MeWe, YouWe, WeAllWe for WeWe

So a lot of the DIY/OSR RPG folk & funsters are moving to MeWe. I created an account to check it out, but decided it is not for me and deleted my profile a few days later.

While the "privacy is everything" mantra of the site is admirable, the ability to discover new people, new shared interests, and new content is limited in such an environment.

There has also been a lot of chatter about MeWe actively courting white supremacist groups and the alt-right, but conservative groups & radio personalities are also actively complaining that MeWe is courting antifa and liberal groups. So which is it?

It's both. MeWe's CEO, Mark Weinstein, and Jason Hardy, MeWe's Vice President of Product Development, are more than happy to talk with OSR gamers, conservative radio hosts, & Fox News to extol the benefits of their platform. And for good reason--they need users.

MeWe needs to convince anyone and everyone to use their platform in an effort to gain users and win another round of venture capital funding. Despite their posturing that MeWe is the only privacy-first social media platform, their business model of selling add-ons to the basic free membership looks doomed to fail, as other platforms include the same functionality for free.

It is difficult to convince people to pay for functionality online. We are too used to the Google/Facebook/Twitter model of free services in exchange for allowing companies to track our every move on their platforms so that they can sell that data to advertisers so that companies can pitch us products based on our movements. Asking users to pay for functionality on a social media platform so that their data & metadata aren't monetized is a hard business model, even in the face of the Facebook data breeches, Google API leaks, and Twitter password failures. The Google/Facebook/Twitter model requires nothing of users other than their use of the platform. Nothing else is expected or due, and we accept the sacrifice of our privacy for access to the platform's social connection features because those features are designed to be addictive. When people are used to "free", nothing short of a revolutionary or disruptive technological innovation will convince them to pony up the bucks. While the weaponization of social media during the last presidential election was certainly disruptive, there hasn't been any compelling innovation to convince people to leap platforms.

(And yes, I just linked to the same article 3 times in the above paragraph, so you really should go read that article.)

"Privacy" is not a compelling innovation, despite what MeWe wants us to believe. While giving users control over their data is a welcome feature, the type of walled garden around personal data that MeWe allows users to build might actually foster hate groups from across the political and social spectrums on their platform. People have a tendency to be more despicable in private groups and communities than they would be in public--and let's face it, hate groups of all stripes & political leanings are acting pretty despicable in public right now. I'm not sure it's a good thing to enable any hate group to gather, plot, and foment their particular brand of hatred online in private. If MeWe is not policing users & enforcing its acceptable use policy, then this is exactly what will happen. But if MeWe's business model promises privacy, how does it police its users? They can't have it both ways. They must actively ban bad actors from their platform. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from repercussions. The greatest repercussion a hate group can suffer online is the lack of a platform from which to spread its filth.

(As an aside, their acceptable use policy is a farce; for a social media platform, they seem to be entirely ignorant of how social media actually works. Many things they list as being unacceptable are actually part of remix culture, memes, and everyday online interactions.)

But aside from the possibility of fostering political and/or social zealotry, the biggest strike against MeWe is that it is going to take a heckuva lot of people who are willing to pay for "extra" functionality for MeWe to outlast a continual need for additional influxes of VC capital. I don't think enough of those people exist.

MeWe was founded in 2012 and launched the site in 2016. Crunchbase reports it's had five rounds of funding, only 6 total investors, and roughly $10m of funding in 6 years. That's pretty damn paltry for a company trying to displace Facebook & Twitter, which had both raised $200m+ of funding from 20-30 major investors by the time they were 6 years old.

Quite frankly, MeWe isn't growing fast enough and is burning through cash, which is why they are courting as many folks as possible to their platform. MeWe's execs don't care about their users's politics; they only care that they have users. But their service isn't compelling enough for the vast majority of users who haven't been booted off of other social networks or left on their own for one reason or another.

And that's why I think they are destined to crash & burn, and why I won't be making the jump to the platform.

Comments

GreenGaul said…
Great analysis. thanks for sharing.
Alcamtar said…
In the article you linked is written: "But if Facebook charged a subscription instead of relying on advertising, then people would use it less and Facebook would still make money. It would be equally profitable and more beneficial to society. In fact, if you charged users a few dollars a month, you would equal the revenue Facebook gets from advertising. It’s not inconceivable that a large percentage of their user base would be willing to pay a few dollars a month."

The big tech companies like Facebook and Google refuse to do this, but MeWe is giving it a go. I think it is worth the try. If we vote only for the incumbents, or only for those we already believe will win, then our vote is as meaningless as it is useless; then we are submitting instead of choosing.

Also, I am absolutely opposed to censorship... especially of "bad actors". Censors always define people they don't agree with as "bad actors." The whole point of free speech is that sometimes it is the bad guys who are in power, and are labeling the good guys as "bad actors".

But ultimately, silencing anyone is a form of tyranny. For the sake of freedom, I am willing to be offended by the speech of those I disagree with. And I have confidence that the public is able to sort through and reject the dross. But if not, then the public will learn a much needed lesson. It is the only way society improves and advances.
Matthew Schmeer said…
Subscription-based social media sites are private clubs, not open spaces.

I agree with you about how people in power use language to label others they disagree with as the enemy. However, I'm pretty sure that anyone advocating the superiority of one "race" over another or encouraging socialistic policies through violence counts as "bad actors" no matter how you cut it. Denying hatemongers a place on a social media platform does not deny them of their freedom of speech; it denies them a venue to spread their speech. There are plenty of other ways for them to spread their messages that are just more inconvenient. Business are within their legal rights to deny service to anyone who violates their terms of service.

Beyond that, I'm not going to get into a debate with your free speech dog-whistle. Please take it elsewhere.