Will Africa join the Fediverse?

Communication has been revolutionised by social media apps like X, Facebook, and Instagram. However, the content and communication that flows through these channels are largely filtered, controlled, and influenced by algorithms deployed by the centralised tech companies that own them. This concentration of power means that users are often subjected to content that is disseminated according to corporate goals and agendas,  at odds with democratic values and public interest. Consequently, there is a growing distrust around the sway that these conglomerates have over the content we consume every day. 

Online platforms are increasingly being used for global public engagement. Thus, users have leveraged these sites as stages for discussions regarding social well-being, governance, and public culture. In many ways, the public relies on social media as a tool for democratic deliberation. However, audience surveillance, automated political manipulation, and distortion (which we commonly refer to as information disorder) are slowly eroding the capacity for internet technologies to facilitate participatory, inclusive discussion effectively. Instead, they tend to exacerbate social fragmentation and political polarisation. Beyond this, there are also issues such as data breaches, server outages, high costs, and lack of localised content or relevance. 

The Fediverse, alternatively, could provide a decentralised solution to this. It is a meta-network of networks that allows multiple open media platforms to communicate and exchange information in an interconnected way. It is intended to allow a more collaborative means of public engagement and has been conceptualised as a more inclusive digital public sphere, free from the concentrated corporate power of large proprietary platforms. The Fediverse could be especially impactful in the African continent, where users would benefit from greater agency to create digital communities and networks that more accurately and democratically reflect their diverse cultures, languages and interests. What’s more, it could encourage users to create, share, and monetise content without relying on centralised servers. This produces an opportunity for African players to participate more heavily in the global digital economy. 

This report explores these ideas and more, specifically focusing on the potential of adopting federated social media platforms in Africa for public deliberation. Its application is considered in the context of a competitive environment where power is wielded by larger platforms that possess more extensive resources and can thus garner broader reach with more ease. Overall, this report asks: What factors influence the adoption of open or decentralised social media platforms in Africa? How useful would these platforms be in creating a more inclusive digital public sphere? These findings will be particularly valuable for advocacy organisations seeking to leverage digital spaces for empowerment, as well as media professionals intending to better cover emerging trends in technology and social media on the continent.

This publication is supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundations.