Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Social-Media Alternatives to the Silicon Valley Censors

If you use Facebook, you've probably seen the addendum to its terms of service, set to take effect Oct. 1.

There's been plenty of speculation about why Facebook is telling everyone that their content, and even their accounts, could be throttled for pretty much any reason whatsoever. The part at the end about mitigating "adverse legal or regulatory impacts" makes it sound suspiciously as if Facebook expects to be stripped of its Section 230 protections.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields Facebook and other similar services from legal liability for what their users say and do on their platforms. In short, if I go on Facebook and say I'm going to kill someone, and then I go out and do it, Facebook isn't legally liable for having given me a platform to say what I said. 

The catch is that to be protected under Section 230, Facebook and its peers are supposed to act more or less like neutral platforms, not like publishers who curate content. And as Facebook and others have ramped up the censorship of their users, the Trump administration has fired back and essentially demanded a review of Section 230, since Facebook and others increasingly appear to be violating the good-faith agreement not to behave like publishers. That's exactly what they're doing if, as it looks, they're deliberately targeting people for their political opinions.

AT&T is going before the FCC this week to argue for a reworking of Section 230 that would lessen social media's legal protections. So my guess is that Facebook is covering its behind should Section 230 change. 

Of course, Facebook could just avoid the legal drama altogether if it would simply stop censoring its users over things that are perfectly legal and acceptable to say. But just like the rest of the Woke Universe, Facebook and its allies hate free speech and will shut up anyone it disagrees with.  

Or this could be a more sinister move to ramp up the censorship of conservative voices heading into the election. What, you think Facebook wouldn't engage in the same kind of election meddling it accused Russian bogeymen of doing in 2016?

Ben Garrison

De-Zuck your life

The best thing you can do to fight the inevitable upcoming escalation in censorship is to simply stop using Facebook and its censorious brethren in Silicon Valley. Hit them in their pocketbook. Money and power are the only things organizations like this understand.

I get it, though. Getting Silicon Valley out of your life is a pain. Most of us are deeply dependent on the tech monopolies like Facebook and Google. And that might not be so bad if Facebook and Google were benevolent titans. But Google cooperates with authoritarian regimes around the world. It regularly shuts down YouTube channels based on its own ever-widening definitions of "hate speech" and "misinformation." And it spies on you.

Facebook, meanwhile, has been kicking people off its platform for ever more flimsy reasons. Having come under pressure from a score of woke corporations that demanded Facebook censor more speech on its platform, Mark Zuckerberg and his leftist cronies have shut down anti-mask and anti-lockdown pages, "militia" (read: armed constitutional patriot) pages, QAnon conspiracy pages, and many more, typically under the guise of the pages' having somehow broken the terms of service or engaging in whatever Facebook's definition of "hate speech" is.

Most recently, Facebook has actually been "fact-checking" the CDC's revelation that only 6% of U.S. C-19 fatalities had only C-19 as the sole cause of death; all the rest had underlying conditions. To say this on Facebook -- to share the CDC's own information -- is to spread "misinformation that could cause public harm." Of course, controlling the C-19 narrative isn't new -- we know that all of Silicon Valley has banned any information related to hydroxychloroquine as a potential C-19 treatment, even when actual practicing medical doctors present the information.

And Kyle Rittenhouse? Facebook has un-personed him, while GoFundMe shut down his legal-defense fundraiser. Facebook doesn't want to glorify violence, you see -- even though they let BLM, Antifa, and other assorted far-left mobs celebrate violence all the time with no repercussions.

On top of all that, don't forget: Since they're both free services, you're Google's and Facebook's product.

The usual argument from those defending Google and Facebook is that, as private companies, they can do whatever they want. But we all know that's a bogus comeback, because no company can do whatever it wants. Every company has to follow labor laws, anti-discrimination laws, and so on. Another thing they're not supposed to be able to do is engage in monopolistic practices.

But as we've seen, over and over again, no one in Washington appears to have the guts to invoke antitrust law against these companies. Because let's face it -- when a company has grown so large that it essentially controls the public narrative, it's time for that company to be broken up. No one should have so much power over public discourse to be able to change and control it through algorithms and selective censorship.

So what do you do?

Well, I can tell you what I've done.

