Fleeing from traditional platforms to alternative social networks, real exodus or short-lived trend?
“The exodus from Silicon Valley has begun. Get into the ark, the best is yet to come ”, reads a message on the Twitter profile of the social network Gab. Arising from individual ventures or companies far from the Silicon Valley elite, the new alternative social networks are opening a gap in the digital space in search of being the b-face of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, Google and Instagram. In recent weeks, the content regulations imposed on traditional networks – to curb hate speech and provocation of violence -, the fight against misinformation – constantly on the rise due to the pandemic – and the debate on privacy and freedom of expression – promoted by supporters of Donald Trump after his permanent block on the main platforms.
Many have multiplied their followers. Gab and Parler have grown up and are looking to unseat Twitter. MeWe wants to do it with Facebook and Telegram with WhatsApp. Duck Duck Go with Google, while Tik Tok and Twitch vie for YouTube space. Is it a real exodus towards alternative formulas or just a passing fad? Are these new networks so strong to fight side by side against those that dominate the western market? In the data are the answers.
“In a very short time, Gab will be bigger than all the legacy media combined,” said Andrew Torba, the founder of this social network who, like Parler, has bet everything to “dethrone” Twitter. “People around the world are leaving Facebook in droves because they are fed up with the relentless privacy violations, surveillance capitalism, prejudice, manipulation of news and targeting by these companies,” said the director of marketing the social network MeWe, David Westreich, to USA Today. But one thing is what the users and managers of alternative networks say and quite another is what the data verify. And if it is about figures, there may be an exodus, but not displacement of some networks by others.
An exodus without masses
One or two million people can be a lot, but not on social media. And less when there are 4,660 million active Internet users worldwide (59.7% of the world’s population). Of these, 4,140 million use social networks on a daily basis (10% more in 2020 than in 2019). For this reason, boasting of having a million users in a social network can be even naive when compared to the strongest competitors. According to him 2020 latest social media and internet report from We Are Social and Hootsuit and the Global Web Index and Sensor Tower figures, Facebook is home to 2.701 million users, YouTube and WhatsApp 2 billion, Instagram about 1.158 million and Twitter 353 million. All are in the top 20 of the most used networks worldwide.
Gab has 2.3 million, as the company has reported on various occasions in its own publications and the media CNN Business Y Fox Business. Parler – application withdrawn from the Google and Apple stores and suspended from the storage service provided by Amazon for serving as a refuge for far-right sympathizers, defenders of the idea of electoral fraud spread by Donald Trump and of conspiracy theories and members of various white supremacist groups – it had 8 million users and MeWe had 16 million, according to Sensor Tower and NPR. Twitch registers a similar number: 17.5 million in 2020. The alternative search engine, Duck Duck Go, receives 3 billion searches per month, according to StatCounter (Google receives 6 billion daily). In instant messaging, Telegram has taken the leap and now has 500 million users. Tik Tok is the queen of alternatives – despite attempts by the Donald Trump government to ban the Chinese application in the United States – with 689 million registered users and is also the only one that appears in the top 20 positions of the most used networks worldwide, según Hootsuite.
No one can deny that alternative networks have made important leaps in recent years. Gab, for example, started in 2016 and by 2019 it had 400,000 users. But in 2020 and early this year, the figure has increased fivefold. Parler added five million in a matter of three months and in January this year MeWe registered four million more than in 2020. But despite the rapid growth, they remain unrepresentative. They have barely scratched the surface and traditional nets have not been fazed. “There are no competitors that can capture all the users of traditional networks. Nobody has that capacity yet, “he explains. Luis Assardo, researcher of new technologies.
Where is the great migration that these networks boast about? Nowhere. “These movements of people looking for other networks happen from time to time, but it is not an exodus or a migration as such: the majority also open a new account in an alternative network, but without abandoning the others”, Assardo suggests. The social media expert and director of ThirteenBits, Manuel Moreno, it matches. “Despite these alleged exoduses, the real impact these movements have on traditional networks is not great. So due to many security, privacy and leaks that are taking place, it will cost a lot for traditional social networks to be tremendously affected by a massive abandonment of users “, he explains.
If the market is free and competition for digital space is possible, then why do alternative networks fail, like MySpace, or don’t take off, like Rumble? Fatima Martinez, a professor and social media consultant, suggests that it is due to the ideological issue. “These networks are endogamous because they bring together people who share the same political ideology and therefore do not see beyond what they want to see, feeling comfortable among those who think the same way,” he explains. But not everyone is looking for new spaces for ideological issues. There are those who are really concerned about their privacy or have simply gotten tired of their operation and seek variety, but they do not always manage to get out of the circle —or labyrinth— of traditional networks.
Martínez is more optimistic. “The time has come for user segmentation by themes, something we’ve talked about for years. This does not mean that users will abandon traditional networks, but they will spend less time on them, because they will pay more attention to other new networks that bring them new things and that make them experience the same feeling as when they first opened their Twitter, Facebook or Instagram account ”, augurs Martínez.
Just as there are now many types of networks, there are also diverse user profiles, such as those who will never settle for a platform and invoke the call to exodus. “Many will do it for fashion, others for the cyclical scandal, some for the issue of data privacy. But there will always be those who will flee after being silenced for violating the rules, ”says Assardo. And doesn’t that always happen in the real world, not just in the social media world?