This Company Will Give You $100,000 to Build a Better, Alternative Facebook

A startup incubator is giving seven companies $100,000 in seed money to build a privacy-oriented, democratic Facebook alternative.

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May 2 2018, 5:24pm

Image: Shutterstock/Wikimedia Commons; Composition: Motherboard

It’s been a rough few months for Facebook. The social media giant’s woes arguably began after the most recent election as it battled accusations of harboring Russian trolls and spreading fake news. Then earlier this year, a Cambridge Analytica whistleblower revealed the extent to which Facebook users’ data was used for targeted election ads, the company was blamed for fueling genocide in Myanmar, and to top it all off, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent two days testifying before Congress about Facebook’s data policies.

The company is scrambling to atone for its missteps by unveiling new privacy tools, but many users— including myself—were so fed up with Facebook’s mishandling of their data that they deleted their Facebook profile altogether. But what if there was a way to keep the benefits of Facebook without all the privacy violations?

This is the motivation behind the Open Book Challenge, a contest created by the startup incubator Launch that is promising seven startups $100,000 in seed money apiece for better alternatives to Facebook.

Read More: Facebook.gov

“All community and social products on the internet have had their era, from AOL to MySpace, and typically they’re not shut down by the government—they’re slowly replaced by better products,” Jason Calacanis, an angel investor and the CEO of Launch wrote in a blog post. “So, let’s start the process of replacing Facebook.”

According to Calacanis, there are already two dozen teams competing for one of the prizes, but he hopes to have 100 entrants before applications close on June 15. The main goal is to create a “billion-user social network to replace Facebook” and entries must meet five main criteria: protecting user privacy, protecting democracy from “bad actors,” stopping the spread of misinformation, not making people addicted to the service, and “protecting freedom of speech, while curbing abuse.”

“No one knows exactly how Facebook will be replaced,” Calacanis wrote. “In order to beat Facebook, many believe the winning team will have to not only build a base functionality that is familiar to users looking to switch, but also provide new experiences that will make users passionate about the new product. Other’s believe it will be a completely new paradigm.”

After June 15, Calacanis will select 20 finalists and help shepherd their projects for three months. At that point, the seven winners will be selected to join the Launch incubator for four months to build their site with $100,000 in seed money.

Read More: Why I’m Quitting Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Apple for a Month

Replacing Facebook is a noble goal. Yet as alternative social networks like Mastodon and Ello go to show, creating the platform is one thing, but actually getting people to switch from existing social media networks is far harder than it looks.