The Case for Alternative Social Media

Forthcoming in Social Media + Society

32 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2015

See all articles by Robert Gehl

Robert Gehl

University of Utah - Department of Communication

Date Written: July 1, 2015


What are "alternative social media"? How can we distinguish alternative social media from mainstream social media? Why are social media alternatives important? How do they work? Why do people make them? What do they tell us about contemporary corporate social media and its related phenomena: surveillance, privacy, power, self-expression, and sociality? This essay answers these questions by theorizing alternative social media. The empirical data for this alternative social media theory are drawn from previous work on alternative sites such as Diaspora,, Twister, GNU Social, and the Dark Web Social Network. These cases are used to build a generalized conceptual framework. However, this paper does not solely theorize from these examples, but rather seeks to contextualize and historicize alternative social media theory within larger bodies of work. In addition to generalization from examples, the theory is informed by two threads. The first thread is the work of alternative media scholars such as Nick Couldry, Chris Atton, and Clemencia Rodriguez, who have done the historical and theoretical work to define alternative media. The second thread is a synthesis of works exploring the technical side of contemporary media, coming from new fields such as software studies. The threads and empirical analyses of sites such as Diaspora, Quitter, and are combined into a theoretical matrix that can account for the processes and technical infrastructures that comprise social media alternatives and explain why they are distinct from sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google as well as why they are important.

Keywords: alternative social media, corporate social media, alternative media, media theory

Suggested Citation

Gehl, Robert, The Case for Alternative Social Media (July 1, 2015). Forthcoming in Social Media + Society, Available at SSRN:

Robert Gehl (Contact Author)

University of Utah - Department of Communication ( email )

United States


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