Twitter alternatives to try if you don’t like Elon Musk | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack


Elon Musk’s looming takeover of Twitter has ruffled users’ feathers. But what alternatives are there to the ‘bird app’ which Tweeters seem to love as much as they hate? 1News takes a look at the potential replacements.

By Dan Satherley

Since pioneering the concept of ‘microblogging’ in 2006, Twitter has grown to become the “digital town square”, in Musk’s own words. With that great power has come great responsibility (if not great profits), and not everyone’s been happy with how the company has handled its outsized influence on media, politics and free speech.

Over the years a number of rival services have sprung up, giving those wary of what Musk might do with the site plenty of alternatives.

Mastodon

The most obvious alternative to Twitter is Mastodon. On the surface it looks and functions pretty much the same as Twitter, with ‘toots’ instead of tweets and ‘favourites’ replacing ‘likes’.

But once you dig into how it functions, it becomes clear it’s a ‘copy’, not a ‘clone’. Rather than being a single site like Twitter, Mastodon is a ‘federated’ social network. Much like a real-world federation has member states, Mastodon is broken up into separate parts called ‘instances’. When you join Mastodon you have to pick an instance where your account lives – many Kiwi Twitter users have jumped on mastodon.nz for example, while others have gone for mastodon.social.

Mastodon - an open source Twitter alternative.

Being open source, anyone can start a Mastodon instance – and anyone who joins up has to abide by the administrator’s rules. In general, anyone can interact with anyone else on a different instance, as long as the admin allows it. This does mean your ability to talk to others on another instance could suddenly be cut off at the admin’s whims, much like China with its Great Firewall, or your account could be wiped out completely if the admin decides to take their ball and go home.

But a cool feature of the federated setup is the ‘local’ tab, which is a timeline of posts from everyone on the same instance as you. The mastodon.nz instance which I joined only has a few hundred members so far, many of them people from Twitter setting up accounts ‘just in case’, so it’s quite readable and a good way to find new accounts to follow.

Many Kiwis have signed up to the mastodon.nz instance.

Like much open source software, Mastodon can be a little janky to use. Signing up wasn’t as simple as it could be. I knew I wanted to join an NZ instance, but searches on the official Mastodon app for ‘NZ’ brought up nothing – I soon figured out I had to search for ‘mastodon.nz’ in full, which isn’t exactly intuitive. Once I was in, the first toot I saw was a mastodon.social admin complaining everyone was signing up incorrectly – go figure.

I jumped onto a web browser, only to be told my account didn’t exist – turns out I had to sign in using the mastodon.nz URL, not the one that shows up at the top of a Google search for ‘Mastodon’. It’s these kinds of things which make it hard to see Mastodon replacing Twitter as the public’s go-to microblogging platform – but hey, perhaps that’s what Mastodon users want, considering the present state of Twitter. Many have been commenting how serene their timelines are at present, comparing it to the early days on the bird app.

I agreed, before being rudely shunted back to 2022 when someone on the local feed tweeted their Wordle score for the day.

Minds

Minds promises to pay its users in crpyto if their content is popular.

Conservatives and the far-right, particularly in the US, have long claimed Twitter’s content moderation and algorithms are biased against them (despite research suggesting the opposite). This has seen a plethora of Twitter clones catering to them under the guise of ‘free speech’ such as Gab and Parler, whose Nazi problems are so well-publicised I personally wouldn’t join them even under the auspices of research.

Minds, I thought, might be different. Its somewhat pretentious name and “elevate the global conversation” slogan suggest a possible focus on the intellectual; while its promise to pay users for their content (in crypto) appears unique amongst social networks.

I was wrong. Before even getting the chance to follow anyone, my timeline was full of George Orwell quotes, crypto scams and Joe Rogan videos. I hit the ‘discovery’ tab and the first post it showed me was by Stefan Molyneux, whose white supremacist views saw him kicked off Twitter and YouTube, and even attracted the attention of the Christchurch mosque terrorist, who donated to his podcast. Ew, no thanks.

Other posts were by the likes of fake news peddlers InfoWars, Pepe the frog memes and screenshots of Elon Musk tweets. I couldn’t delete my account fast enough.

WT.Social

WT.Social has an unpolished, barebones look.

Being founded by Jimmy Wales – the guy from Wikipedia who’s always popping up and asking for donations – perhaps this was the pseudo-intellectual Twitter clone I was looking for.

It has a big focus on fighting misinformation and fake news – unlike Twitter, WT.Social makes it easy to flag posts as such.

Signing up is easy, especially compared to Mastodon – you can even use your existing Twitter or Facebook account (though that would mean remaining on those platforms, which could defeat the purpose).

But I had to laugh when the very next thing that happened was being asked for a donation. Wales is always on, huh? Then I was asked what kinds of stuff I’m into, the site automatically signing me up to such topics as ‘fighting misinformation’, ‘factchecking project’ and ‘debate club’, and suggesting others like ‘Human scum: Progressive political cartoons’. After that, there was another plea for money.

Once I was in, the begging made sense – WT.Social is clearly run on the smell of an oily rag. The best way to describe it is, this is what Twitter would have looked like had it launched in 1996. It makes Wikipedia look look like the Encyclopedia Britannica, if the latter was hand-illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci and printed on gold leaf.

Wales himself posted recently about the Musk takeover, saying WT.Social had seen an “influx of users”.

“I personally think that he’s likely to let Donald Trump back on, and change rules there in a way which will massively empower trolling and bad behaviour under the banner of a misguided understanding of freedom of expression,” Wales wrote.

Counter.Social

Counter.Social bans people from certain 'hostile' nations.

Another network some have fled to is Counter.Social, a site based on the Mastodon format operated by an anonymous ‘hacktivist’ only known as The Jester.

Counter.Social’s point of difference is that it blocks “entire countries” and has a “zero-tolerance stance to hostile nations, bot accounts, trolls and disinformation networks”.

Bad luck, everyone from Iran, North Korea, Syria, China, Russia and Pakistan.

I’m not sure if New Zealand somehow found its way onto the naughty list, because it didn’t let me join either. At first there was a message saying the site was undergoing upgrades to deal with “an unprecedented influx of unexpected new users”, which is understandable; the next day I tried but was told the “site owner may have set restrictions that prevent you from accessing the site”.

1News wasn't allowed in.

You might have more luck, but whether you want to join a network operated by a mysterious hacker known for staging hoaxes and feuding with the likes of the Taliban, 4chan and the country of Ecuador, that’s up to you.

Truth Social

Donald Trump was booted off Twitter, so started his own social network, Truth Social.

If for some reason you’re a Donald Trump fan but don’t want to set up shop on Parler or Gab, there’s always the former President’s own social network, Truth Social.

Also based on the Mastodon code, Truth Social promotes itself as “America’s ‘Big Tent’ social media platform that encourages an open, free, and honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideology”.

Unfortunately (or arguably fortunately!) it’s not yet available in New Zealand. If you’re tech-savvy that won’t stop you signing up – but don’t expect much once you’re inside. Business Insider recently described Truth Social as “a conservative ghost town that had been overrun by bots”.

There’s hope still though, with Musk himself noting this week that more people were downloading the Truth Social app now than Twitter, which he said was “because Twitter censored free speech”.

Facebook

It’s 2022. I don’t need to describe Facebook, do I?

In the interests of completion, I logged in and the first thing I was served up was an advert, followed by news my brother has Covid-19… and a screenshot of an Elon Musk tweet. I give up.





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