It was an innocuous tweet. I wrote last month that I was nostalgic for the days when people went to Twitter to be entertained, informed and exchange ideas, rather than to confront an army of trolls. Which inevitably earned me some troll insults…

I mourned meaningful conversations on Twitter long before the social network accepted Elon Musk’s $44 billion offer a year ago. I don’t use it much more than as a newswire. Since Musk took control of the bluebird network in October and imposed his autocratic vision on it, nothing has gone right. Hate speech proliferates like never before and the exile of users is accompanied by an exodus of advertisers.

Only 16% of Quebec adults use Twitter, according to a 2021 Université Laval survey. By comparison, 85% of Quebec adults use Facebook, 59% of those use YouTube, and 42% use Instagram. The fact remains that Twitter’s influence on information is enormous. There are far fewer Twitter users in the world (about 500 million) than Facebook (3 billion) or Instagram (2 billion), but the instantaneousness of information on Twitter and the possibility of participating in a discussion of the news in real time has no equal. For the moment.

Social media is here for good. Several competitors to the big players Meta (Facebook, Instagram) and Twitter have recently emerged, including Bluesky, the new network of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. Niche networks are multiplying and it would be illusory to believe that a single social network can replace all the others. But if this network existed, what form would it take, in an absolute ideal? I posed the question to a few experts.

This made platforms like Twitter, an almost blue flower network in its infancy, propelled by spontaneous movements like

It is in response to this desire of networks to always strive for “more”, regardless of the consequences, that Ben Grosser, artist and professor at the University of Illinois, created in 2021, first as a artwork, Minus (minus). This social network is based on a very simple principle: each user has the possibility of writing 100 messages on the platform, no more and no less, “for life”. While having the ability to respond to messages from other users as often as desired.

“Facebook executives’ slogan was initially ‘Move fast and break things.’ That’s what they did: they moved fast and they broke a lot of things, including democracy in the United States and around the world! Ben Grosser told me.

“I don’t believe that Minus is the solution to social media problems,” he adds. But that’s a different way of thinking about social media. We left it to a handful of companies to define what an ideal network is. Every new platform, be it Substack Notes or Bluesky, are Twitter clones. They are all interested in one thing: encouraging their users to engage. There must always be more likes, more subscribers, more retweets, in order to obtain a maximum of users, constantly in progress. »

We must fight against this model based on infinite growth, which has been the modus operandi of all social networks since the emergence of Facebook, created in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard University, believes Ben Grosser. The artist led a workshop on alternative social media designs at the Institute for Rebooting Social Media at Harvard University at the end of March. Among the participants’ proposals was a ban on replying to a tweet for 60 minutes, so as to force users to take a step back before reacting.

Giants like Meta have more influence and power than some elected governments. “We must demand a level of transparency from these companies that we have never seen,” says Elizabeth Dubois, a professor in the University of Ottawa’s communications department who is particularly interested in media manipulation on social networks. . We must understand how our information is controlled, in order to make better decisions, to ensure compliance with regulations and to protect people from harassment and hate speech. »

Like Ben Grosser, Elizabeth Dubois is associated with the short-lived Berkman Klein Center Research Chair at Harvard University, created last year to address the “most pressing” issues of social media.

Several experts believe that the future of social networks lies in niche content, accessible through decentralized platforms such as Bluesky, Reddit or Mastodon, which is not invaded by advertising or governed by algorithms, but is not not as easy to use as Twitter.

“Our online identities are likely to be more fragmented between several sites, believes Claudine Bonneau, professor in the department of analytics, operations and information technologies at UQAM. Young people are, for example, on Discord, in communities targeted around certain fields of interest. »

One of the benefits of a decentralized network like Bluesky, she points out, is that it is possible to create separate applications within the network, while escaping its control. A user can remove his marbles at any time and go elsewhere, in another application, if he is better off there, without losing his contacts, his subscribers or the community he has created. This allows users to exercise better control over their communications, being less at the mercy of networks, algorithms and trolls.

You still need to have access to it. Bluesky, launched in February, is an invitation-only network with a waiting list of over 1 million aspiring users. Bruno Guglielminetti, techno columnist and independent consultant in digital communication strategy, is one of the approximately 35,000 subscribers of Jack Dorsey’s platform, which is on everyone’s lips.

“The problem is that there are not enough Francophones yet. Everything happens in English. It’s not very interesting from a cultural point of view for us, “says the podcaster, for whom the ideal social network would have the efficiency of TikTok and the benevolence he found briefly during the pandemic on the Clubhouse audio platform.

Bruno Guglielminetti was also one of the first Canadians to get a blue hook from Twitter, when the paid service was offered in June 2021, which gave him access to new features (longer tweets, ability to edit his tweets , etc.). He is more optimistic than others about the future of the bluebird network.

“Behind his acquisition of Twitter, ultimately what Elon Musk wants to do is his famous multifunctional app X, which will be a western version of [the Chinese app] WeChat. In the same application, there will be the equivalent of Facebook, Instagram, Booking, PayPal, Twitter, etc. It will be a Swiss army knife application. But right now we’re in transition and it’s quite painful,” he said.

Claudine Bonneau recalls that without Twitter, social movements such as

The Chicago artist, who wants public social networks “that aren’t designed to make a very small number of people extremely wealthy,” credits Twitter and Facebook with empowering several important social movements ( we think of the Arab Spring or the Iranian green revolution). He believes, however, that these private companies “have harmed democracy, encouraged hate speech” and created a toxic climate exacerbated by megalomaniac billionaires.

Has Elon Musk ironically, through his ill-timed decisions over the past few months, contributed to our being more aware of the risks associated with social media?

“For some, yes, concedes Elizabeth Dubois, joined in Boston. But for others, I fear a form of apathy. Twitter basically abolished the security department when Elon Musk took over ownership. There was the fiasco of the verification hooks, the fiasco of the labels given to public media. When there’s a lack of transparency, you lose trust and you think, what’s the point? This is worrying, because social media platforms are an important part of our information ecosystem. »

A decentralized social platform created in 2019 by Jack Dorsey, when he ran Twitter, then launched in February 2023. Its CEO is Jay Graber.

Number of users: 35,000 (April 2023); 1 million applicants awaiting an invitation

A feature of the Substack newsletter platform, created in April 2023 by Chris Best, Jairaj Sethi and Hamish McKenzie, allowing you to send short excerpts, images or links.

Number of users: 35 million on Substack (April 2023)

A decentralized, ad-free social microblogging platform created in 2016 by German developer Eugen Rochko

Number of users: 1.2 million (April 2023); the network grew from 300,000 to 2.5 million users in November 2022, after Elon Musk took over Twitter.

A social news website, divided into special interest communities, created in 2005 by Alexis Ohanian and CEO Steve Huffman.

Number of users: 52 million (March 2023)

A video, voice or text chat communication application, popular with online video game enthusiasts, created in 2015 by Stan Vishnevskiy and Jason Citron, who is the CEO.

Number of users: approximately 500 million (April 2023)

An audio social network created by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth in March 2020… became popular when Elon Musk praised its merits. First accessible by invitation, it has been free to all since 2021.

Number of users: 10 million (March 2023)