Meta working on a decentralised social media platform to rival Twitter

It will be similar to Mastodon, which uses an open-source code and rose to prominence after Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter

The logos of Facebook and Instagram. Parent company Meta is working on a Mastodon-style app that will carry Instagram's branding. AFP
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Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, is working on a decentralised stand-alone text-based content app that could end up being a direct challenge to Elon Musk's Twitter.

The decentralised nature of the planned platform would be similar to Mastodon, the social network created by a German developer that uses an open-source code.

"We’re exploring a standalone decentralised social network for sharing text updates," a Meta representative told The National on Friday.

"We believe there’s an opportunity for a separate space where creators and public figures can share timely updates about their interests."

A platform that has an open-source algorithm will allow the public to inspect and scrutinise its proprietary software, or even use it in other applications.

An open-source Twitter is what Mr Musk envisions for the microblogging platform he bought for $44 billion last year.

News of the platform's development was first reported by Moneycontrol, which said the project is code-named “P92” and would be interoperable with Mastodon.

The app will carry the Instagram brand and users will be able to register and login using their Instagram credentials, it said, citing an internal company product brief.

It is unclear at what stage P92 is currently in, with a source close to its development saying it is still a “work in progress”. The dynamics of P92's interoperability with Mastodon were also not detailed.

A Mastodon-style app from Meta could help propel open-source microblogging into the mainstream, especially if Meta pushes through with reported plans to use Instagram as a gateway to P92.

Such a move would allow the California-based technology company to leverage its user base.

As of January, Instagram alone had about two billion users while its sister platforms Facebook and WhatsApp had 2.96 billion and two billion, respectively, according to data from Statista.

In comparison, Twitter only has about 556 million users.

Social media users have also become more open to seeking alternatives if they see something amiss with the apps they use.

In Twitter's case, Mr Musk's tumultuous time at its helm has alienated both users and advertisers.

The billionaire has fired more than half of the company's employees, shut down units and offices globally, and has displayed eccentric leadership.

This has resulted in an opportunity for other platforms to step in and lure users away from Twitter.

When Meta, then known as Facebook, tried to force WhatsApp users to consent to sharing their personal data with the company's other platforms in early 2021, there was a swift backlash, with threats of mass boycotts forcing the social media company to backtrack.

In October 2021, after Facebook's network went down for six hours ― affecting Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram ― users searched for alternatives.

The biggest beneficiary was Telegram, the messaging app created by Russian developer Pavel Durov, which welcomed about 70 million users the day Facebook went dark.

Meanwhile, Mastodon, which was created in 2016 by Eugen Rochko, uses a decentralised platform, meaning no single person or organisation owns or regulates it, similar to cryptocurrency.

It rose to prominence in April 2022 after users began searching for alternative platforms to Twitter after Mr Musk reached an agreement to acquire the microblogging platform.

More than 130,000 users a day were joining the Mastodon network in November after Twitter and Mr Musk finalised the sale, and its user base peaked at about 2.5 million in December, according to data posted on its website.

However, Mastodon has been unable to sustain its momentum, with its user base falling by a third to about 1.8 million in January.

Mr Musk's vision of emulating Mastodon gained traction last month when he said that Twitter's algorithm could be opened up to the public.

His tweet on February 21 implied that the move could have happened in the last week of February or first week of March. However, nothing has yet happened and he has not said anything on the matter since then.

Mr Musk, the world's second-wealthiest person with a net worth of $165 billion, has about 131 million followers on Twitter and is known to be a prolific and controversial user of the platform.

He has championed free speech on Twitter, sparking concerns that the network might spiral out of control with fake news and disinformation.

However, he has also made moves to stem these worries, including revamping Twitter's Blue check verification system.

What is Mastodon, the site that a lot of people are ditching Twitter for?

The Mastodon application for download in the Apple App Store on a smartphone arranged in the Brooklyn borough of New York, US, on Monday, Nov.  7, 2022.  Elon Musk’s agreement to buy Twitter Inc.  is sending some users searching for alternative platforms — with mixed success. Photographer: Gabby Jones / Bloomberg
Updated: March 10, 2023, 8:53 AM