Decentralised Social Media

Decentralised Social Media

  • mdo  k3tan
  •   FOSS
  •   June 8, 2021

The Problem

Deplatforming and censorship is what ends up happening in a centralised environment. When one entity is the server (or host) for the masses, that one entity has the ability to curate what large numbers of people see and don't see. They have the ability to edit narratives to how they see fit. They are able to collect the data uploaded to their server and do what they want with it, including selling it for profit and invading their users' privacy.

What's worse is that a government can coerce or corrupt that one entity and with the government monopoly on violence, that entity must comply with their demands, even if they don't necessarily agree with them, or face fines and/or jail time for the controllers of that entity.

The Solution

We are, over time, finding out that the results of centralisation aren't pretty. So, what's the solution?

There is one proposal that's been up and running for a while now. It's called the Fediverse. It allows you (an individual), to host an instance of open source software on your computer and expose it out to the world. Other people are able to host that open source software on their computers as well. The two instances can then speak to one another. This is called "federating" or building a "federation". Each server owns their respective data. Building this network out, it leads to a more decentralised social media, where many servers host content, not just one big entity. It makes it more difficult for a government or entity to shut down, censor and sell your data. It's almost like torrenting, but for social media.

If you want a quick primer into the Fediverse, I recommend watching this short video here.

So, what are some alternatives on the Fediverse?

These are all programs you can host on your computer (or a server) and start federating with other instances.

A practical example

Here's a practical example of how decentralised social media is currently playing out as an alternative to Bitcoin Twitter.

Mastodon is the "Fediverse" version of Twitter. There's other competing implementations like Pleroma as well - but they essentially do the same thing. Mimic Twitter.

A person by the name of NVK hosts an instance of Mastodon. It can be found at He hosts it on a server that he controls. He has full ownership of the data on that server. Along with his own profile, he also allows others to use his server to host their profiles. His profile can be found at @[email protected]. At the time of writing, his server as 11.4K users on the instance. Because he administers the instance, he is able to approve or deny someone from making a social media profile on his server. He can also view any private messages sent between users within his instance, just like Twitter can. He owns all the data. NVK sets his rules and does what he wants - he's the king of the domain. He has complete totalitarian control over anyone who uses his instance. He pays for the costs, maintains it, upgrades it and looks after it on a best efforts basis. The users rely on him to keep the server running. At any point, he can decide to remove users from his instance. If he doesn't like what he sees, he can remove it.

But, what if a user doesn't want to use the Mastodon instance? What if NVK doesn't like me and won't approve my profile? What if I don't like @NVK? Well, there are plenty of other Mastodon instances to choose from. But the beauty of it is that you can host your own instance! Which is exactly what I do because I want digital sovereignty. My social media profile is hosted at and my profile can be found @[email protected] on the Fediverse. It uses my own domain and I host a Pleroma instance of my own, which federates with the instance. There's only one person on my instance, and that's me. I don't intend to open up my instance to others, but there's nothing stopping you from creating another instance which does. In fact, it's encouraged. The more instances, the harder it is to be deplatformed and censored. I'm able to see the content on because my instance and the instance are "federated".

To make things easier for admins, I also host a relay service for ease of communication between bitcoin related instances. Instead of instance owners each federating with each other, they can choose to sign up their instance to the relay which broadcasts tweets (they're called toots on the Fediverse) to all the instances on their users' federated timeline. The relay can be found here. Check it out. There are some 40+ instances on the relay, some of whom would gladly host your profile if you aren't comfortable running your own. The largest one is of course

Since I operate the relay, I choose which instances I want on the relay and who I don't. Ultimately, if your instance is on the relay, your content will be seen on the feeds of everyone else on the relay. That's the theory anyway. There has only been one instance where a server has joined the relay and I've had to remove and ban it. Someone messaged me alerting to some vile and disgusting content. I removed the instance immediately. I somewhat curate what people on their Mastodon federated timelines see. Personally, I don't like being in this position. But, as the saying goes, "if not me, then who?"

The pros and cons

So how is this any better? Aren't we removing one set of overlords for another?

Not quite. Twitter has its own policies and procedures that affect millions of users and there is nothing you can do if Twitter doesn't like your content. With the Fediverse, you can host your own media and content and build your audience on that. You have options. This makes it much more difficult for you to get deplatformed for your beliefs.

Here are the benefits of the decentralised approach

  • The control and flow of information is spread out to more than just a handful of centralised entities such as Google, Facebook and Twitter.
  • Deplatforming is difficult to do. Instance owners can deplatform someone. That someone can take their profile to another instance or create their own.
  • Users are able to curate what they want to see and who they want to hear from.
  • Users can say whatever they want as long as it's in accordance with the rules of the instance. If you don't like the rules, host your own instance.
  • User data is protected by the instance owner and their hosting service. Competition is created amongst instances to act in the best interests of their users.
  • Difficulty in scraping big data, selling it, using it for advertising or invading user privacy.
  • Less advertisements and paid tweets seen by users.

Here are the downsides of the decentralised approach

  • Your reach might not extend as far - the network effect of Twitter is far greater than that of the Fediverse.
  • Running and maintaining your own instance requires technical knowledge, of which not everyone has the time to do.
  • Backup, restore, disk failures, internet uptime and power outages all become your responsibility. Most host their instance on a Virtual Private Server (VPS). You're now beholden to the policies of the VPS.
  • If you can't self host, your next option is to use someone else's instance. You must adhere to their policies.
  • Difficulty in finding new content. You don't know what you don't know. There's no algorithm that decides what you see. If you don't know what you want to see, you're not going to see much.
  • Fighting misinformation is difficult, and opportunities to dunk on bad takes aren't as easily found. Since you've curated what you want to see, an opposing world view to yours may never come to light. It could be argued that you've built yourself an echo chamber, reinforcing your bias.

It's not just Twitter

Fediverse activity isn't limited to Twitter alternatives. The same issues also extend out to YouTube with audio and video content. is a PeerTube instance that has been hosted for Bitcoiners wanting to express their ideas without fear of being taken down or censored. There's nothing stopping you from hosting your own PeerTube as well. Many content creators advocating for privacy have since moved over to PeerTube. Many are actively speaking out against governments and need a decentralised environment to freely express their ideas and concerns.

By no means is decentralised social media a perfect solution. It comes with trade offs, but when censorship and deplatforming is rampant, a decentralised approach can be helpful.

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