Hidden Wonders

Privacy·Technology

On Twitter


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Introduction[#]


In my previous article about youtube, I gave numerous alternatives to using the Youtube service for the purposes of evading censorship, ads, and/or trackers. However, these problems are shared by most of the Internet’s major websites; luckily, there are, just like there were for Youtube, alternatives that can partially or fully resolve these concerns. I won’t have too much to say about these——it’s not as complex as the many options to avoid Youtube, or maybe I just don’t know as much about it——but it’s definitely worth a read.

The Problem with Twitter[#]


If memory serves, there was a period of time before the 2016 presidential election where Twitter was one of the only social media sites not censoring people frequently; since then, it’s become just as bad if not worse than most other equivalent sites. Some of its most recent actions include locking the New York Post out of its Twitter due to the publishing of a story it deemed false as well as banning a former US president from the platform. Additionally, it extracts a ton of personal data from its users, and it obviously has numerous ads as well. Unless you like seeing ads and recommendations that are creepily tailored to your interests or enjoy people being censored arbitrarily by Jack Dorsey Elon Musk——you and your friends can easily be next——we should probably see what can be done about this.

Nitter to the Rescue[#]


Just like the Invidious project mentioned in my Youtube article, Nitter is a more lightweight and privacy-respecting version of twitter. This isn’t a solution if you post on Twitter, but it certainly works for those who just want to browse the site every now and then. RSS feeds are supported on Nitter as well, which can easily act as a substitute to having an actual Twitter account. The github link claims that “In addition to respecting your privacy, Nitter is on average around 15 times lighter than Twitter,” which is very nice for slower Internet connections.

There are also, like Invidious, some onion and i2p links available. To try it out yourself, see the list of Nitter instances here; the average Nitter instance tends to work a lot better than the average Invidious instance, and the site keeps track of which instances are slower. Do note that a fair number of Nitter instances are rate limited (as of writing this); if you go the official Nitter instance, you’ll see that it will often fail to work because it limits how much bandwidth the site allows users to use. Of course, this is easily fixed by just trying another instance.

In summary, if all you’re doing is following a few users, then Nitter is really all you need. There’s no reason to give away all of your personal information by creating a Twitter account if this is your use case, one can just use an RSS feed with Nitter and you’re done. If you actually want to be social on your social media (a foreign concept to me), we’re going to have to briefly look at some alternative platforms entirely.

The Alternatives: Mastodon and Pleroma[#]


I’ll preface this by saying I’m not a big social media person; I believe that the quest for upvotes that occur on most social media sites is toxic to society as a whole, so I try to stay away from that kind of stuff. As such, be aware that I have little experience with actually using these sites.

Mastodon is just like the previously mentioned Peertube——a Youtube alternative——in the sense that it uses ActivityPub and is federated. Pleroma is like that too except it isn’t widely used (a list of Pleroma instances); in contrast, Mastodon’s website claims 4.4 million people have signed up for an account, which is a respectably high adoption number——you can search for available Mastodon instances here. In the fear surrounding Elon Musk potentially acquiring Twitter, I believe there’s also been an small exodus of people to Mastodon.

There’s also Gab, which I think is just a right wing fork of Mastodon? Anyway, that exists. It’s a shame that it separated from the Fediverse when they forked it; as you can guess, we now have right wing and left wing alternative social media, so the problems of free speech and echo chambers aren’t addressed by either Mastodon or Gab.

Mastodon says that it “is free, open-source software. There is no advertising, monetizing, or venture capital,” while Pleroma similarly claims that it is “Free and open communication for everyone. Pleroma is social networking software compatible with other Fediverse software” (both of these quotes are straight from the services’ front pages). Services that use ActivityPub are referred to as being apart of “the Fediverse.”

I believe Pleroma is the best option available, but relatively no one uses it.

Closing Thoughts[#]


I don’t have much to say about these alternatives or how good they are——my brief experience with Pleroma was fairly positive, but I’d rather not fall down a social media rabbit hole. However, I do feel these platforms are indubitably better than Twitter; federation means the service is very censorship-resistant, and the fact that both Pleroma and Mastodon are both free software should prevent trackers, ads, and other privacy violations from becoming an issue. If you are a heavy social media user, I would certainly recommend giving one of these a try over Twitter.

Or, you know, just don’t use social media.


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