Hate speech, bullying, misinformation: social media is a hostile place for many. Whereas Facebook, Twitter and company are trying to improve the content circulating on their platform, is there a future for more nested networks where members could discuss more cordially?

The problem is not new: the climate on social media is often toxic. Even if we express a banal point of view, we are liable to receive insulting comments. And that does not include all the misinformation that circulates there.

Over the years, several public figures have left major networks because of insults or being victims of harassment. In the shadows, a crowd of Internet users followed their steps, also tired of their experience.

In this context, it may be assumed that more and more conversations will move to more nested, intimate, or even outright new network channels of like-minded members and similar profiles.

Already existing channels

This migration to more nested channels is already underway. Consider, for example, the migration of younger Facebook users to other platforms, including Snapchat and Instagram, in order to exchange information at the shelter of their parents.

Think also of the growing popularity of messaging tools like Messenger or WhatsApp. Finally, let us also give an example of these marginal groups which, driven away from major networks, migrate to other platforms where, they think, their content will not be censured.

These more intimate spaces, consultant Sara Wilson calls them “digital campfires“, more intimate places where people are happy to meet and share their common interests. Conversely, she compares major networks to an airport: a busy public space where everyone has access, but no one is particularly enthusiastic about being there.

Private networks: the alternative to Facebook and Twitter

In recent years, new platforms have been created to provide Internet users with a better experience. This is the case of Mastodon. This network brings together a multitude of small communities. In each, users can set their own rules, ranging from total freedom of expression to a more stringent set of rules on published content or the tone of discussions.

Another example of a private network is WT.Social, a microblogging site launched in October 2019 by Jimmy Wales, Co-Founder of Wikipedia. One of its missions is to fight fake news by providing content based on facts and clear sources.

Like Mastodon, WT.Social is an option for large networks and their often toxic content. And unlike them, it is funded by its users and not by advertising. To this end, we may wonder if a class of less fortunate users is not a little sidelined from this kind of platform.

What future for private networks?

But can these networks be viable in the long term? And if so, what market share can they realistically occupy? Even if we predicted a bright future for them, several platforms defining themselves as the alternative to major networks have not known the success hoped for. Mainly think of Ello, Diaspora, or even Google Plus, whose concept of “circles” nevertheless allowed more intimate exchanges.

Knowing this, one might think that the transition to more intimate and cordial exchanges could be done more through current platforms than through new networks. This transition would then continue with the growing use of messaging apps, private groups on Facebook or LinkedIn, or on Twitter, with its restricted accounts.

Better structured exchanges within more intimate circles of people with similar interests and values: is this the solution to foster a less toxic climate on social media?

If that is the case, it would be a shame, however, on one point: social media has allowed people with different backgrounds, different values, and different world views to meet and discuss with each other. To fold each in our bubble would be, in a way, a failure and would bring us back a little more to our respective echo chamber.

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