Leave Twitter? Try these alternative social networks

Are you bored of Twitter? Tired of Facebook? Hurt by Instagram? Checked off on TikTok? There is a whole world of alternative social spaces. Your new home is waiting for you! We’ve looked at many social networks and rounded up those that use intriguing new technologies and break the traditional, centralized paradigm.

What are alternative social networks?

Here’s what they’re not: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Peach or something like that. You already know about these digital places, and there are plenty of reasons to avoid them. Our short list of lesser-known social sites reflects services you already know or takes a whole new direction. Many (but not all) are community-run, decentralized, free, open-source, privacy-focused, and ad-free.

All of the services on this list are built on the ActivityPub protocol, which enables decentralized social networks using independent servers. They each have their own community and their own rules. Imagine that instead of there being just one Twitter, there were dozens of individual websites all running Twitter’s code and communicating with each other. It is a decentralized network.

Some ActivityPub services can also interact with each other, forming a larger network of social platforms called the federal. Some federated services can communicate with each other, although one might be for microblogging and the other for photo sharing. However, you cannot follow a Twitter account from Facebook; they are two entirely separate worlds. This type of interaction doesn’t always work perfectly, but it’s one of the most exciting facets of Fedivers.

Why should you quit Facebook, Twitter and the rest?

The big social media platforms were fun for a while and they brought people together in a way the old internet couldn’t. Creating an account on Twitter or Facebook is infinitely easier than learning how to host your own website, after all. These platforms gave some people their first opportunity to make their voices heard online.

But Twitter, Facebook and their ilk demanded hidden costs. Social media companies monetize their customers by scraping personal data to better target them with advertising. To keep engagement high, social media companies use algorithmic feeds that make people scroll but can also make them unhappy. These companies also frequently ignore bad behavior, including hate speech, seemingly accepting human misery as a cost of doing business. They have also been poor stewards of our personal information.

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In all honesty, it may not be possible, or even wise, to quit Twitter or Facebook. I maintain a Twitter account to promote my work and the causes close to my heart, and my family is increasingly turning to Facebook to stay in touch. But I have drastically reduced the time I spend on these platforms and have been happier with the low-key experience of Mastodon, Pixelfed, and others.

Try something new!

A big gripe with quirky social networks is that no one uses them. But it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, Twitter and Facebook weren’t always the darlings they are now. Celebrities and politicians have performed these powerful services, but they only succeed because we give them our attention. We can choose to direct that attention elsewhere.

Reading isn’t the most social experience, but BookWyrm brings book lovers together. Search for books to create a reading list, share your progress and reviews, and see what other readers are reading or adding to their wishlist. This laid-back experience pairs well with OverDrive, so you can visit your local library from the comfort of your computer or mobile device.

The big advantage over GoodReads? The latter is owned by Amazon while the former is a free open source project powered by the ActivityPub protocol.

If you’re looking for a more Facebook-y experience, Friendica is worth checking out. Friendica is built around profile and message pages, allowing you to show off your digital life to your friends.

Although primarily comparable to Facebook, Friendica also draws from other sources. You can create private groups similar to the old Google+ circles. You can also use Friendica to plan events, and its multiple profile feature means you can show a different face to your friends, colleagues, and family.

Before Spotify-style streaming subscriptions took off, music lockers were the primary way to get your tunes into the cloud. You downloaded all your songs and then streamed them wherever you are. Such services are extremely rare these days, but they still exist in Funkwhale.

With Funkwhale, you upload your music and can share tracks with other users on your server (called a “pod”) as well as with the wider network. When it comes to copyright, Funkwhale is clear that it’s focused on promoting and sharing free content. However, it is up to individuals to decide what music they share on the system. If you’re looking for a great way to buy music and support artists, check out alternatives like Bandcamp instead.

Mastodon is a free and open-source microblogging social network in the vein of Twitter. It’s made up of servers run by volunteer admins, so you can find a home with any rules or orientation you want. Up and running for about six years, it’s home to a thriving culture with serious, thoughtful posts and bizarre Twitter-style nonsense.

Familiar tools like favorites and reposting (called booster) are present, but Mastodon does more. The service offers visibility settings, giving you some control over who can see your posts. Individual users can also disable and block individual users or entire servers.

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Although often overlooked, Facebook Events is one of social media’s greatest success stories. It has been an essential part of everything from weddings to protest movements. Mobilizon aims to do the same, but without the oversight inherent in Facebook’s operations.

With Mobilizon, you can create events, share those events as widely as you want, and keep attendees informed of developments, all without Facebook (you can still share events on Facebook, if you like that sort of thing). Mobilizon is free and open-source, and it federates with other services via ActivityPub.

Mobilizon is a French non-profit organization Framasoft, which has created a multitude of privacy-friendly open source tools. Of particular note is its Doodle alternative, Framadate.

Another Framasoft joint, PeerTube targets video sharing platforms like Google’s YouTube. As with other video platforms, you can download and watch shared videos on PeerTube. Unlike other platforms, PeerTube is built from independent instances of the same software that communicate through ActivityPub.

PeerTube focuses on providing a large amount of content without a large infrastructure. Videos uploaded to an instance can be viewed on the network. PeerTube also uses viewers to lighten the load on the entire network by allowing viewers watching the same video to exchange video data.

You can watch a great PeerTube explainer video at—where else?—PeerTube.

Meta, which we used to simply call Facebook, bought Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, which seems rather odd compared to recent social media acquisitions. Instagram has since become the go-to option for posting pet and brunch photos, and it’s also known for its eerily precise targeted advertising. If you’re tired of ads, influence, and algorithmic feeds, give Pixelfed a try.

Pixelfed is like Instagram. You upload photos or videos, crop and filter them, and share them with the world. Pixelfed is free, has no ads, and is growing rapidly. It has already undergone major upgrades in its short life and is a skilled competitor. It also uses ActivityPub, so you can follow Pixelfed accounts from Mastodon and other platforms.

There is currently no official Pixelfed app for Android or iOS, but it works great as a web app on mobile devices.

Blogger, Medium, and WordPress have all made running a blog super easy. WriteFreely is similar and provides a clean and elegant platform to share your thoughts with the world. It’s free, open-source, and with ActivityPub under the hood, users on other platforms can see your WriteFreely posts.

You can post anonymously to a WriteFreely site, or you can create an account to manage one or more blogs. The posts are formatted with Markdown, so you can quickly create a post without worrying about a bunch of options.

Unlike many of the services in this article, WriteFreely offers a managed hosting option with paid subscription plans called Write.As. Paid accounts provide access to additional tools, such as photo hosting. Another blogging platform powered by ActivityPub is Plume, which may also be worth checking out.

Person meditating on a phone

(Image: Shutterstock/sunniwa)

Shrinking social media is easier than you think. Reclaim valuable time in your life every day by making this small change.

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