aesthetic approach. Their features will also only ever be fully functional if they reach the network effect and their service is used by a wide number of people. Still, I’ll stress again that the potential of this app is incredible. The more people who know about it and test it the more likely its eventual success will become!

Status.im (microblogging, groups, feeds)
  • Is this a good alternative social media platform?

  • No, but it’s a cool project regardless, and one with potential.

TLDR: Status.im is a young app with big dreams. However, its confusing interface, lack of good payment integration, and generally non-user-friendly experience are going to hamper its spread. A strong privacy option for those who want it, but not something the whole family will use anytime soon.

Platforms: Android, iOS; beta version for Windows, MacOS, and Linux

Status is a really cool concept: provide the public with a secure and truly private way to communicate, surf the web, interact with public groups, and send and receive payments. The basic idea is that it operates on a decentralized network — for those unfamiliar with the concept, this just means that all the data isn’t hosted in one spot, or under one “umbrella” but is distributed around the globe on various servers (all securely, using a special cryptographic blockchain called Etherium). This means that such a network is highly resistant to outages, and there are a number of other powerful benefits. Etherium is cool, too, because it is far less energy-intensive than other forms of blockchain technology.

Status’s big ideas are hampered by two major points: the complexity of the work they’ve undertaken and the difficulty of putting an extraordinarily complex data ecosystem into the hands of non-tech-trained users.

The app itself is extremely streamlined for such a new project and looks quite good, but the sheer range of options, the confusion over what security measures do what, over how to change your username (it requires payment), the difficulty of loading Etherium into your new crypto “wallet” (using 3rd party sources this is not only complex and off-putting, transaction fees are through the roof).

Given that most users of the Internet don’t even know what a blockchain is, the options that Status provides are more likely to be dangerous than beneficial. Also, as with all such apps, I found quick evidence of extremist users (migrating from Gab). It’s less of an issue here than on a dedicated social platform, but I’d never want to recommend that a casual user visit one of Status’s open groups.

Ello (Instagram and Tumblr alternative)
  • Is this a good alternative social media platform?

  • Yes! It’s small and visual-arts focused, but it’s a good platform.

TLDR: Ello is a great public art site with options that empower artists to share and sell their work. It’s not as privacy-focused as others on our list, but it does make a point of never selling user data and not using user data to serve advertisements. Their privacy policy is pretty up-front.

Platforms: Android, iOS, Web interface

Ello is really cool if quite a small platform. Its community of users is dedicated and there’s a lively mix of artistic styles on display, from poetry to photography, to painting, to digital arts.

Way back in the day, Ello tried to present itself as a “Facebook Killer”, a service with good privacy and data-use standards that could deliver an aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly experience. That didn’t pan out, but it evolved into a tight-knit arts community, and is actually really cool.

I noticed that some features, like reblogging, work far better on the web interface than in the Android app, so there’s optimization here that users of Tumblr will feel are noticeably missing.

Clubhouse (Real time podcasting)
  • Is this a good alternative social media platform?

  • Not exactly, but it’s something different than them, and that makes it mighty. It is, however, not in the least bit focused on privacy and the security of user data and I’m mainly including it because of how popular it’s becoming even at an invite-only stage.

TLDR: It’s an audio-only socialization app, sort of like being inside a podcast with a bunch of other people.

Platforms: Android, iOS*

Clubhouse is a neat concept: rather than worry about staring at your phone, or dealing with the weirdnesses of video, or engaging visually at all… just open the app and start listening to the conversation of your choice. Dive on into conversations that are open and make yourself part of the stage.

This is absolutely something different than the norm and quite cool. However, be warned that there are not privacy guarantees built into the software or privacy policy and it’s quite likely that heavy data mining will take place in order to create future advertising revenue streams. They don’t actually sell your data, but the ways in which they share it are suspect.

PixelFed (Instagram Alternative)
  • Is this a good alternative social media platform?

  • Yes! This project is still young but development is ongoing. Destined to be the Instagram-killer the world deserves.

TLDR: This is a superb federated platform that really just needs good mobile applications to become viable. It’s as powerful as Instagram in many ways already and, with a good development push, will really change the way people experience social image sharing.

Platforms: Web-based. There is a 3rd-party app called PixelDroid but it is in alpha state and functionality is extremely limited.

Instagram was destined to be a major player in the transformation of online social spaces until Facebook acquired it, ate it, and turned it into another tool for mining its users for their data. But the concept lived on in the hearts and minds of the Internet population. The federated platform PixelFed aimed to restore the intended ideal Instagram to the world and in this, it has succeeded remarkably (at least in terms of technology).

