Facebook Alternatives for Home Ed

Maybe you love Facebook. If you love it, this post might not be for you!

This is quite a long, in depth look at alternatives. (⏱ 10 minute read).

It starts by outlining the main reasons people want to reduce their reliance on Facebook.

Next, it uses a personal perspective to look at a Home Ed use case, and the author’s priorities in searching for an alternative.

The post concludes with the author’s preferred alternative, based on those criteria.

Finally, it summarises pros and cons of various other popular alternatives which may suit people with slightly different priorities.

P.S. If you don’t want a discussion based social media at all, you might prefer this post: Follow EHE Issues Without Social Media


Back to the Privacy landing page: Privacy, Security and Social Media


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Reasons for moving off Facebook

There seem to be three main reasons.

1. Some are concerned about “censoring”. This can take various forms. Like when the platform removes some hate speech but not others, removes some posts which incite violence but not others, removes pages of some ideologies or political groups but not others. Many members and representatives of marginalised groups have had content removed or hidden for no apparent reason. Posts which question Facebook policies, or suggest alternatives, are often removed. Public figures who question a range of ideas have their content hidden without being informed. (This is called a “shadow ban). Some see all that as a positive! Some don’t care as it doesn’t affect them directly.

2. Others are concerned about the profiling and tracking, the vast compilation of data which this large private company gathers and holds on each user. Selling data/ metadata and passing it to other businesses. Tracking your off-Facebook activity and adding it to the unseen part of your profile. Some people don’t care or see this as a small price to pay for a convenient service. (N.B. This is a complex topic, worthy of a post in its own right. This is just the briefest summary).

3. Others don’t like how it sucks you in each time you try to check one quick thing. It has algorithms which promote posts you’re likely to interact with. Some people love this aspect! Others find it an unwelcome time drain.

One Home Ed Perspective

This post gives my personal perspective. It’s not intended to describe all home edders, as we are a wonderfully diverse bunch. It simply gives my conclusions for those interested in Facebook alternatives.

As someone who primarily uses Facebook for home ed groups, I don’t wan a full-on “social media” alternative, where I can follow my favourite artist, stalk old friends, chat randomly with new friends, or doomscroll for entertainment.

My use case (I think) is more along the lines of chat rooms, group messages with sub threads.

My personal priorities:

I want to stay up to date with national Home Ed issues, plus be able to discuss them to check my understanding.

Sometimes I want ideas for the particular curricula we follow.

I also want to stay in touch with local Home Ed issues, events etc, and be able to ask questions or ask for recommendations, wider than my immediate circle.

I also want both security and privacy.

I also don’t want to invest time into a platform that is likely to (a) get shut down or (b) find that their financial model is unsustainable, and sell out.

I also don’t actually want an entertaining internet scroll-browse where I get drawn in to looking at stuff for ages.

This leads me to the following criteria (some of these overlap to some degree):

• Open source (meaning it can be checked by others, and the technology can also be used by other developers to make new versions)

• Non-proprietary (not owned by one private profit-making company which needs to make money at the end of the day)

• Not selling my data or metadata for use in profiling me (I don’t want better ads)

• Not even keeping my metadata

• Decentralised or federated (spread across servers including self-hosting options, meaning, among other things, it isn’t owned by one organisation and it can’t be “shut down” on a whim)

• I don’t have to show other users my phone number to be able to use it

• End-to-end encrypted messaging (so the platform provider has no access to the content being discussed in the message forum. This is partly because when I discuss Home Ed, I am discussing details of my children’s lives.)

• Closed rooms with joining permissions (so the random public can’t see what I type)

Conclusion:

The best option I have come across is called Matrix.

If you share the priorities outlined above, why not have a look at it.

It allows all the above things.

What it doesn’t have yet is all the useful functions of a group with different sub threads.

However, the developers are working on this and it’s coming soon.

So it’s not an easy switch from Facebook. But it depends what your priorities are. I don’t mind waiting for the updates, as I don’t want to compromise on the other things.

I also don’t mind if it has a smaller user base of privacy conscious users, as long as I can use it for my purposes.

Confusingly, although it’s called Matrix, the apps to use and view it have other names (like Element).

You can use a few different apps to look at it (a bit like using a different browser, Chrome, Firefox etc to look at a website – it may look slightly different, but it’s the same website).

