Mastodon is often touted as a one-to-one Twitter replacement, but with actual privacy options. And it is that, largely because its design is completely cloned from Twitter, though with all the excellent design elements of TweetDeck thrown in for good measure.
Mastodon is a “federated network”, which is really a fancy way of saying that no single company controls all the different groups—but any member, from any group, can interact with members of another group. Everyone shares the same infrastructure, but lives in different communities.
Out of all the federated networks currently around, Mastodon is the best-known and most used, and it’s so dang familiar in terms of basic use that, once you’re on it, you’re going to feel like you never left Twitter.
There are some complications with signing up on a federated platform like this that will turn people off, however. There aren't many, and none of these are hard to overcome, but it adds just enough friction to make things a little extra difficult for the average or non-tech-oriented user.
Still, I recommend it. Mastodon has several lively “instances” or communities, and you’ll likely find it easy to navigate once you’re there.
WT.Social (also known as “WikiTribune Social”) is the perfect social media service to use if you get your news from Twitter. WT.Social is the genius creation of Jimmey Wales, founder of Wikipedia. The service contains no advertisements and runs on donations.
This is not a replacement for many of Twitter’s more engaging and addicting properties, but it is the best possible replacement for an active community of thinking people who are constantly conversing, building upon one-another’s discussions, and providing evidence-based arguments.
The site’s membership is climbing only slowly, largely due to it simple wiki-style design, a far-cry from the modern flashy format of Twitter, Facebook, or even Tumblr. But what its community is actually doing makes it one of the most progressive and interesting social media experiments on the web, and I highly recommend that you create an account there today.
Tumblr has been around the block, having changed hands many times. With the sale of Twitter to Elon Musk, Tumblr has had a huge influx of users, both old and returning, who are looking for someplace where similar community dynamics to Twitter can be found (as well as a strong mix of both visual and text-based content).
One of the neat things about the Tumblr feed is that there is no algorithm — users see the posts of the people they follow chronologically. Sometimes, this makes binging a little ridiculous, as you can end up scrolling through literally dozens of posts by one person before suddenly emerging into a completely different type of content provided by someone else. But I personally love that: it feels like you really get to interact with the people who you follow.
Tumblr also has great communities for nearly every possible interest area, a sleek user interface, and a highly dynamic profile page customization ability.
The main downside is that there are ads injected into your feed, seemingly at random, and they’re sometimes more intrusive than those found on Twitter. You can pay (about $40/year) to have all ads removed (you also get a number of “pro” features). That might be worth it if you really hate ads or if you use Tumblr as your main blog or website.
Issues with Tumblr in the past?
Tumblr’s changed hands a bunch over the years, and has gone through some periods where users were disgruntled due to heavy-handed attempts to cull adult content from the site.
In January 2022, Tumblr reached a settlement with New York City's Commission on Human Rights, which had claimed that the 2018 ban on adult content disproportionately affected LGBTQ+ users. The agreement required the company to review its algorithms, revise its appeals process and review closed cases, and train its human moderators on diversity and inclusion issues.
Now, the site is also owned by Automattic, the company that owns WordPress. While they’re not planning on allowing lots of adult content back on the site, it does seem like they have a legitimate interest in maintaining Tumblr and making it sustainable as a companion to WordPress.
Ello was created as an ad-free alternative to existing social networks. It has pivoted from its earlier Facebook-like incarnation toward a Pinterest-like website showcasing art, photography, fashion and web culture.
There’s a lot to love about this often-overlooked site, and though it doesn’t boast the user numbers of the larger networks, it definitely has a dedicated community. If you’re at all artistic, want to show off your skills, or just love exploring the work of artists leading the way into the future, this is a great place to be.
Vero markets itself as a social network free from advertisements, data mining and algorithms. Commissioned in 2015 by the Saudi billionaire Ayman Hariri, the network is conceived as eventually becoming self-supporting through paid memberships. Free-for-life accounts were originally capped at the first million members, with that number extended indefinitely (likely in hopes of further developing its user base). Known as the main Internet home of Zack Snyder, Vero became a major hub of DC’s superhero community.
It’s got a number of features which improve upon default privacy settings of sites like Facebook, but, while it touts itself as being a privacy-centered service, it actually does little to truly protect its users in any meaningful way. When I asked them about their plans for P2P encryption last year, Vero responded that they were considering future implementation of some form of zero-knowledge communication. That would be a major boon for privacy enthusiasts if it became the case, but I imagine that the company wants to establish itself in the mainstream before taking that route.
Unlike some modern privacy-focused sites, Vero maintains strong anti-racist language in all their marketing materials, which has proved to be a boon for younger membership numbers.
The features are pretty great and with both mobile and desktop apps, a suite of great features, and an intriguing and surprisingly vibrant community, it offers one of the lowest barriers to entry for users familiar with other modern social networks. The only question, then, is: is this billionaire’s website any better than the others’? Possibly. I think time will tell, but their currently accepted business model and slight hint about a possible plan toward tighter privacy make me hopeful.
