Living Our Values Online Part 1 - FOSS and Federation

Why The Left Needs To Embrace Federation

The modern left is no stranger to the internet. You can find leftists on most major platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Discord, TikTok, etc.

However, leftists have been slow to adopt technologies that not only align more with our political values but provide additional security. Why?

Well, the first thing that is a challenge is it's hard getting people to move to alternatives to major services. First, everyone is pretty well entrenched in these legacy services: they have a username, they have followers and follow others. That entrenchment makes moving hard, but not impossible. Second is more of a technical or learning curve based scenario: alternatives require people to learn something new, which depending on the service we're talking about, can very.

The thing is, if we're to truly live our values online, a big step towards doing that is indeed moving to decentralized services. Decentralized services by nature are more inline with leftist (especially anarchist) values than centralized and closed services.

While the technical hurdles might be higher, they're not impossible. They do require some conscious thinking and decision making:

  • What instance of a software are you going to register with?
  • Are you going to spin-up your own?
  • If you are going to spin up your own, are you going to partner with others to make it happen?
  • If you're not doing your own or working with a local group to make your own, how do you choose a trustworthy one?

These are all important decisions not to be taken lightly. I chose the fine individual running for a lot of my services because he's a kind person who provides a lot of his services for free. In exchange, I can donate as I have resources to some additional funding toward the projects. I have the technical expertise to roll my own and eventually may do so, however I don't have the funds or time at the moment so I would need to crowdfund the money to cover at least the costs of operating plus partner with someone who has more time.

It's not impossible to find other trustworthy instance providers out there. But, what do you need? Let's take a look at the basics.

  • Twitter: Replacing twitter, you need Mastodon.
  • Facebook: diaspora* is the primary Facebook alternative in the FOSS/Federated World.
  • Messengers Chat: For this, XMPP is tops. You do need to find a XMPP server that supports OMEMO, which encrypts your conversations. Unlike Signal, XMPP allows you to maintain a high level of anonymity. is a service on android and allows you XMPP account for a small fee.
  • Slack / Groups and Teams: Matrix and Element are the two primary things you need to know about. Matrix is the underlying server software, and Element is the user interface. An alternative here is also Keybase, but Keybase has been recently purchased by a conglomerate and is NOT federated. So, Matrix and Element should be your go-to service.
  • Blog: Plume is a good option for a federated blogging platform, and is also an option as well. I use both.
  • Youtube: peertube is a current working alternative
  • Google Drive: Nextcloud is the preferred alternative.
  • Email: Email is hard... really hard. I managed my own personal mailserver for years and in the end, hated it. At this point get yourself a Protonmail account and pay for Pro level services.

It takes a little work, but eventually we can all move away from mainstream services to federated services, and we can more importantly start building our own clusters of decentralized services. If you want to get into a decentralized service but don't know where to start, start talking to others. Chances are you know a techie who might be willing to run a server(s) for a custom instance and allow you to provide monetary resources toward maintaining it and building it.

Or, find an instance you trust and use a unique username and password schema for each, that way if it ends up being a problem, you can ditch it and move on.

It takes a little work, but anything worth doing requires some work. In the end, we're all better off with decentralized services.