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Europe Starts Its Own Social Networks

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Screenshot: Shoshana Wodinsky (Gizmodo)

If you’re among the throng of Twitter-die hards that are more than a bit bummed about a certain South African billionaire’s plans to buy out the social network, you might have flocked to its open-source alternative, Mastodon. As it turns out, the European Union is right there with you; the European Data Protection Supervisor (or EDPS) announced this week that it would publicly pilot its own Mastodon server, dubbed EU Voice, as a way for European institutions and agencies to talk to regular folks.

And if Twitter’s not your thing (and honestly, who could blame you), the EDPS said that it’s also testing a YouTube alternative, EU Video, which is based on the open-source platform, PeerTube.

Together, these platforms are part of what’s colloquially known as the “fediverse”; a collection of free-to-use, open source alternatives to the modern social platforms we know and loathe. These include services like Pixelfed (basically the fediverse-Instagram), and Funkwhale (the fediverse-Spotify), on top of the platforms the EU has already jumped on.

Whether the EDPS will make the plunge into those platforms is yet to be seen, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a shock. European officials have been brawling with U.S. tech companies for roughly the past decade, and local lawmakers continue to pile scrutiny’s on these company’s shoddy privacy practices and content moderation snafus.

“With the pilot launch of EU Voice and EU Video, we aim to offer alternative social media platforms that prioritize individuals and their rights to privacy and data protection,” Wojciech Wiewiórowski, European Data Protection Supervisor noted in a statement.

“There are no advertisements on the platforms; and there is no profiling of individuals that may use the platforms. These measures, amongst others, give individuals the choice on and control over how their personal data is used.”

It all sounds great in theory—after all, Twitter is an ad-ridden hellscape, and YouTube parent company Google is consistently a privacy nightmare. But in order for something like EU Voice or EU Video to get off the ground, the Commission will need to lure a good chunk of its more than one million followers over to the other side. And while Mastodon founder Eugen Rochko did report an influx of tens of thousands of new users in wake of the Elon Musk news, that still leaves quite a few stuck in the Twitter vortex.