Social media provides a platform to share thoughts and to engage with family and friends separated by distance, but users are finding themselves needing to balance the benefits of social media and its potentially negative impacts on their mental health. Some users are reinventing their relationship with social media through the use of decentralized social networks like Pleroma.
Decentralized platforms like Pleroma provide users with the ability to control the content that they consume. This ability for users to moderate their own communities may alleviate some of the negative impacts of social media on mental health. Tech entrepreneurs like Leonid Radvinsky are paving the way for this new state of social media through his investment and vision for Pleroma.
Mental Health and Social Media
From controversies surrounding fake news to algorithm shifts that show fewer friends’ content, social media is often a place of anxiety and frustration. The platforms often require an “always on” approach that provides funny (but not offensive) and picturesque (but not staged) content. It’s exhausting and undermines mental health in a number of ways. Social media users often experience increased:
- FOMO (fear of missing out).
- Privacy invasion.
Despite that, social media is like a drug, pulling users back for one more hit of the engagement that they crave from others. Studies show that teens are more depressed and anxious when they increase their screen time, especially when that time is spent on social media use. Social media use has also been linked to poor sleep quality, low self-esteem, and increased anxiety.
As people are using the platforms, however, they often don’t feel the negative impact. Algorithms on these platforms work hard to show the content that keeps people hooked, calculating the content that users slow down to read and then curating their feed to include more of it. The posts that make your blood boil and your friend’s adorable new kitten are bothworking to keep you hooked.
Money Trails and Centralized Social Media Bias
Much of the pressure to keep users on social media comes from the reliance of platforms on paying sponsors. Social media platforms make money from the billions of users looking at and clicking on sponsored ads. Because of their reliance on advertising revenue, most social media platforms are incentivized to keep users interacting with their content regardless of its impact on mental health. This focus on maximizing the amount of time users spend on the platform interferes with the ability of users to moderate the content they consume.”
How Decentralized Social Networks Work
As these social media platforms focus on benefits on keeping their sponsors happy, they aren’t necessarily prioritizing the mental well-being of their users. Decentralized networks allow users to moderate their own communities outside of the control of a centralized platform.
Rather than relying on a centralized platform, decentralized networks are composed of independently run servers. This structure provides users with more autonomy to moderate their own content. Each server within the Fediverse is self-governing.
What Is the Fediverse?
The Fediverse is made up of user-hosted instances across decentralized social media platforms. Each instance is its own individual community with the ability to communicate with other, interconnected servers. Unlike centralized social media platforms, federated networks can interact with other networks in the Fediverse. The Federation’s growing collection of instances just surpassed more than four million users total and contains more than 446 million posts.
Instances can moderate the content that appears on their own server without relying on centralized platforms to make good faith efforts toward harm reduction. They can also block other instances that spread harmful content and disinformation from interacting with their instance. Moderation becomes an act of social pressure rather than depending on what is monetarily beneficial to a platform.
Pursuing the Decentralized Platform
Leonid Radvinsky has been a believer in decentralized social networks for years. In 2018, he invested $3 million into developing the free social platform, Pleroma, with the goal of creating a lighter and more simplified platform than some of the current decentralized options.
The Pleroma server is compatible with Mastodon, GNU Social, and ActivityPub servers. This free platform is a microblogging server with a default maximum of 5,000 characters. Servers within Pleroma can set their own restrictions to any value. Like most social media platforms, Pleroma allows you to like, repeat, and reply to posts. The Public Timeline shows posts made on the server, while the Whole Known Network shows all local posts, along with posts from other servers in the Fediverse. Each user also has a main timeline that contains content from the people they’ve chosen to follow and a real-time chat feature for users of that instance.
Pleroma has very few rules in its TOS, and they are written in plain language for all users to understand. Users must tag adult-only/sensitive content and cannot use the platform for doxing, distributing malware, or mass-advertising content.
Improving User Experience
The expectations toward social media are starting to shift as people realize how these platforms mine and use their data. The Netflix documentary-drama “The Social Dilemma” showed a fairly in-depth conversation about how invasive and abusive social media has become in the interest of business.
People are starting to leave social media. It is a slow trickle, but the numbers dropped for the first time in 2018 since the start of the trend. There are a number of reasons behind this shift, including:
- Free speech and censorship resistance.
- Private data protection.
- Invasive advertising.
- Stress and anxiety.
- Time management.
There are some major advantages to shifting away from centralized social media and increasing the popularity of decentralized social media platforms:
Protecting Users From Abuse
Investors like Leo Radvinsky see multiple threats to users of centralized social media.. Because users are the product of these platforms, they risk their information being sold to advertisers. Additionally, they are susceptible to governments accessing their personal information. Authorities globally have been cracking down on users who share political messages, but with decentralized social media, actions and messages don’t need to be tied to a person. Decentralized networks improve user experience by increasing transparency on the user end and trust in the Fediverse.
Reducing Fake Activity
Current centralized social media platforms are notorious for using algorithms that reward high engagement. These algorithms make it difficult for users with smaller followings to grow their audience since their content is frequently hidden from users. To combat these algorithms, some accounts have started paying for bot “likes,” shares, or followers. Decentralized social media can use fairer algorithms to display content and can verify influencer audiences using smart contracts, eliminating the value of bot accounts.
Through social networks like Pleroma, the control of content goes back to the users. With more control over the content they see and less manipulation by the platform they use, users will find social media a more valuable experience. For the good of everyone’s mental health, social media needs to change.
About Leonid Radvinsky
Leo Radvinsky is a venture capital fund investor, entrepreneur, and e-commerce pioneer. He has invested in Pleroma and B4X.com (a free open-source software language tool that’s ideal for beginners). At Leo.com, he invests in technology companies as a boutique venture capital fund. He majored in economics at Northwestern University. Leo Radvinsky wants to be part of lean startups dedicated to innovative solutions for next-generation internet applications. He has a visionary perspective on technology and supports the growth of decentralized social media networks.