The Current State of Alt-Tech

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The oligarchs of Silicon Valley — Facebook, Twitter and Google — have pursued and continue to pursue policies of censorship and demonetisation of controversial personalities who use their platforms. They don’t have your interests at heart, only their vision of a world under their thumb.

Last year, the Alt-Tech promised a revolution. These platforms aimed to disrupt and replace the legacy platforms, placing the rights and freedoms of users first. One year on, how well did they fare?

Infogalactic

Infogalactic is an unqualified success story. Beginning as a dynamic hard fork of Wikipedia, it strives to be more objective and informative than its predecessor. In line with its Seven Canons, Infogalactic maintains a strict non-ideological position for all facts — but in the future, it will introduce Context and Opinion levels to its pages, allowing greater depth of content.

Every time I compared an Infogalactic page to Wikipedia, I found the former to be more informative and accurate. The only major knock against Infogalactic is its load time, and even that is improving by the day. In the beginning, it took long minutes to load a single page. Today, it is only slightly slower than Wikipedia.

I use Infogalactic exclusively these days. Wikipedia’s explicit left-wing bias means it is no longer a neutral source of information. Infogalactic has demonstrated itself to be a viable and sustainable alternative to Wikipedia, and in the long term I suspect the disruption and replacement of Wikipedia is inevitable.

Gab

Gab was supposed to be the Twitter killer. A platform dedicated to free speech, it has survived allegations and lies about it being the haven of the Alt-Right and Neo-Nazis. Apple and Google have repeatedly prevented Gab from publishing its app on the iTunes Store and Google Play Store respectively for spurious reasons. Gab brands itself as a proponent of free speech — but that is also its undoing.

Gab’s key weakness is its inability or unwillingness to moderate posts. While it is unwaveringly committed to free speech, freedom is not and cannot be unlimited. As the old adage goes, your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. Harmful speech — speech that incites violence or compromises the privacy and safety of individuals — is not protected speech. Gab must be able to moderate harmful content to preserve the continued health and safety of its users, and it has failed the test.

Over the past week, blogger Vox Day noted that a handful of Gab users have defamed him, and requested Gab to provide their private information so he could take appropriate legal action. Gab refused, prompting Vox Day to send in the lawyers. This catalysed a drawn-out campaign on the Internet, with Gab founder Andrew Torba upholding his position on free speech and Vox Day maintaining his stance on moderation and legal consequences. Since then, other users have continued to defame Vox Day, and threatened to dox him.

At the same time, Asia Registry, Gab’s domain registrar, dropped Gab because one of its users posted hate speech. Gab also allowed users to post home addresses on its site, in clear violation of the law and its own terms of service. Gab has banned the user who posted the offended content and took down the post, but left the other users who conducted defamatory and doxxing activities untouched. Gab has also since secured a new domain registrar.

These controversies expose Gab’s core weakness. As Gab refused to moderate harmful speech, Gab users have no choice but to lodge complaints with the domain registrar, who will inevitably respond by ordering Gab off its platform. Like the Daily Stormer, I foresee Gab migrating from registrar to registrar, virtually guaranteeing disruption of services. Alternatively, these users may turn to the police and the courts instead, which will invite another round of troubles.

Free speech ends where harm begins. Incitement to violence, exposure of confidential information, and lying about someone to smear his reputation counts as harm. If Gab will not handle harmful speech in-house, other parties will. To Gab’s detriment. I, for one, cannot in good conscience continue to recommend anyone to use Gab until they fix this oversight, if ever.

Brave

Brave was supposed to offer a happy compromise between browsers that captured your browsing data to deliver ads and a non-stop arms race between ad blockers and advertisers. It blocked unwanted ads while allowing ads on certain sites, allowing you to support your favourite content providers. It also offered channels to send money directly to these content providers in lieu of ads. It sounds like a win-win situation, but execution remains a problem.

I can’t use Brave on my computer for most of my needs. It’s not compatible with many websites I frequent, including and especially those I use for work and business transactions. It’s also noticeably slower than other browsers I’ve used. On my mobile phone, I’ve noticed increasingly frequent failures to load websites, forcing me to use alternatives.

While Brave is promising, it’s at best a secondary browser. I still use Pale Moon for most of my Internet needs, switching to Brave for the rare occasions when it offers better performance. Perhaps Brave’s performance will improve as time goes by. Its founder is Mozilla co-founder and chief technical officer Brendan Eich, and he has the experience and expertise to make this project a success. For now, however, Brave is just not ready for prime time.

On the Horizon

While Alt-Tech tends to refer to the Big Three of Infogalactic, Gab and Brave, on a more general level it can refer to platforms that compete and disrupt legacy platforms that infringe on the users’ rights. If we look beyond the Big Three, there may be other, more promising platforms.

Voat aims to be the Reddit alternative. Reddit is known for censoring entire subreddits whose users hold controversial opinions, such as Donald Trump supporters and Gamergaters. Like Gab, Voat promises freedom for all, with a user interface extremely familiar to Reddit users. Voat’s stated policy is to not meddle with or censor content unless it is illegal in the United States. However, as yet there are no signs of a mass exodus from Reddit, and Voat itself doesn’t seem to offer any tangible differences from Reddit in terms of user interface and operational concepts. For now, Reddit and Voat can coexist, but barring a major change in the way Voat does things to differentiate itself from Reddit, Voat will continue playing second fiddle into the foreseeable future.

DTube is like YouTube, but integrated into the Steemit blockchain. I expect it to be extremely popular with Steemit users… if it can load properly. Ironically, this is one of the few instances where Brave outshines Pale Moon and Google Chrome: of the three it’s the only browser that loads it properly. The concept is certainly fascinating, and I expect Steemit users to use it in the place of YouTube. It won’t completely disrupt YouTube, but being natively resistant to censorship, I expect it will be more functional and rewarding to users poised to take full advantage of its capabilities.

Steemit doesn’t compete with any Silicon Valley oligarch directly. But its hybrid approach of easy Medium-like blogging and Reddit-style commenting, coupled with cryptocurrency incentives, might point the way forward to future crowd-based social media platforms. It can’t, however, replace blogs for everyone just yet, if at all. For professionals who use blogs to drive user traffic to purchase products, Steemit just doesn’t offer the bevy of features they need. That might not necessarily be a bad thing: I’d like Steemit to focus on what it’s good at and leave the beta stage before branching off into new ground.

Facebook, Twitter, Google and Reddit started the modern Internet age, but have abused their near-monopolistic powers to the cost of users. The time is ripe for alternative tech platforms to dethrone them and return freedom to the users. Given the current state of Alt-Tech and other platforms, I’m not sure it’ll happen soon.

But I think I’ll live long enough to see it happen.

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