Getting started

So far, I've taken care of the easy stuff -- shifting from Chrome and Google search to a privacy-based browser and search engine in Brave and DuckDuckGo. There are plenty of others to pick from, and I may migrate to other services once I get more comfortable with them. But for now, Brave and DDG are "good enough" solutions.

Meanwhile, I've just about moved all my email contacts away from Gmail. That's taken a while. If you've had a Gmail account for any amount of time, you'll find that as soon as you think you've updated your email address to everything you want to keep track of, something else you forgot about pops up one day. Now, my everyday stuff -- subscription emails, company offers, Amazon, eBay, and all the rest -- goes to Yandex. ProtonMail, based in Switzerland, is for personal stuff in my inner circle.

(I'll address a few inevitable questions at this point. Yes, Yandex is a free service like Google. But Yandex is based in Russia, so I don't really care if Yandex tries to market me, as it'll never affect my daily life the way Google does. Heck, I don't even care if Yandex wants to send my emails to the FSB. Russian intel doesn't easily cooperate with American intel, and that suits me just fine. As for ProtonMail, well, the Swiss are of course noted for their privacy protections.)

The things that remain to be done are to get Android off my phone, replacing it with an open-source operating system. And then there's this blog. Moving eight years of posts to another site is going to be a monumental chore. But once I get those two things done, I'll have de-Googled myself as much as possible.

Next steps

Now let's address social-media replacements. After the last round of Facebook censorship, I've seen a lot of people in groups I belong to wondering where they should go. They know it's just a matter of time before they too get fitted with the Silicon Valley woke muzzle.

Well, there are scores of other social-media services out there. But since Facebook is such a massive monopoly, everyone is there -- which means everything is happening there, which means it's very difficult to get people to move to a new platform. How you do that, I don't know. Maybe it'll take another wave of mass Facebook censorship to get its reluctant users to finally wake up and migrate someplace else. Right now, most of the alternative platforms are comparative wastelands -- because people aren't moving to them. It's a lot like getting people to vote for third parties. They argue that it's a wasted vote and the candidate will never win -- but that just becomes its own self-fulfilling prophecy when no one will make the leap and cast a vote in the first place.

If you want to keep your Facebook account open, or you need to wean yourself off, my advice would be to use Facebook for completely innocuous stuff, like pictures of your cats, or posts complaining about your neighbors, and move the activism -- or anything even remotely controversial and thus subject to Silicon Valley censorship -- to an alternative site.

So let's make this as easy as possible. I could go through dozens of alternative platforms, but I'm going to focus on the few that I think are the most viable.

Twitter replacement: Parler.

Parler (not "Parlor" -- the site's name is the French word for "to speak") works a lot like Twitter. It's built around sharing short blurbs. But Parler won't censor or fact-check you. If you're not doing something illegal, chances are no one is going to bother you.

I have a Parler account. I never liked Twitter, so I don't care so much for Parler. Aside from the fact that Twitter is a censorious cesspool, it's just not the type of social media that appeals to me. And as of now, it feels like an echo chamber for conservative ideas. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and it's most assuredly a result of all the censorship of conservative voices on other platforms. But I enjoy the push and pull of debate. If you want a Twitter-like experience where you don't have to worry about being silenced by a bunch of woke nannies, Parler might be the place for you.

YouTube replacements: Bitchute and banned.video.

Neither one is nearly as big as YouTube, and they can both feel a little bit clunky to use. But this is where all the video producers go after YouTube silences them. Bitchute is a combination of banned creators and folks just using an alternative to YouTube, while banned.video is exactly what it says it is. Twitter won't even allow you to link to Bitchute -- which of course only proves the need for services like Bitchute and banned.video. David Icke, for one, is there. Stefan Molyneux is at Bitchute. Alex Jones' InfoWars outfit is at both.

Reddit replacements: Ruqqus, Quora (sort of), idw.community (ditto), Voat (with huge caveats).

If you like discussion-based communities but don't want to deal with Reddit's woke censorship, you have options. Following Reddit's mass "hate speech" purge at the end of June, droves of users headed to Ruqqus, which is pretty much as close to a Reddit clone as you're going to find -- with the added bonus that you won't get banned.

