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Federated Social Media and Journalism

Although journalists take a keen interest in Commercial Social Media (CSM), primarily meaning Facebook (and its subsidiaries, WhatsApp, Instagram etc), and Twitter (and possibly Tik Tok, and YouTube) there are particular reasons why journalists should be wary of them, and be aware of, and use and promote Federated Social Media alternatives.

Commercial Social Media is a rival, not a friend

Traditional Media (newspapers and broadcasters) and Commercial Social Media compete for advertisers, and CSM does so more successfully, as it can deliver a more accurate profile of its readership to the advertisers, who are the people who are paying for it.

CSM does not employ any journalists, benefiting from the work of journalists paid by Traditional Media, while undermining the revenue which pays their salaries. A career as an ‘Influencer‘ is probably not what most serious journalists aspire to.

Commercial Social Media will inevitably become political

As Commercial Social Media becomes more accurate in its profiling of its user base it will know more and more about the return on investment it can deliver to an advertiser from any particular user. There will come a point where the most valuable thing that many social media users can provide in return for free hosting of their posts and pictures will be their votes.

By pushing their readership towards CSM, when they use Facebook and Twitter as their means of relating to their user base, Traditional Media organisations, are indirectly encouraging this trend. This is particularly ironic as the idea of interference in democratic elections is abhorrent to most journalists in the free world. (it is interesting that the expression free world is taken to mean free as in freedom, and journalists do not confuse it with free as in free newspapers).

As a case in point, The Guardian article on ‘David Puttnam hits out at government as he quits House of Lords” has Share buttons for Facebook, Twitter (and email), but The Guardian does not have an independent social media presence of its own, despite the one of the significant points of the article being the government’s lacklustre response to the report on ‘Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust‘. (This 153 page report touches on many of issues of transparency and trust)

What are the alternatives

These are just suggestions which journalists may find worth investigating. Journalism being the production and distribution of reports on current events based on facts and supported with proof or evidence, the ways that information flows in today’s world seems worth studying.

The common factor in all of the following suggestions is that they are Federated, so a Traditional Media organisation can set up their own presence (or instance) in these systems and not lock their readership/viewers in. They would all be able to be used in a subscriber model, in the same way as a newspaper operating behind a paywall if this turned out to be the best business model.

They are also all Free Software, so the cost of experimenting and learning about them is low, and they are supported by enthusiastic and helpful communities. When setting up such systems it is worth considering what they should be called. For experimental purposes any domain name is suitable, but in production they should be subdomains of the main internet presence to inherit its trust – see It is good to be a tree for why improving understanding of trust is becoming increasingly important in the online world.

Diaspora

as an alternative to Facebook. I do not yet have a Diaspora account, though it looks worth investigating.

XMPP

as an alternative to WhatsApp (see Who pays for WhatsApp). This is an Internet Standard Instant Messaging protocol, with at least two good choices of server systems (the part that might be run by a newspaper) and a wide range of clients (the part the used by their readership), including web clients so readers do not need to install a particular app if they do not want to.

I am on xmpp as jlines@debian.org

As XMPP is its own protocol there is no clash in using names similar to the email addresses already in use. If for example The Guardian were to offer an XMPP service to its subscribers (a potential way to delivery added value to the subscription at low cost the the newspaper), they could use addresses of the form fred.bloggs@subscribers.theguardian.com to distinguish them from staff.

ActivityPub (Mastodon or Pleroma)

as an alternative to Twitter. This works best for content which is intended to be publicly shared, and can be boosted (a bit like being retweeted) across multiple instances.

I am on the Debian instance of pleroma as @jlines@pleroma.debian.social.

Peertube

as an alternative to YouTube. The organisation running the server pays the hosting and network bandwidth costs to host their own streaming media, but by peering with other instances allows the other instances viewers, to see the other instances content, some of it using hosting organisation’s bandwidth, and vice versa.

The Dark Side

The ability to operate a Federated Media instance to publish content using their own rules about what is permitted does mean that it can become a platform for views or content which has been blocked or banned from CSM, for example (or so I hear – I have not looked at it myself) Gab.

I do know there are some instances which are echo chambers for conspiracy theorists, but distinguishing truth from falsehood, fact from fiction and conspiracy from cover up should be the essence of journalism, and equipping the public to do the same should be part of the mission.

hope on the horizon

Better tools for investigating trustworthiness of information found on the internet are always interesting, and a project called EUNOMIA looks interesting. It is not yet at the stage where it is useful to the average social media user, but people with in interest in journalism, politics or sociology might benefit from being aware of it.

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