“There’s a resiliency to having data spread across multiple sites; that’s the way the web was intended to work, and we need to bring that back,” says Christopher Webber, the founder of MediaGoblin, a federated, free software replacement for YouTube, Flickr, SoundCloud, and other media hosting services. Other projects, like Identi.ca (which is similar to Twitter), Diaspora, and Friendica are replacements for conventional social media networks, and they work. The number of users on federated networks is hard to calculate — again, their data are spread out instead of stored centrally — but Identi.ca alone counts 1.5 million users.
PRISM could be the impetus that gets more communities to begin using these networks. As of Monday morning, nearly 200,000 people have signed a petition that calls for an investigation of the NSA’s spying program, and last week activists launched prism-break.org, a site that offers a menu of options for those looking to “opt out” of government surveillance.
The NSA’s spy apparatus worked because of the centrally owned and operated networks we have relied on to socialize. How the PRISM story will play out politically remains uncertain, but there are more immediate ways for users to regain privacy. Try another social network, and bring your friends to experiment with you. If you oppose turnkey government spying, go where the NSA doesn’t have a backdoor.
April Glaser works at the New America Foundation’s Media Policy Initiative and specializes in community radio. Libby Reinish is an employee of the Free Software Foundation, which is a member of StopWatching.Us, a coalition of more than 75 organizations calling for a full congressional investigation of the NSA’s spying program.