Earlier this week, Facebook decided to block the ability to share news articles for people in Australia. This is in retaliation for Australia’s proposed law to require Facebook and other tech platforms to pay news sources when articles are shared on their platform. The law is an attempt to bring support to journalists and news sites since posting content on Facebook gives Facebook more of the profits and traffic than the original source might get. So now Australian people can’t post news articles on Facebook and no one in the world can post news articles that were published on Australian news sites. Sounds a little extreme, but when you’re the emperor of a massive community, anything goes I guess.
Are we all slaves to Facebook?
This should show you how much power Facebook really has over the internet population of humans. Content creators, businesses, and consumers might be getting a little too dependent on the Facebook Empire. It should be clear by now that Facebook can affect a country’s economy pretty heavily. Using Facebook to gain/keep customers is very lucrative. If they decide to cut you off, you’re probably going to struggle.
As a user, are you getting paid for all the data you’re giving Facebook? All of your Messenger conversations and articles and likes and comments and interactions? No, you’re not. But Facebook certainly is profiting off of it! Facebook isn’t just Facebook either. It’s also Instagram and WhatsApp which increases their surface area for data collection and manipulation significantly. If any of those Facebook properties are part of your business, things could get pretty rough if/when Facebook decides to take more advantage or cut you off.
What is the Fediverse?
A couple of years ago, in response to one of Facebook’s founder’s suggesting that Facebook should be broken up, you may remember that I wrote, “Facebook should be broken up and Federated.” What is the Fediverse though? Basically, it’s a collection or network of other social networks. There are some that focus on videos like Peertube, some that focus on images like PixelFed, some that are a lot like Twitter such as Mastadon. The brilliance of it is that they all work together though. I can have a Mastadon account where I can follow other Mastadon users as you’d expect, but I can also follow Peertube accounts, PixelFed accounts, Pleroma accounts, Friendica accounts, etc. It’s like a bunch of little countries getting together to build a global economy, but everyone still has their own autonomy and independence.
What’s more… in the Fediverse each type of social network (see a list here), is open-source software that you can install on your own server or rent from a hosting provider. Here’s a hosting provider you can set up your own instance on right now. Each server installation is called an “instance”. You can make one instance only for yourself if you want, or you can make one for a whole group of people to use. For example, if you were a big business, or a big family, or a sports fan community, or a government, you might want your own instance for like-minded users. People already do that kind of thing with Facebook groups, but the difference is that with a Fediverse instance, you can “own” the whole thing. You’re the one who decides what the policies are and you don’t have to depend on someone else who may not have your best interests in mind.
The Fediverse is very small at the moment, but the concept is huge. It may sound familiar too. The internet was built as a network of connected networks. The World Wide Web is a network of connected web servers & web browsers. It makes a huge amount of sense to make a diverse network of interconnected social networks that all work with each other. This page has a list of instances and indicates which ones are open to new users if you want to join one without learning to make your own instance.
The potential for a federated social network that supports local economies instead of pouring all the money into the Facebook empire has a lot of possibilities. It would probably take a big marketing budget to get users to switch to any specific Fediverse instance or set of instances and educate them on the advantages. The free open-source software community has a budget of about zero, so it’s not going to come from there. However, if a country like Australia wanted to promote their own alternative to Facebook, with incentives and perks for local businesses, plus the global connectivity of the Fediverse, others might follow. Maybe Twitter will become part of the Fediverse too (their Bluesky initiative is exploring implementing the ActivityPub protocol that the Fediverse uses.)
Is there anything stopping a single Fediverse instance from conquering everything like Facebook already has? Sure… diversity & freedom. People are diverse, our technology should be diverse too. The Fediverse is already a very diverse place with a wide variety of different types of social networks and different types of people. Encouraging that diversity on the internet encourages positive progress the same way biodiversity has encouraged evolution on Earth.