‘The Anti-Facebook’: Wikipedia co-founder launches ad-free social media platform

WT.Social promises never to sell your data or run advertisements.

‘The Anti-Facebook’: Wikipedia co-founder launches ad-free social media platform
  • The social media platform features a Facebook-style newsfeed, but content is prioritized by recency instead of engagement.
  • Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales said he was inspired to create WT.Social because advertising had allowed "low-quality" content to dominate Facebook and Twitter.
  • Facebook and Twitter have recently adopted opposing strategies in how to handle political advertising.


Fed up with Facebook and Twitter? If so, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales hopes you'll join WT.Social, a new social media platform that promises not to run advertisements or sell user data.

WT.Social features a Facebook-like feed on which users can share news or other content. But unlike Facebook, whose algorithms prioritize content that's sponsored or receiving a lot of engagement, WT.Social simply shows new content first.

This content comes from various sections of the platform (called subwikis) that users choose to join. (A few I found while browsing: "Snowboarding", "Shamanism" and, curiously, "Liberation for all People (+Veganism)"). The platform will allow users to "directly edit misleading headlines, or flag problem posts."

About 160,000 people have signed up for WT.Social since it launched in October. The platform is free to join, but new users are put on a wait-list, which can be instantly bypassed if you donate money. WT.Social hopes to survive only on donations.

"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 said in a post about the project.

Wales said advertising is the key problem of platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

"I've come to the conclusion that the biggest problem driving low quality media is that it has been purely advertising supported, and that the social networks which provide so much distribution are also purely advertising supported," he wrote in a blog post. "Facebook, Twitter and other social networks make revenue based on how long you stay on their site looking at and clicking on advertising. Engagement is prioritized over quality."

A video published Monday by the WT.Social team says Wales was inspired to create the platform because of "the superficiality of Facebook and Twitter," and that he hopes his new platform will "conquer Facebook," which he considers to be "full of clickbait and misleading news."

"This is a radical, crazy experiment of mine," Wales told the Financial Times. "I'm happy to say I don't know all the answers."

WT.Social is a reboot of WikiTribune, a crowdfunded news-sharing service that Wales launched in 2017, but has since struggled and laid off editorial staffers. The ultimate goal for WT.Social, Wales suggested, is to serve as a replacement for Facebook and Twitter.

"We will foster an environment where bad actors are removed because it is right, not because it suddenly affects our bottom-line," he told the Financial Times. "Obviously the ambition is not 50,000 or 500,000 but 50m and 500m."

Facebook and Twitter fatigue

It's easy to see why some people would want to ditch Facebook and Twitter. In 2019, Facebook has so far removed some 5.4 billion fake accounts, while in September Twitter announced it had removed thousands of fake accounts that were spreading political disinformation in six countries. And then there's concerns about the 2020 U.S. presidential election, for which the two platforms recently adopted opposing strategies for how to handle misinformation in political ads.

Twitter has banned all forms of political ads, defined as paid content that references "a candidate, political party, elected or appointed government official, election, referendum, ballot measure, legislation, regulation, directive, or judicial outcome." In stark contrast, Facebook will allow political ads of all sorts, even those containing blatant misinformation.

A platform such as WT.Social might seem like a healthier alternative. Still, it seems likely that trolls and political operatives would find some way to weaponize the platform, should it prove successful. WT.Social's unique protection against that threat (besides lack of advertising) is its community-editing feature, which would theoretically allow users to tweak headlines. But it's still unclear how that would work on a large scale.

It's not like Wikipedia is immune to trolls, after all.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash
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