Federated services are services that use a single type of software but have different groups hosted on different servers. Two of the most popular groups using PixelFed are PixelFed.de and PixelFed.social, both of which have many thousands of users.

PixelFed’s interface is simple and easy to understand, with the clean and polished look of a professional big-tech application and all the basic features one would expect from a classic Instagram-like experience (minus video sharing, at least in most cases).

The project is still young, however, and since there are no stable and polished apps on traditional app stores, it’s doubtful that PixelFed will be able to take off among the general population anytime soon. Still, if you found yourself tired of how Instagram does things, joining PixelFed would be a great alternative.

Element (Slack/Discord Alternative)
  • Is this a good alternative social media platform?

  • Maybe. In time.

TLDR: Element has the backing and growth to succeed, but it’s not quite there yet.

Platforms: Android, Windows, MacOS, iOS

I wrote about Element a while back and praised it as a powerful messaging tool with all the great privacy-focused features anyone could want. However, Element also has some seriously powerful social features and they’re looking to capitalize upon those to make their service a true secure replacement to systems like Discord and Slack.

I still don’t like some of the features that are likely to be confusing to non-tech-trained people, but overall I think this service has what it takes to beat out all the competition.

Mastodon (Twitter Alternative)
  • Is this a good alternative social media platform?

  • Absolutely!

TLDR: Mastodon is a well-established Federated service with a lot of popular instances.

Platforms: 3rd party (trusted) apps available for all platforms. An official iOS app from the Mastodon developer is in the works.

Another Federated system, Mastodon is probably the most popular and best-known aspect of what is commonly referred to as the “fediverse.” Being one of the better and more trusted fediverse platforms, Mastodon provides not only an excellent alternative to Twitter but a perfect inroad to the entire concept of Federated networks for users who are more used to the current common infrastructure of the Internet (centralized under a single company).

WT.Social (Reddit alternative)
  • Is this a good alternative social media platform?

  • Yes! It’s new but has great potential, and was created by the founder of Wikipedia.

TLDR: When the founder of Wikipedia makes a new app, people pay attention. The design is very simple, as one might expect, and the userbase is currently small. But otherwise, this app has a ton of potential.

Platforms: Web interface

This service only started in 2019 so it’s very young, but it has massive potential. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, spearheaded this project, with the intention of making a social media service that both respected users' data and privacy while also ensuring that “fake news” couldn’t get a foothold. This is accomplished by the same community moderation and discussion practice that is found on Wikipedia.

There’s no official app for the service yet and WT.Social is not yet running on an open-source platform, though Wales has said it will in the future.

Veero True Social (Facebook Replacement)
  • Is this a good alternative social media platform?

  • Yes!

TLDR: Vero could do a lot more to protect its users’ privacy, but it is definitely taking more steps to ensure that its users aren’t handled like a commodity and that dredging of community data is minimal. They’re also publicly stated as being anti-racist and anti-misinformation, both of which are really important.

Platforms: Vero is available on Android and iOS, with a desktop version in the works.

Vero is still in its beta stage, but for all that, it is an incredibly slick app, and one gaining popularity (largely thanks to the growing number of celebrities with profiles on the platform). Designed to be a premium service (which is actually really good from the standpoint of data privacy, I’ll explain that in a moment), the app remains free for life to anyone who joins during this start-up phase. That’s a big bonus in my book and is another factor for why their membership has grown.

Vero doesn’t go as far as Minds or MeWe to keep its membership’s data private, but it does offer more assurances than Facebook or any of the other big social platforms. I contacted them regarding E2EE and got a canned response from their Twitter team, suggesting that E2EE is not currently in the pipeline (though on their site they suggest that they have at least considered zero-knowledge encryption).

Some huge pluses for Vero come in the form of a strong pro-diversity, anti-racist, anti-misinformation marketing campaign. On their site, they state that: “we commit to truth, transparency and meaningful connections.” These are all mostly marketing speak, sure, but I’m actually really happy to see that there because it sends a powerful and important message. This isn’t a “safe space” for hate speech. Whether or not that will actually remain true is yet to be seen, but I take it as a good sign. It’s one of the main reasons why some of the other privacy-focused social media sites on this list don’t get my seal of approval.

Odin's profile pictureOdin
Joined in 2021 62 guides
Odin Hartshorn Halvorson is a writer, geek, and hopeful futurist. A graduate from Stonecoast MFA, his work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is the founder of Round Table Writers, an organization dedicated to "writers helping writers." Odin's love of Roddenberrian and Straczynskian ideals leads him to contemplate technology's role in our evolving philosophic landscape, a line of inquiry threaded through both his fiction and non-fiction writing. Learn more at OdinHalvorson.com
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