Meta is in the early stages of developing a text-based social media app that could rival Twitter, MoneyControl reported yesterday (March 9). Unlike its other social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram—and unlike Twitter—the app will reportedly be decentralized. Meta didn’t clarify what this would mean, but other decentralized apps like Mastodon, a Twitter rival, support independent servers where users create their own rules about content moderation.
Meta’s new app, codenamed P92, will reportedly integrate ActivityPub, the set of rules that allow networks to communicate. ActivityPub is what allows for decentralization, or interconnectedness between social platforms. Users will be able to engage with content across the platforms that support ActivityPub without having to make accounts for each one. Mastodon supports ActivityPub, and Tumblr announced in November it is adding the protocol. Flickr, an image and video hosting platform, is considering adding it as well.
The increasing integration of decentralization capabilities like ActivityPub could change the social media landscape. The movement is intended to give more control to users rather than social media corporations and the billionaires that own them. No one company will be able to control data and content in the decentralized servers. Third parties won’t be able to collect user data, which could change how companies advertise to consumers.
The popularity of decentralized social media platforms is a response to calls for more ethical social networks and an increasing focus on user privacy, inspired in part by the prevalence of Covid-19 digital contact tracing that some felt violated their privacy. Privacy advocates like Netherlands-based Advocacy Unified Network have written in support of decentralization.
PeerTube, a video hosting platform similar to YouTube, and Pixelfed, which is similar to Instagram, also have ActivityPub capabilities. When social media platforms integrate ActivityPub, the walls between platforms are taken down. Right now, if a Twitter user wants to share a video they created on YouTube, they have to tweet the link. With ActivityPub capabilities, a Tumblr user could follow a Mastodon user from within the Tumblr platform. They could see posts originating on PeerTube, Pixelfed and Meta’s P92 in their Tumblr feed.
Meta could create greater synergy between its platforms if it adopted ActivityPub across Facebook, Instagram and P92. But it would also lose some control over content moderation. Its advertising sales could also suffer, so it is hard to imagine Meta adopting a fully decentralized approach.
ActivityPub was authored by Christine Lemmer-Webber, Jessica Tallon, Erin Shepherd, Amy Guy and Evan Prodromou. Prodromou previously started Wikitravel and StatusNet, a microblogging platform similar to Twitter.
The World Wide Web Consortium, a group that sets internet standards, endorsed ActivityPub in 2018, which is a step towards normalizing the protocol. Other protocols similar to ActivityPub include Diaspora, Scuttlebutt and Atom.