The Front Against Disinformation: WT.Social

Over the years, Facebook and Twitter have been taking hits from critics who warn of the ease in which disinformation, misinformation and propaganda can spread on these platforms. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales went so far as to blame social media disinformation on the platforms’ ad-based business model, which incentivizes clicks over high-quality content.

Fed up with ads and low quality content flooding his feeds, Wales created a solution social media platform, WT.Social. The platform promises to stay ad free, not sell user data and show content in the order it was posted. Similar to other platforms, WT.Social users can flag problem posts, but users also can directly edit misleading headlines in original Wikipedia fashion.

Wales started the social media site as a front to the “superficiality of Facebook and Twitter,” which are full of clickbait and misleading news, according to him.

WT.Social is based on sharing news and discussions. In a Reddit-like fashion, users can subscribe to sub-sections based on their interests. Wales told the Financial Times that his goal is to “foster an environment where bad actors are removed because it is right, not because it suddenly affects our bottom-line.”

After its launch last month, WT.Social now has about 160,000 users and is continuing to grow. The platform is free, but new users are added to a waitlist that they can bypass by making a donation or buying a subscription. Staying true to Wales’ ad-free oath, the donations and subscriptions are the website’s only source of income. 

Screen Shot 2019-11-20 at 6.00.19 PM
Screenshot taken from the WT.Social website.

This begs the question – are people prepared to pay for their social media?

Critics are skeptical. In his Financial Times piece, Jono Bacon questioned if WT.Social can even be considered “social media.” He describes that it seems like a collaborative platform meant to share news, but just presented in a social media way. Bacon is curious if WT.Social can give users a different experience than other online services they pay for, like news subscriptions and services like Netflix and Hulu. People pay for these services because they know they are getting high-quality content. So the question becomes – can WT.Social generate a high enough user count to ensure quality content?

Defending WT.Social’s business model, Wales said that advertising has made social media problematic. “It turns out the huge winner is low-quality content,” he added. 

“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 described.

Social media consultant Zoe Cairns told BBC that WT.Social would have to grow its number quickly to build enough momentum to prove itself against other social media giants.

Bacon also pointed out the skills and education that’s required to do the fact-checking that Wales is employing his users to do. In theory, WT.Social’s collaborative news approach will invite a range of views, analysis and fact-checking that other social media platforms lack. But that kind of moderation requires specialists. As Bacon describes it, “effective moderation of content and communities is complex, niche work.”

Wikipedia employs hundred of thousands of editors every month and is supported by its huge readership, which has given it success. Again, WT.Social will have to gain a large following to take off. 

Just a month old, it’s too early to tell if WT.Social will survive, but Wales is not concerned. He has faith in the public’s frustration with Facebook and Twitter and hopes that his platform will “conquer Facebook.” 

“This is a radical, crazy experiment of mine,” Wales told the Financial Times, staying on a positive note, “I’m happy to say I don’t know all the answers.”

Featured image courtesy of Avaaz/Flickr

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