2020: The Year of No Social Media?

Late last year, one of the more voices in the Linux community, Bryan Lunduke, announced his 2020 New Year’s resolutions. One of Lunduke’s resolutions was to cut social media out of his life, a thought that has crossed my mind as well.

Here’s a quote from his Patreon post, 2020 New Year’s Resolution: No Social Media, No Cellular Data:

Yep. Cutting Social Media out of my life.

I’m talking about things like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, the Fediverse (Mastodon, LibremOne, etc.). No more posting, reading, liking, commenting on, or re-sharing posts on any of those services (or any services like them). I’ll keep the accounts so that nobody else can claim them and pretend to be me… but otherwise, they’ll be shuttered.

Bryan Lunduke, December 22, 2019

In today’s day and age, that’s pretty radical, especially for a guy like Lunduke. He runs The Lunduke Show, a show about technology news, Linux, and retro computing, and social media is a key tool for building an audience for an online show.

Support Your Favorite Creators Today

There’s a good chance you frequently use free software and consume free content. Some of it is created by companies who support themselves by selling you private information to the highest bidder and by displaying intrusive ads. Facebook, Google, and Twitter are among the most prominent companies that do this.

But some of the free software and content you use, are created by organizations and individuals who don’t earn any money from doing it. Instead, they rely on user donations. Ever since I got a steady income, I’ve made donations to creators of free software and content I use regularly.

Here’s a list of my current, monthly donations:

Google Bans Gab app

Just as the Gab app hit the #1 trending top spot on the Google Play Store, Google banned it. Will this potentially make life hard for the entire Fediverse?

The far-right social network Gab has now completed its transition to Mastodon. The main motivation was to make a foothold in the mobile app stores. Gab’s previous attempts at distributing a mobile client failed because Apple and Google both removed the it from their respective app stores. The companies cited violation of their policies against hate speech as reason for the removal.

By moving to Mastodon and the ActivityPub protocol, Gab no longer needs to distribute their own mobile client. Instead, their members can, at least in theory, download a generic Mastodon client, and log on to Gab’s Mastodon instance. This prompted some client developers to change the application code so that their client doesn’t work with Gab’s Mastodon instance.

But Mastodon clients are mostly FLOSS. Gab simply copied the source code, removed the blocking code, and compiled their own version of the Mastodon client. This happened to Tusky, and a Gab-branded version of Tusky was available in the Google Play Store.

At least for a short while.

Free Speech & FLOSS vs the Alt-Right

What’s the link between free speech, dental hygiene, and the alt-right? I have no idea. But there’s an clear link between free speech, Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS), and the rising alt-right movement.

As I reported back in May, the alt-right echo chamber Gab is adapting ActivityPub. One of the main drivers behind this decisions is to make a beachhead inside mobile app stores. The next version of Gab is a fork of the Mastodon code, and it’s scheduled for launch on July 4. Gab’s impending inroad has caused a slight scare on the left side of the fediverse. As It turns out, leftists, antifas, and the LGBT community really don’t like the alt-right.

But there is no need to panic. Because of its open and distributed nature, the fediverse already has a few Gab-friendly Mastodon instances. Still, you don’t see the fediverse being overrun by the alt-right. Even if ActivityPub enables propagation of Mastodon message through server-to-server federation, administrators can block other instances from federating through their own. Enough blocking, and a particular instance is effectively left as an isolated little island, all alone in the fediverse.

Another interesting discussion that has surfaced recently is how Mastodon client app developers should handle Gab. Their beloved apps will soon be openly used to spread alt-right propaganda. Gab’s imminent adaption of Mastodon has forced many app developers to make a conscious choice in the matter.

Technology Won’t Save Us

As Gab embraces ActivityPub, it turns out technology won’t save us from ourselves after all.

I’m a big fan of the ideas behind IndieWeb, the Fediverse, ActivityPub, and the general concept of distributed social networks. You own your content, your personal data isn’t sold to the highest bidder, and the censorship is limited1. I don’t have any factual backing for the following statement, but my impression is that these ideas were first embraced – and implemented – by people leaning towards the bottom left quadrant of the political spectrum. Digital hippies, if you will.

But because of the ongoing purge of many prominent, conspiracy-fueled, hate-mongering bigots from mainstream social networks, people found in the upper right quadrant of the political spectrum no longer feel particularly welcome on these sites. It’s only natural, then, that they start to gravitate towards social networks and sites run by like-minded people.

And with that, the alt-right is coming full steam to the Fediverse.