For years I have been fighting a losing battle with friends – trying to make them see that the choices of the tech they use should be similar to how they choose what food to buy, or how to travel – namely that there are ethical values bound up in our choice of tech.

Got two comparable tech products, one of which has a decent privacy policy and data protection standards, and the other that doesn’t? Use the former. So, for example, favour Signal over WhatsApp.

But everyone is still on WhatsApp and only people with an extraordinary commitment to their ethics quit it (curmudgeons like me) and are willing to stomach the inconvenience of doing so (not getting any messages about what’s happening in my block of flats in Berlin, for example, because it’s all coordinated on WhatsApp).

Fast forward to today and we have exactly the same conundrum with Twitter, and its partial replacements.

When I left Twitter in December, leaving a following of 75000 there, it was the right ethical call. Reading about what has happened there since I wrote about my departure means I am secure in my choice. But it came at a professional cost.

Most of the people I used to interact with there are still there, despite Elon Musk. “I don’t know what you’re doing these days” a journalist friend said to me recently, “because I no longer see your tweets“. “Why don’t you use an alternative?” I asked. “I can’t really,” he said, “because all the people I need to keep an eye on for my work are still on Twitter.” [Such a person could of course use an alternative as well, but let’s not get into that here.]

And – if I am honest – for my journalist friend, Mastodon (or indeed Bluesky or LinkedIn or anything else available) is not a completely viable alternative just now. If a significant politician is even on Mastodon, I’m never going to find what they said because there is no functional network wide search. Some US politicians have taken to Bluesky but it’s pretty much tumbleweed in Europe so far. And on LinkedIn you are going to have to plough past dozens of corporate bullshit posts before you get to anything with any news value.

Which then brings us to Meta, and its ‘Project 92’ – a proposed ActivityPub based add-on to Instagram. “We’ve been hearing from creators and public figures who are interested in having a platform that is sanely run, that they believe that they can trust and rely upon for distribution,The Verge quoted Meta chief product officer Chris Cox as saying.

Based on what Twitter has become, and the putrid whiff that comes from Musk, I’d bet journalists, politicians, sports stars, musicians would jump at that. Make sure it is all searchable – so it is easy to find what public figures are saying – and it is a winning proposition.

But it’s Meta, and they’ve shown they’re evil” I can hear a slew of data protection and open source advocates thinking as they read this. And I would add that we have seen the enshittification of both Facebook and Instagram, so what hope Project 92 does not become an ad and reels infested hell as well? Low, I’d wager.

When that “Would you like to join Project 92?” option pops up on Instagram people are going to click on it in droves. It is going to be reputable enough as an alternative to Twitter, and because it will have had a bunch of bright minds working on the product, and its ease of use and searchability will be impeccable (at least in the early days), and because Meta will have made sure there are interesting content producers on it at the start, it will have all the pre-requisites to grow strongly.

The challenge for any other ActivityPub based social media tools – like Mastodon – is not whether enough instance admins manage to block Project 92. It is whether the alternatives to Project 92 – genuinely decentralised, insulated against enshittification, ethically better than a Meta product – can nevertheless really rival the product itself that Meta has in the works. That means impeccable ease of use, and – as I see it – decent network-wide search, and perhaps even some transparent algorithms to help with content discovery. And on that point I must say at the moment I am rather worried.

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