The first is Element, as mentioned above. This looks quite old fashioned atm, but it does the job. It’s the most common one. You get it in the app or play store. Element Messenger.

https://element.io/get-started

The second option (currently) is called Fluffychat. It is still in beta (testing) stage, and so it sometimes crashes, but it looks more modern and easy on the eye (the designers say it’s supposed to look friendly and cute). It has a cute cat as the icon. To get this app, go to the website https://fluffychat.im/en/ . Or for Android, get it here: https://play.google.com/store/search?q=matrix%20chat&c=apps

Contact homeedsurrey @ tutanota.com for an invitation to home ed groups (verification process will apply).

Another option is to follow websites and blogs, and not to use a social platform at all: Follow EHE issues without social media

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Other alternatives

Some of these other alternatives may suit those with different priorities or needs, and who don’t mind compromising slightly on privacy. This may include people who enjoy all the fun features of social media, but who simply want something that’s not Facebook. It may also include focused working groups which need more sophisticated functionality immediately.

Listed in alphabetical order.

ActivityPub: This is a decentralised (federated) option. To use this, someone would have to set it up and run it. For example, people could create a (private) instance for each type of group we want, and federate them together with a whitelist. Looks a bit technical/ complicated, but I’m listing it here in case anyone wants to have a look!

Autarki Social: A very new social media company which has emerged from the organisation Save Our Rights UK (you can find more info on the SORUK website).

Pros:

• Claims to be fun and user friendly, aiming to compete with popular social media sites

• They claim not to sell your data (has to be taken on trust as with all such claims)

• It doesn’t use algorithms to place content or ads.

• Autarki is UK based, which is preferable to US based MeWe.

• The terms say they do not allow certain content, including illegal or harmful content. (It was not clear from the terms how they would monitor or enforce this).

• Charging a fee upfront from the start may give users more confidence in their funding model.

• The security of the infrastructure gets a B rating (good) from Qualys SSLlabs. That said, although it’s reassuring to see a good security rating, the privacy policy is more useful as a guide.

• If your values and interests align with Save Our Rights UK, you will presumably find other users on the platform who share these values.

Cons:

• Proprietary (owned by a private company, not open source software, and held on their servers) which means you have to trust the company

• It also means that other developers can’t either reliably check the service or use it to develop alternatives.

• The £2 per month fee (£20/year) will put many off, so it depends who else you need to convince.

• It’s set up to make a profit. At some future hypothetical point it could change its ethos and start selling data or metadata. They say they won’t, but this needs to be trusted.

Of course, you can always jump ship if they changed their user agreements.

• It’s brand-new, with less experience in this field than a well established alternative like MeWe.

• The terms don’t seem transparent; they say they will censor posts with unwanted content, but they don’t explain how.

• It doesn’t currently have capacity for new members, so it’s not an immediate solution.

• There is no mobile app available yet (although you can use a browser on your mobile device).

Campfire Convention: At a glance it seems to have various eco and alternative/ holistic lifestyle businesses and creators promoting their offerings, which may appeal or not! The fee of £1.66 per month fee will put many off unless it particularly appeals, so it depends who else you need to convince. It’s a private company, so some of their claims need to be taken on trust. It’s UK based, which is preferable to US based MeWe. But probably not the top choice unless you resonate with the branding and stated ethos, or all of your group decide to move there together.

Coldcast: Looks amateur, difficult to find much about it which does not fill me with confidence.

Diaspora: Doesn’t have the right functionality for closed groups. Good security, but more like Twitter.

Discord: Fun and user-friendly, but neither private or secure. Large groups can apparently become unwieldy. Read more here: https://cadence.moe/blog/2020-06-06-why-you-shouldnt-trust-discord And more here on what it does with audio and video data: https://medium.com/tenable-techblog/lets-reverse-engineer-discord-1976773f4626

Friendica: Doesn’t have an iOS app, which will be too high a barrier for many

Groups.io: Remember Yahoo groups? This is the modern version. It’s an email group service on a freemium model (the basic level is free, and then you can pay for more storage). It’s a private company, and they do collect some data, although they claim not to send it to ad-tracking networks. A lot of local HE groups, as well as curriculum discussion groups, seem to use it already around the world (based on a brief search of the publicly listed groups). Possibly more suited to longer and more in-depth discussions. Qualys SSL Labs give them a B rating for infrastructure security (good). That said, although it’s reassuring to see a good security rating, the privacy policy is more useful as a guide.

