Over the course of this decade, few social perceptions have changed as much as our impression of social media. It’s practically inconceivable to think that, in 2010, Twitter and Facebook were praised as pillars of free speech. Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie has now fully annihilated such illusions by revealing how social media companies breach users’ privacy by extensively sharing their data with hundreds of entities, threatening our idea of democracy and healthy public discourse in the process.
“Do not be fooled by Mark Zuckerberg’s posthumous pleas of apology. Facebook couldn’t care less about global societies or democratic values,” Wylie claimed in an exclusive interview with Kathimerini last March, adding that he was seriously threatened by the company before releasing his startling discoveries. “They only care about their brand image and the value of their shares.”
Though few users’ faith in social media remains as unshakable as it once was, most are reluctant to give them up completely. Although the #DeleteFacebook campaign adopted by WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton in March 2018 gained some momentum, it failed to dissuade 2.5 billion users from using Zuckerberg’s platform daily.
Despite their evident flaws, social media feel like an integral part of the contemporary lifestyle, as they cover a trifecta of human needs for communication, information and entertainment. At our core, after all, we humans are social creatures – and contemporary socialization mainly takes place online. To meet the needs of the virtual community while also providing data protection and online privacy, a series of “alternative social media” is hoping to bring solutions to the one-way street that is Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with innovative initiatives.
One of the most fascinating such applications is currently taking shape in Greece. The promising platform Joyn brands itself as a social media platform with a conscience, and, according to its Greek-British founder John Tsopanis, it is a “Cambridge Analaytica-proof digital platform.” It was conceived in June 2019 and is currently being developed between Athens and the coastal town of Lavrio, where Tsopanis’ family has roots.
The philosophy behind Joyn is truly innovative: The user-centered app allows users to choose the content they wish to be shown and to manage their own data themselves.
“Let’s start with the basics: In 2019 Facebook deleted more fake profiles than the total number of actual users,” Tsopanis observes, spontaneous as always. Indeed, the issue of fake profiles and bots is still very serious and Joyn has reacted by forging a series of partnerships. In collaboration with cybersecurity companies such as SecureKey, Yoti and rapidID, the platform requires users to verify their identity before being able to subscribe. “We do, however, respect users’ desire for anonymity,” he adds, noting that users who do not want to identify themselves will have access to a “browsing-only” version of the platform.
The key to this new application lies in the decision to give users control over the content they are shown, rather than having an algorithm curate it for them. Joyn splits its web content into six categories: news and politics, products and companies, celebrity and influencer content, activism and philanthropic campaigns, entertainment, and local companies. “Users can choose exactly the amount of content they want to be shown in each category; they take full ownership of the content,” Tsopanis explains, adding that the settings can easily be adjusted at any time. For example, users who keep pace with politics during the week but want to be entertained at weekends can easily switch from one content format to another with just a few clicks on Joyn.
But the real revolution in Joyn lies in data management: Users get to choose which companies they want to share their data with. Thanks to the innovative decentralized blockchain technology, Joyn is not allowed direct contact with the data.
In addition, every time a user scrolls over a suggested ad, they win 25 percent of its worth in cryptocurrency. “It seems absurd not to give something back to users that share their own personal data,” Tsopanis argues. Users are then are invited to spend their virtual money on unlocking pages such as The New York Times or premium artist content. “Citizens basically become their own data brokers,” the young businessman says.
The Joyn team’s original idea is soon expected to move a step further from ideation to product launch, having already caught the investment community’s attention. Beneath its groundbreaking and necessary philosophy lies a touch of sentimentalism: “I decided to develop Joyn in Greece, my father’s homeland, because it truly seemed like the ideal place,” Tsopanis revealed, visibly moved. After a subtle pause, he concluded that “there is no better place for someone to try and save our democracy, which has become digital, than its very place of birth.”