Quora is a little bit different from Reddit. It's more of a Q&A-style site, with thoughtful and well-sourced answers getting upvotes and poorer responses being collapsed.

idw.community (also accessible through slug.com) is more focused on big-idea political debates. The "IDW" stands for "intellectual dark web," the group of thoughtful pundits and intellectuals that includes such names as Jordan Peterson, Bret Weinstein, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Dave Rubin. It's about as anti-woke of a site as you're going to find.

(Not gonna lie -- Quora and idw.community are two of my favorite social-media sites.)

Voat is like Ruqqus in most ways, except that it seems to have turned into a haven for racists and fringe conspiracy theorists. Approach at your own risk.

And finally...

Facebook replacements: Minds, MeWe, GabVK. 


MeWe and Minds are very similar to Facebook in how they work. You have a news feed, and you can join and create groups. The major difference between then is that MeWe's focus is on privacy -- MeWe won't sell your information or bombard you with targeted ads, nor does it use algorithms to manipulate what you see -- while Minds' mission is anti-censorship. If it's not illegal, you can say it at Minds, and no one will shut you up.

I have accounts at both MeWe and Minds. If I had to pick one over the other, I'd go with Minds. That's in part because of its commitment to free speech. But it also lets you create a blog, which I'm thinking about doing as a short-term solution to getting off Blogger for good. And I think it's also easier to make connections on Minds. Because others can pay to promote their feeds on Minds, you won't have to create your world from scratch -- you'll have something you can build on. At MeWe, it's pretty much all on you to build a network of contacts and groups.

Gab is a very interesting place. It's a little like Facebook, with groups and a news feed, but it also feels a little bit like Twitter -- maybe because there's so much strident political discussion. Like Parler, though, the discussion feels like an echo chamber, since so many people displaced from the Silicon Valley giants have ended up here. And you will find your share of racists and fringe crazies here, though they haven't taken over the place like at Voat. Gab's founder is a hardcore free-speech absolutist, so if you come here, you're going to have to deal with the folks at the extremes.

As you can see off to the right, Gab has a merch store. It also has its own Dissenter privacy-based browser -- and a merch store for Dissenter, too. But I'm not going to knock Gab for any of the merchandising. Like many of these alternative social-media sites, Gab is user-funded. And since Visa and PayPal have both blacklisted Gab, you pretty much have to use cryptocurrency or send a check in the mail. Free speech sometimes comes at a cost -- literally.

And here's the big wild card: VK. That's short for VKontakte. VK is basically Russia's Facebook. And it holds tremendous untapped potential for folks in the West.

Why? Because VK's format will be very familiar to those who use Facebook, right down to the blue color scheme. It has a messaging function, you can share images, you can create public events, you can join and create groups -- it's all there. It even has a marketplace and its own e-payment system.

And this is no fringe website that's going away anytime soon. It's among the top 20 most visited sites in the world, with over 500 million members, and it's the single most popular website in Russia.

So why have you never heard of it? Well, probably because the Western media doesn't want you to know about it. And, partially for that reason, most of its users speak Russian.

However, there are English-speaking folks there. Most of the ones I've found are from the UK and tend to be hardcore English nationalists and Brexit supporters. In contrast, I think I've connected with a grand total of two Americans so far.

But there's nothing stopping Americans from networking and building their own groups there. Best of all, since you'd be flying under the radar, no one is going to bother you, which means you get added protection against Western cancel culture.

VK doesn't easily censor people, either. You can find a lot of articles online that will tell you how VK, like a lot of other social-media alternatives, has become a haven for those on the fringes after they've been kicked out of mainstream sites. And I won't sugar-coat it: There are some serious racists on VK, posting things that wouldn't last for 10 seconds on Facebook. But as with Gab, free speech means you take the good with the bad. Other people get to say things you may not like. But basically, as long as you don't bash Vladimir Putin, you're going to be just fine on VK. Look me up if you're interested in trying it out. I haven't used it much yet. I'm waiting for others to come so I can get to know them and network with them.

The future of free speech

I don't have any faith that Google won't pull down this post. I can only hope that the people who need to see it actually do -- and that you might be able to find a new social-media home where you can start building new communities with friends and like-minded people, free of the censorship-happy Silicon Valley giants. See you there!

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