Another election is on the horizon, which can only mean Facebook is clamping down on wrongthink in the futile hope that doing so will appease Congress enough that it won’t say mean things about the company that might hurt its stock price. This week’s clamp down appears to be more severe than others. I have several friends who received temporary bans for making posts or comments that expressed apparently incorrect, albeit quite innocent, opinions. A lot of them also reported that some of their friends received permanent bans for posting similar content.
In the old days of the Internet when websites were dispersed you usually had friends from forums, game servers, and various instant messenger clients added on other services. Because of that, getting banned for any single account wasn’t usually a big deal. However, with the centralization that Facebook has brought, losing your Facebook account can mean losing access to a large number of your contacts.
If you are at risk of losing your Facebook account (and if you hold political views even slightly right of Karl Marx, you are), you need to start establishing your contacts on other services now. If you’re like me and have friends that predominantly lean more libertarian or anarchist, you’ve probably seen a number of services being recommended such as MeWe, Parler, and Gab. The problem with these services is that they, like Facebook, are centralized. That means one of two outcomes is likely. If they’re successful, they will likely decide to capitalize by going public. Once that happens, they will slowly devolve into what Facebook has become today because their stock holders will demand it in order to maximize share prices. If they’re not successful, they’ll likely disappear in the coming years, forcing you to reestablish all of your contacts on another service again.
I’m going to recommend two services that will allow you to nip this problem in the bud permanently. The first is a chat service called Element (which was formerly known as Riot). The second is a Twitter-esque service called Mastodon. The reason I’m recommending these two services is because they share features that are critical if you want to actually socialized freely.
The most important feature is that both services can be self-hosted. This means that in the worst case scenario, if no existing servers will accept you and your friends, you can setup your own server. If you’re running your own server, the only people you have to answer to are yourselves. However, you may want to socialize with people outside of your existing friend groups. That’s where another feature called federation comes in. Federation is a feature that allows services on one server to connect with services on another server. This allows the users on one Element or Mastodon instance to socialize with users on another instance. Federation means not having to put all of your eggs in one basket. If you and your friends sign up on different servers, no one admin can ban you all. Moreover, you can setup backup accounts that your friends can add so if you are banned on one server, your friends already have your alternate account added to their contact list.
The reason I’m recommending two services is because Element and Mastodon offer different features that are geared towards different use cases. Element offers a similar experience to Internet Rely Chat (IRC) and various instant messenger protocols (such as Facebook Messenger). It works well if you and your friends want to have private conversations (you can create public chat rooms as well, if you want anybody to be able to join in the conversation). It also offers end-to-end encrypted chat rooms. End-to-end encrypted rooms cannot be surveilled by outside parties meaning even the server administrators can’t spy on your conversation. It’s much harder for a server administrator to ban you and your friends if they’re entirely ignorant of your conversations.
Mastodon offers an experience similar to Twitter (although with more privacy oriented features). You can create public posts that can be viewed by anybody with a web browser and with which anybody with a Mastodon account can interact. This works great if you have a project that requires a public face. For example, you and your friends may work on an open source project about which you provide periodic public updates. Mastodon enables that. Users can also comment on posts, which allows your posts to act as a public forum. Since Mastodon can be self-hosted, you can also setup a private instance that isn’t federated. Thus you could create a private space for you and your friends.
It’s critical to establish your existing contacts on another service now so you don’t find yourself suddenly unable to communicate with them because you expressed the wrong opinion. Even if you don’t choose Element and/or Mastodon, pick a service that you and your friends can tolerate and at least sign up for accounts and add each other to your contact lists. That way if you disappear down Zuckerberg’s memory hole, you can still keep in contact with your friends.