Big Things

‘The Anti-Facebook’: Wikipedia co-founder launches ad-free social media platform

November 20, 2019
  • The social media platform features a Facebook-style newsfeed, but content is prioritized by recency instead of engagement.
  • Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales said he was inspired to create WT:Social because advertising had allowed “low-quality” content to dominate Facebook and Twitter.
  • Facebook and Twitter have recently adopted opposing strategies in how to handle political advertising.

Fed up with Facebook and Twitter? If so, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales hopes you’ll join WT:Social, a new social media platform that promises not to run advertisements or sell user data.

WT:Social features a Facebook-like feed on which users can share news or other content. But unlike Facebook, whose algorithms prioritize content that’s sponsored or receiving a lot of engagement, WT:Social simply shows new content first.

This content comes from various sections of the platform (called subwikis) that users choose to join. (A few I found while browsing: “Snowboarding”, “Shamanism” and, curiously, “Liberation for all People (+Veganism)”). The platform will allow users to “directly edit misleading headlines, or flag problem posts.”

About 160,000 people have signed up for WT:Social since it launched in October. The platform is free to join, but new users are put on a wait-list, which can be instantly bypassed if you donate money. WT:Social hopes to survive only on donations.

“Instead of optimizing our algorithm to addict you and keep you clicking, we will only make money if you voluntarily choose to support us — which means that our goal is not clicks but actually being meaningful to your life,” Wales said in a post about the project.

Wales said advertising is the key problem of platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest problem driving low quality media is that it has been purely advertising supported, and that the social networks which provide so much distribution are also purely advertising supported,” he wrote in a blog post. “Facebook, Twitter and other social networks make revenue based on how long you stay on their site looking at and clicking on advertising. Engagement is prioritized over quality.”

A video published Monday by the WT:Social team says Wales was inspired to create the platform because of “the superficiality of Facebook and Twitter,” and that he hopes his new platform will “conquer Facebook,” which he considers to be “full of clickbait and misleading news.”

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales

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