How User-Designed Social Media Could Create Healthier Online Communities

Eryk Salvaggio is a Research and Communications Consultant at the Siegel Family Endowment. Social media, despite its flaws, may have heralded a golden era of participation. Yet participation hasn’t become the norm at the level of designing and developing social networks. While social media platforms may claim to be responsive to popular demands, these adaptations are driven chiefly to raise revenue, largely from advertisers, and not simply to serve users. Invitations to build the tools we want and need – such as privacy settings on Facebook or an edit button on Twitter– have been underwhelming.  For years, people have asked: where is the alternative? In a competitive marketplace, sites that don’t serve users would see those users go elsewhere. One of the restraints on movement was that the choices were limited; users could switch from one top-down, revenue-driven business model to another top-down, revenue-driven business model. The same issues would arise – and the challenge of migrating individually was compounded by the challenge of moving entire communities.  A Community-Driven Alternative Enter the federated network. Federated networks, or the ‘Fediverse,’ are a loose organization of mostly small, open source, volunteer-run digital infrastructures. This includes Mastodon, but also versions of blogging software like MicroBlog (an alternative to WordPress) and WriteFreely. European governments have embraced federated tools such as Matrix, a cross between WhatsApp and Slack.  Below are some of the key features that this approach offers over commercial platforms, and how they affect what we want our social and digital infrastructure to…How User-Designed Social Media Could Create Healthier Online Communities