June 1, 2017
Ever hear of Twitter?
If you haven’t, then I envy you. Though, I’d guess you’d be lost when every newscast makes at least one reference to the social media platform known for its 140 character limit and Donald Trump’s favorite mouth (or would it be finger?) piece. It’s the 140-character limit that has led Twitter to be called a “microblog.”
Anyway, for those of you who don’t know here’s a brief history: Twitter was created in 2006, two years after Facebook, and since then it has grown to have more than 100 million users. It went public in 2013.
What’s the appeal of Twitter?
I think originally, and still to a certain extent, it gave you the chance to be acknowledged by a celebrity or person of note. This acknowledgement wasn’t done by them personally typing your name or handle. Instead, it was done by them choosing to either favorite or share it.
As with most things social media, Twitter had a troll problem that grew and grew until the trolls were basically what the site was best known for.
This grew to a head last year when Milo Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter. Yiannopoulos led a campaign of harassment against Leslie Jones. Her crime? Apparently a bunch of men online found the idea of an all-woman “Ghostbusters” cast as some sort of attack against their very way of life.
Yeah, kind of ridiculous.
I personally find Twitter to be an extension of the same thing you already see on cable news, talk radio and pretty much anywhere that’s an open forum on the internet. That is, just an endless back-and-forth between people who blame either liberals or conservatives for whatever they think is wrong with the country.
That’s where Mastodon and Gab come in. Two social networks, or microblogs if you prefer, less than a year old, each looking to capture audiences disenchanted with Twitter.
My preference of the two is Mastodon.
Mastodon (mastodon.social), a distributed, open-source version is almost identical to Twitter, but with key differences: posts can run 500 characters rather than 140, and users can make individual posts private.
I prefer Mastodon because it emphasizes limiting abusive speech. This has made it more laid-back and personable compared to Twitter. You have two different columns of streams you can monitor. One stream is people you follow, the other is from your local “instance” which is kind of like a node that a bunch of people share.
Anyway, Mastodon is not corporate-owned and it does not have advertising. While the press was quick to label it a failure, it still hosts a growing community of more than 100,000 users. Much like Ello, existing out of the commercial landscape probably ensures its longevity. The lack of fake news, trolls and partisan domination probably helps.
On the opposite end is Gab (Gab.ai), of which one visit was enough for me.
Gab was created by the sort of people who Twitter sought to ban.
When I logged on (under a username that I do not use) I found the site to look a lot like Twitter. Its main difference is that it allows up to 300 character posts and pretty much allows hate speech and trolling because it’s about “free speech.”
When you log in first thing you see is a “live topics” bar to the left. The day I visited, the topic on top was Seth Rich, a man killed during a robbery who has since become the center of a debunked conspiracy theory involving the Clintons, Democrats and Russia.
I think the kicker for me was a post under “history” under a black-and-white photo of Lincoln Rockwell, the deceased leader of the American Nazi Party that said “Get in faggots, we’re securing the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
And that was about enough for me. If that’s what “free speech” is about, then count me out.
So will there be another challenger? Probably. Giants have a tendency not to stay giants forever. Twitter and Facebook are both losing some users, mostly young ones, to other platforms like Snapchat, Path, Pinterest and Tumblr. It’s just a trickle right now, but trickles can turn into floods.