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WordPress ActivityPub

Bring ActivityPub social networking to the widely used Wordpress

WordPress ActivityPub is a plugin that allows your site users to interact with other users in the fediverse. Currently the plugin supports Follows by remote users, sending out pubilc posts to followers, and receiving remote users public Comments on local posts. This project will develop features allowing for a more rich and typical social experience with Direct messages, Followers only posts, and Threaded comments to and from the fediverse. Moderation tools will be included and user privacy features will also be developed.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

A lot of the people we talk to, the media we watch and the services we search for are found in or through using social media. For users these platforms offer easy and usually free services to send public and private messages, stay updated on relevant news and promote your business or product.

But the services these social media offer do actually come at a personal and societal cost. The platforms are not neutral exchange platforms like the rest of the internet. They do not just deal with all messages they receive in the same way. Part of the corporate social network model is to give some messages preferential treatment over others, i.e. there is a noticeable bias towards those that pay. People only have so much attention they can spare every day, and the companies decide what you cannot skip based on what they get paid. This would be equivalent to you always seeing the newsletter from Coca Cola at the top of your email client, but only half of the emails from your father or local charity because they are automatically put in a folder out of sight. This "pay to play" creates a knockout race for attention fueled by commerce, not by arguments, emotions, ethics or societal considerations.

This exposure is worsened by the fact that the platforms monetize your data and behaviour. Social media companies create fine-grained personal profiles, that even include attributed political, relational and other deeply personal matters. By clustering people, profiles becomes more crisp and valuable. But they tend to push people step by step to more extreme options. You liked marijuana. You like drugs. Maybe you like cocaine? You visited a site with conspiracy theories. Well, here is another one which is even more incredible. When these profiles are made available to advertisers at a premium price, psychometrics such as used by Cambridge Analytica (and others), these allow to influence subsets of the population in both subtle and crude ways.

These selfish business practices continuously raise fundamental societal questions: how do we feel about social media being used by foreign state actors to influence democratic elections through very personalized (and misguided) political campaigns? And how do we contain the algorithmic pressure towards global extremes, rather than brings people together as one would expect from a social network?

Another problematic issue to address is monoculture. Social networks do not allow to cross the boundary of their service in an easy way, leading to social lock in and a "winner takes all" scenario. This limits choice, but also exposes users to legal dangers. Confidential discussions through "private" messages for instance turn out to be not so private, such as the case where a United States got the social network Twitter to hand over the personal communication from European human rights activists and a member of the Icelandic parliament over a severe human rights violation by the USA military. The European Court of Human Rights would certainly not have allowed this, but it happened outside of our jurisdiction - even if all the actors never left Europe.

The federated universe, abbreviated to fediverse, wants to offer social media users a more transparent, ethical and decentralized environment to talk, find and connect. This is done through a plethora of completely independent servers hosted by organisations and individuals around the world. Each has their own policy, each has their own community and reputation. But they can all interoperate. If you don't like any of the existing options, or want to do something different or innovative, you download some open source software and start your own. If you feel some server is toxic, or misbehaves, it just takes one click to stop listening to what is being said. And there is no need to share data with anyone, if you want to. Every node can essentially be a complete social network in itself.

The fediverse is not confined to what a single company wants to do - in every way. That means a broader offering in terms of design, usability and user experience, in terms of technology, ethics and culture. Essentially every server is a full-fledged social network in itself, able to talk to other social networks when it wants. People can use the fediverse for traditional social networking, but they can also integrate it with other services such as online video sharing, all without the fear of having their data being monetized or their activity profiled. Switching from closed social networks to the fediverse contributes to privacy and trust, by enabling users to understand and control who sees their data. The fediverse as a network of social networks, is also more resilient than a single network could ever be.

Next to your social media account, you would like to socialize on your own private place on the web: your website. Wordpress is one of the most popular open source content management systems used by millions to design and update their website. This project will add a plugin to Wordpress that supports ActivityPub and suddenly turns your website into your personal town square, where people can respond to your posts, you can let everyone know you have a wonderful new article they definitely should read, etcetera. And to make sure the square is place you feel safe, moderation and user privacy features will be provided. Plugging in to such a widely popular website tool can help launch ActivityPub and the fediverse to the forefront, making people curious about a more user-friendly and actually social kind of online social networking.

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This project was funded through the NGI0 Discovery Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825322.

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Please check out NLnet's theme funds, such as NGI Assure and the User Operated Internet Fund.

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