Decentralized Social Media

When I abandoned Facebook, I also decided to abandon all centralized social media platforms. In their place I opted to make use of decentralized services instead. To that end I joined various Matrix chat rooms on multiple servers and spun up a few of my own. I recently joined a Mastodon instance and have been enjoying the community on that instance as well as interacting with people on other instances through federation. Although not technically a social media platform (nor a decentralized one), I also participate in and even run a few group chats on Signal.

This setup takes me back to the days before Facebook gobbled up half of the Internet. Before Facebook, online social interactions were spread amongst a dozen or more chat clients (ICQ, AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, XMPP, etc.) and thousands of forums. Most forums had a theme. If you wanted to discuss guns, you would join any of the many gun forums. If you wanted to discuss video games, you would join any of the many video game forums. There were forums for the most niche of subjects.

For those who missed those days of the Internet and only know the post-Facebook Internet, what I just described probably sounds like chaos because you needed a separate account for each chat platform and forum (and this was in an era before password managers). However, the chaos came with many upsides. The most notable of which was that getting banned from one platform or forum didn’t result in you being banned from every other. People today often complain when they receive a temporary or permanent ban on Facebook, Twitter, or other centralized social media platform because it means they’re banned from interacting with all of their friends. To make matters worse, the number of rules and therefore the number of reasons you can receive a ban continues to increase. And since many bans are completely automated, you can find yourself barred from interacting with all of your online communities because an automated moderation system took an innocent thing you posted the wrong way.

Compare that with the decentralized social media experience I described in the first paragraph of this post. If I’m banned from one Matrix or Mastodon instance, I can sign up for an account on another instance. In the case of Matrix, you can choose to encrypt all messages in a room, which prevents the administrators of your Matrix instance from reading any of your comments (and therefore banning you for it). Signal actually forces encryption on all rooms so the same is always the case on that platform. Federation on Mastodon and Matrix means that you can continue to interact with your acquaintances even if you migrate to another server, which fixes the biggest issue with pre-Facebook chat clients and forums (if you were banned from one, you couldn’t interact with your acquaintances on that platform unless they also used another platform).

I’ve also discovered that I prefer to keep a lot of my social media activity isolate from my other social media activity. It wasn’t uncommon for me to post something on a public Facebook group just for a friend who didn’t like the topic of that group to show up and try to engage in a fight. This was even more common on Twitter, which is just a public forum. But when I post something on a Mastodon instance, only users on that instance and anybody federating with that instance (who are usually federating because they’re interested in the topic(s) found on that instance) see it. This cuts down on the bullshit from the peanut gallery. This is even more true for Matrix since most rooms are topical and the only people who join those rooms are interested in the topic.

Whereas I found centralized social media aggravating because everything I posted was visible to all of my friends, decentralized social media has been very pleasant. I can post anarchism content to anarchist rooms and not have to argue with statist friends. I can post gun content to gun rooms and not have to argue with anti-gun friends. I can post online privacy content to online privacy rooms without my technology illiterate friends taking it as an opportunity to seek free technical support. While trolls do pop in from time to time, they’re rare and generally more fun since they’re not my friends and I therefore don’t give a shit about their feelings.

While decentralized social media may seem inconvenient compared to centralized social media, I strongly urge you to give it a try. You may find that what you currently perceive to be an inconvenience, such as not all of your friends being on one platform, is actually beneficial.

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