Mastodon: Doesn’t have the right functionality for closed groups. Good security, but more like Twitter. Here is some extra criticism of it, an interesting read if you’re interested in this stuff: https://sporks.space/2021/02/02/mastodon-really-is-crumbling-and-it-will-only-get-worse/

MeWe is a well established and experienced fb alternative, it’s free at a basic level, (you pay for more features), and seems an okay all rounder for those who don’t want to pay and who simply want to get off Facebook.

Pros:

  • This has a freemium model (use it free or pay for more features)
  • It doesn’t use algorithms to place content or ads.
  • They claim not to sell your data (has to be taken on trust as with all such claims)
  • They have a secure infrastructure (A rating according to Qualys SSLlabs). That said, although it’s reassuring to see a good security rating, the privacy policy is more useful as a guide.
  • It’s relatively easy to use coming from fb, and has ok functionality for groups and threaded discussions. It depends how complex you need you group to be.
  • They have a content policy on banning certain content, inciting violence etc. They say they will enforce this with human moderators. They acknowledge that it will be difficult to enforce perfectly, but that’s their aim. They are transparent about this, and use a combination of user reports and viewing posts (including within groups).
  • Encrypted one-to-one chats are available.
  • Their terms of service and privacy policy seem reasonable and transparent. They are not making vague claims or promises they can’t keep.
  • There are a few home ed groups on there, although mainly US ones (including a few Charlotte Mason curriculum groups, for example).

Cons:

  • Proprietary (owned by a private company, not open source software and held on their servers which means you have to trust the company)
  • Group admins have reported it lacks some useful features compared to Facebook groups.
  • At some future hypothetical point it could sell out. They say they won’t, but who knows. The freemium model may not be sustainable long term, and ultimately they are set up as a profit-making company and do need to make money.

Parler: I’m including this as a cautionary tale. You’re probably aware that it has been deplatformed. This is a potential problem with a proprietary company where the servers are centralised. If a service draws the attention of those with the ability to block it as a scapegoat, it’s difficult to get round this.

Peepeth: https://peepeth.com/about. Looks really cool, but again like Twitter with public posts only.

Scuttlebutt: Secure Scuttlebutt (SSB) is a different protocol with various ways of connecting to it. It is fully decentralised (peer to peer) and open source. “Planetary Social” and “Manyverse” both use its protocol. It seems, unfortunately, completely unsuitable for our purposes, but it’s an interesting new technology, and can work between friends/contacts even without internet connection. Aside from very small group private messaging, it doesn’t have closed groups, so it’s a Twitter style functionality (but with a very slow reach and response to posts and replies). Plus, potentially anyone using SSB can see your posts, it’s always public and you can’t change this setting, so it’s not private at all unless you use an anonymous account and hide your IP address. Plus, similar to having sent an email, you can’t edit or delete anything, ever. Yikes!

Read more here https://scuttlebutt.nz/ Or here: https://srcco.de/posts/secure-scuttlebutt-ssb.html

SSB via Manyverse: One to watch if you like public forums (but without hashtags or a search function) or are planning to go offline/ off grid, but not a suitable replacement for normal home ed fb groups: https://www.manyver.se/

SSB via Planetary Social: Another version of Twitter, but with hardly any reach. https://planetary.social/

Telegram: Fun and user-friendly, but neither private nor secure (despite some of their claims).

Zulip: Looks good for fast moving convergent projects where a team is actively engaged and working together on things. You need to pay for anything above basic hosted services (ie you pay for more storage space). Zulip is an open source and apparently better alternative to Mattermost or Slack, which is why I haven’t mentioned those. If you have that kind of working team, this would probably be the top choice. Qualys SSLlabs gives the infrastructure an excellent security rating of A+. That said, although it’s reassuring to see a good security rating, the privacy policy is more useful as a guide.

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Happy to be corrected or questioned on any of the above.

If you stay on Facebook, that’s obviously up to you! But for anyone interested in alternatives, I hope this info has helped you decide what to look into.

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