Is Ello The Anti-Facebook Social Network We’ve All Been Waiting For?

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.35.23 AMConcern over Facebook’s “real name” policy continues to mount, and it seems that the issue is causing more of the omnipresent social network’s sinister-skewing practices to come to public focus.

Namely, that Facebook’s “users” aren’t the ones posting selfies and check-ins — they’re the product. The real users are the advertisers, and Facebook’s status as a publicly traded company means its loyalty will always be to profit. And once they profit, they’ll have to profit more.

And so you may have noticed a serious uptick in complaints — everything from the #mynameis tag combating forced identity to concerns over Facebook Messenger’s creepy and invasive terms of service to stories going viral about the company’s plan to begin charging people a monthly fee.

That last item, it should be noted, is a hoax. But that’s not really the point. So many people believed it because it’s now become expected that Facebook will stoop to new lows. Which is a big image problem when you want to be seen as a “for the people” kind of company.

The irony is that all the gripes about real or fake issues with Facebook are aired out to dry on Facebook itself. No matter what you say about the network, it has some serious critical mass. Teenage goths, porn stars, prison guards and your annoying Aunt Bethany all share one thing in common: they’re all on Facebook.

For many in the LGBT community though, the benefits of staying plugged into a massive, rigid 1.2 billion-member network that sells their social patterns to the highest bidder is losing its appeal by the minute. There’s never been a louder cry for Facebook deactivation among drag performers and other members of the community. Hundreds have already left, and many more plan to rally behind grassroots campaigns to flee — there’s one called #LetsGhostFacebook planned on October 31st.

There just hasn’t been a promising alternative until now. Google+ was dead upon arrival, LinkedIn is just horrific and the drag queen-centric reactionary Dragbook is too tunnel-visioned.

But you may have started to see that ominously cute black circle with a smiley face popping up more and more in your feed.

It’s the logo of a new site called Ello, and while still only in beta, it’s becoming the destination of a steady migration away from Facebook.

Founded by Paul Budnitz, Ello is the only social network out there with a manifesto — one that, for the moment, has a kind of punk-rock appeal in the face of Silicon Valley corporate might.

The mission statement on their invite-only site reads in part, “We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce and manipulate — but a place to connect, create and celebrate life. You are not a product.”

Budnitz made his name in the commercial-meets-creative space as the founder of Kid Robot, a store that blurs the line between toys and art. With locations in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boulder and Las Vegas, the company has turned selling designer toys into an art in and of itself. They even have 13 of their creations in the permanent collection at MoMa.

Together with a group of friends who all felt “exhausted by ads, clutter, and feeling manipulated and deceived by companies that clearly don’t have [their] interests at heart,” Budnitz created Ello as a decidedly anti-Facebook.

And now that Ello is being embraced by so many in the queer community, Budnitz is happy to play the role of benevolent gatekeeper to the social network promised land.

“Yes, we’ve been hearing about the Facebook drama too over the last few days,” Budnitz said. “Ello welcomes the LGBTQ community and we’re very excited to see so many people moving over! There does seem to be a bit of an avalanche…”

Of course, Ello has a long way to go before it’s a fully up-and-running Facebook alternative. But everyone’s got to start somewhere, and we’re looking forward to watching how these chips fall.