If you’re in a school or college, Raftr is a great option for you that will feel incredibly familiar to users of Twitter, while also improving on certain aspects of the newsgetting and social experience. The downside is that it’s completely localized to your college or school, meaning that it’s only helpful if you’re already connected to that scene. For the broader public, this service is less helpful.
Aether is a neat idea that might be able to bypass some of the problems that both ends of the political spectrum have with social media: too much moderation and not enough moderation. That’s because moderation is handled by the community as a whole, and by an individual user’s preferences, which allow them to change who gets to moderate what they see.
The platform is committed to privacy as well, and being peer-to-peer (meaning that there’s no giant server sitting between you and your friend when you chat) it’s inherently more secure than Twitter.
The catch is that it’s a work in progress with a smaller community. Still, the changing landscape of social media might make it a good choice in the days ahead.
Amino is a mobile-only social media service dedicated to hosting individual communities that members can join, allowing you to focus in on only those communities who are likely to share your specific interests. Historically, the site features primarily younger audiences, but that might start to shift further as people look to Twitter alternatives.
Amino users have news feeds, chatrooms, quiz and poll capabilities, and voice chat built into their experience, and the design of Amino means that you’re more likely to engage with the community itself than to outside links. This is kind of nifty, as it means you’re going to escape the plague of news-related overload that can so easily occur, while perhaps maintaining the social ties that are actually the point of these networks.
The focus of the app is on anonymity as well, allowing you to connect with strangers without revealing your actual identity. That’s a huge departure from Twitter’s purpose, but one that might be interesting to explore (and there’s nothing keeping you from revealing who you are).
The site is funded entirely by investors, with plans for premium upgrades and digital goods in the near future as an ad-alternative revenue stream.
MeWe has been around since 2015 and is, in many ways, the least problematic of all the alternative social media sites dedicated to privacy. This is partly because it counts people like Tim Berners-Lee among its advisers, and because it was genuinely created for a desire to have a social media network that did not rely on advertising, data-mining, or social algorithms to maintain and grow its userbase. Whereas sites like Minds or Gab intentionally catered to far-right extremists, MeWe only caters to such groups incidentally, through its design. In a perfect world, the marginal communities of extremists on MeWe would be blotted out by all the other users, but since the membership has remained relatively small, this has yet to occur. The leadership of MeWe is in a tough place, being both opposed to censorship and opposed to extremist content, whilst trying to operate a privacy-respecting social media service.
In terms of function, it’s more a Facebook clone than a Twitter clone, but generally features all the functionality one would expect from a modern service. For the price of a coffee a month, you can upgrade to their Pro account and get more features and graphics packs.
Discord was once a haven for gamers, but since the Covid-19 pandemic its prospects have soared as a true online community space for people of all ages, offering better functionality than older business software like Slack, and truly trying to provide a modern e-community hub for people worldwide.
Discord would be a vastly different experience from the completely public-facing Twitter, but the things that people get from Twitter — the good communities, the supportive tags, the strangers who can become friends, and the access to interesting news, can all be found within different Discord communities. Some communities will be specialized (around a game, or a subject like writing), but others will be more open and freeform.
There are plenty of serious problems with Discord, like the lack of zero-knowledge encryption and peer-to-peer messaging, but these are issues that most modern services are struggling to understand (and will likely require good legislation to enforce). Overall, it’s a powerful way to maintain those community ties (just keep Signal around for when you actually need to send important things).
Evan Williams, co-founder of Blogger and Twitter, created Medium in 2012 as an alternative to Twitter that would allow for longer-form posts. Eventually, it evolved into a social journalism experiment with its mixture of professional and amateur writers and publications, becoming one of the must popular sources for news and original writing on the Internet.
Medium is totally different from Twitter in one sense, with far more emphasis placed upon the writing being shared, but there is an underlying community social aspect that cannot be overlooked. Being successful on Twitter and being successful on Medium are quite similar: if you spend a lot of time engaging with a community on either, you’re going to get more of your stuff read, gain more followers, and build a strong audience that follows you.
In 2020, Medium launched Momentum, focusing on subjects like anti-racism and civil rights.
OpenDiary is a good alternative to Twitter if your main use of the bird site was to share about yourself and your life. The interface is different, but so is the whole point: it’s not a site attempting to capture as broad an audience as Twitter, nor replace news organizations or company support services. Instead, it’s all about real people anonymously sharing snippets of their lives. Old school internet right here, folks.
Mastodon gets its own mention because it does have the largest population of current Twitter users and is relatively simple to understand, **but the universe of “federated” social media platforms is huge. The cool thing is that any one of these platforms can “talk” to users of another platform.
Check out this excellent website if you want to learn more. For most people, this will be a steep learning curve, but quite possibly worth it. You could even host your own server for one of these platforms and set up a micro-community just for friends and family.
I’m not going to go in-depth with these platforms in this article, but I think federated social networks are a really important and cool idea, as long as you don’t mind a little extra work setting yourself up.
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).