Some alternative tech for our censorious times

BUT YOU’RE READING THIS ON AN ALTERNATIVE MEDIA PLATFORM RIGHT NOW. Speaking of:

Especially after reading the crazy, simply crazy, story about YouTube deleting an expert panel that included comments about how children don’t need to wear masks (as they never have in much of Europe) because the experts were supposedly sharing “misinformation”, as determined by some anonymous YouTube staff person whom we will never know and who will never be accountable for his actions or made to actually debate the subject with said experts… I thought it would be worthwhile to make mention of some technological solutions that are less susceptible to the censorship and control of an increasingly hostile Big Corporate. (Of course you may also opt for the Full Amish solution to Big Tech censorship, and I wouldn’t begrudge you that at all.) But if you desire to stay connected, what do you want in alternative tech? A few related things, I’d say:

  1. Decentralization. In a decentralized system, it is difficult or impossible for any one person or group of people to shut it down. Decentralized systems are therefore naturally censorship-resistant even regardless of the people involved.

  2. Pro-liberty leadership. Decentralization isn’t always possible or desirable, and decentralized systems often mix with centralized systems. If you’re using a system that does have some “people in charge”, you want good people in charge.

  3. Privacy and/or encryption. If your activities leave a digital trail, especially an unencrypted digital trail, someone may at some point use that fact to learn things about you, or expose things about you, that you don’t want to be generally learned or known. Would you be OK if every private message you’ve sent on Twitter was at some point exposed by either a Twitter employee or a hacker, for example?

The list of all technological alternatives would be very long indeed (and that’s a good thing). Here I will confine myself just to a few that I have actually used and like. Others that could be mentioned that might well be superior (someone was just talking to me about Mastadon) - but I just have very little personal experience with those systems myself, so they are not mentioned here. (Do leave a comment if you have something to add, please!)

  1. Odysee.com (and, behind the scenes, the LBRY technology).

    I’ll mention this first because I just criticized YouTube - Odysee is a perfectly functional YouTube alternative. Odysee itself is a centralized delivery system just like YouTube (but with pro-liberty leadership), but behind the scenes is the LBRY protocol. As I understand it, LBRY functions somewhat like the Interplanetary File System protocol, if you understand that, or somewhat like Bittorrent. When I upload a video to Odysee, their servers become a source for people who want to watch the video (that’s just like YouTube) - but so does my own computer (if it is reachable). And, when other people watch the video, if they are running the LBRY desktop software, tiny pieces of the video are downloaded so that their computers also become a source for (some small part) of the video. There are actually many advantages to operating like this. There is no centralized server system that is the only source for the file, so even if you confiscated all the Odysee servers, the file is still out there. On the part of Odysee (which is a for-profit company), this reduces the amount of bandwidth needed from them and so their cost to operate. And it could potentially also deliver files faster than a centralized solution would since sources for the file are all over the place.

    So, in my disgust with YouTube a while back I moved all my YouTube videos to Odysee - I’m just a very small player here, but that is what I did. But if you want to watch videos there from a REAL PERSON, I have found and quite enjoy the videos of HeresyFinancial. He actually posts to both YouTube and Odysee, and by far most of his viewers at the moment are at YouTube, but it is good to be both places.

    I’m not going to belabor the point now (it doesn’t actually matter that much), but there is also a LBC cryptocurrency that is “staked” to post videos and boost content on Odysee… but it is no barrier to use of the service at all, they will dump plenty of it on you for free.

  2. NotTheBee’s social network.

    NotTheBee is a social network created by the Babylon Bee folks - and may I say that, technically-speaking, it is very impressive, with the ability to actually embed tweets, Instagram posts, and Facebook posts, and probably other things I am not aware of. If you’re a new social network trying to get off the ground, making it so people can embed, on your network, posts from other networks, is a great idea. It is definitely a centralized system, but one controlled by the Babylon Bee folks (who also post to it), and those are about the best “guys in charge” you can ask for (in fact they regularly ridicule the censorship on other systems).

    It’s not free though - $90/year, or $180/year to also get premium access to the Babylon Bee itself, which I would recommend if only for the interview shows (and to support a great media project). But that does skew (in a good way I’d say) whom you encounter on the network - it’s frequented by the sort of people who would be big fans of The Babylon Bee. And the posts tend to be more lighthearted (but not exclusively) - as I type this the top “trending post” is someone saying “Good night” with a GIF of a sleeping puppy.

  3. The Brave web browser.

    This is Brendan Eich’s delightfully successful privacy web browser project, which blocks by default all manner of advertisements and tracking software which may be found everywhere on the internet today. Browse the internet with Brave for a while and then go back to a “normal” web browser and the internet will suddenly look (again) like a cluttered disaster area. “But it’s based on Chromium, and that’s a Google project!” Yes, but the developers regularly point out that they strip away the bad parts of Chrome just as fast as they’re created.

    Using Brave makes it harder for the people who make money by tracking you to make their money, and that’s a win for everybody.

    Although you don’t have to use it at all, Brave also has its own advertising project using the Basic Attention Token, which they have created. If you choose to receive advertisements (served by the browser itself), you are paid for seeing them in BAT, which itself has increased in value by a factor of ten over the last year.

  4. Signal.

    Signal is an end-to-end encrypted text messaging and calling application… and that’s about all I have to say about it. If you’re lazily still using the default text messaging and calling apps on your smartphone, it takes just a tiny bit of effort to try Signal. I’ve also had friends overseas ASK me to install Signal, and I wonder if that’s a matter of them making sure they can call me without paying for international calling fees.

  5. Keybase.

    This is actually the item on the list I know the least about, but I was just invited to a book discussion group that is using Keybase, so I’ll be learning more about it soon and decided to mention it. It has been described as a sort of end-to-end encrypted version of Slack. I actually installed Keybase originally because it had an integrated wallet for the XLM cryptocurrency!

  6. NordVPN.

    There are many VPN services out there and I’m sure many of them are great, but NordVPN is the one I use. Routing your internet traffic through a VPN has the double benefit of hiding from your internet service provider what you are doing, and hiding your true IP address from websites and so preventing them from tracking your activities via IP address. However the VPN service itself could track everything you do, so you definitely want to use one you trust. NordVPN has a no logs policy, which is ideal - they can’t give information about you to anyone else because they don’t even have it. (There’s a bigger lesson there, also relevant in our “maybe we should have vaccine passports?” age, that it might be better, if data could be misused, to fight to make sure it is never even collected.)

    The big downside to VPN services is, because some people use them to bypass country restrictions, and other people use them to hide their IP address because they’re up to no good, some websites or web services block access from known VPN servers. NordVPN does try to help even with that - their mobile app, for example, allows you to allow certain apps (like Vudu for me) to function without routing through a VPN server. So you can keep NordVPN turned on all the time, and still watch your movies with Vudu.

    NordVPN does cost money, but they regularly have sales… so watch for those if you’re interested.

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PS - on the subject of “if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product”, you might also consider switching away from your free email provider (Gmail certainly being the behemoth in the room). We’ve been Fastmail users for many years now, and are entirely satisfied with them.