After the election, millions of users signed up for Parler, an emerging social media app that has quickly become a hub for conservatives seeking refuge from what they believe to be censorship on Facebook and Twitter. These companies have labeled or hidden posts by President Trump and others who contest the results of the 2020 presidential election.
That rush of signups put Parler first on Apple’s App Store list of free apps earlier this week. The surge is reminiscent of other social media newbies trying to tap into key markets where Facebook was missing, like Snapchat among teenagers or TikTok for short videos.
Taking over Facebook is not an easy task, and many apps have failed in that endeavor. Facebook has more than 3 billion users per month on its numerous services, including Instagram and WhatsApp. No other social media platform is around. Additionally, the company has fought off many potential challengers by frequently copying their key features and using them to discourage users from leaving.
But newcomers keep trying. Here are four:
Perhaps the biggest threat to Facebook’s dominance on social media is TikTok, the hugely popular user-generated video app of Chinese origin. The app shows users an endless feed of videos of other users dancing, singing, joking, or using mesmerizing augmented reality visual effects. In the past few years, TikTok has become one of the most popular apps for teenagers and young adults on the internet.
TikTok and Douyin, its Chinese counterpart, had a combined total of 980 million monthly active users in September, up from 670 million last year, according to App Annie. This means that the app is well on the way to exceed the 1 billion MAU mark in 2021.
Facebook took note of TikTok’s rapid growth and responded in August with the global launch of Reels, a TikTok copycat feature available on Instagram. Just as Facebook was able to fend off Snapchat by putting stories on Instagram, so is it now handling the TikTok threat.
In addition to Facebook, TikTok is also facing regulatory challenges due to security concerns from its China-based parent company ByteDance. Although TikTok successfully managed the threat of a shutdown by President Donald Trump, it is still unclear what will happen to the app under the Biden administration. A Biden transition technology advisor on Tuesday said it was “too early to speak the in-depth management opinion on TikTok”.
According to a statement from Parler’s COO Jeffrey Wernick, the number of registered members rose from 4.5 million last week to around 8 million after the election. In terms of active users, that number has grown from 500,000 active devices two weeks ago to more than 4 million.
Like Facebook and Twitter, Parler gives users standard social media features – there is a feed where you can see posts, photos and videos from the users you follow. Parler’s biggest draw is how it positions itself as the antithesis of Facebook and Twitter.
“Parler is a non-biased social media with free speech that focuses on the protection of user rights,” read the description of the app in the App Store.
However, Parler isn’t the first social media app to actively target conservatives specifically. Four years ago there was Gab, a similar app with exactly the same offer. Gab grew until it was linked to the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that killed 11 people. The shooter, Robert Gregory Bowers, posted on his gab page an hour before the shooting.
After filming, Gab was tossed overboard by his hosting provider and payment processors, forcing the service to go offline and he never recovered. With a hyperconservative user base, Parler must walk the tightrope to provide its users with freedom of speech while preventing their online activity from culminating in an offline event that will force the app to shut down.
Another rapidly growing social app is Discord, which allows users to create “servers” that friends can hang out on in text-only chat rooms or on voice or video calls. The app is especially popular with video gamers who use the voice and video calling features to chat with their friends while they play online together.
According to the company, Discord usage rose to more than 100 million monthly active users, up nearly 79% from 56 million last November. Discord claims it is not a social network but a communication service as it differs fundamentally from other social apps in that it does not show ads or uses an algorithmic feed to display user content. Instead, Discord makes money by charging users for its Nitro subscription service at $ 9.99 per month, which gives users more features.
Discord might not see itself as a social media app, but Facebook clearly sees a threat. Facebook has increasingly placed an emphasis on making video games a vital part of its service. It offers live streaming services, cloud gaming, and group video calling for 50 people.
OnlyFans is the only one of those social media threats that no mobile app has. This is because OnlyFans has become the go-to place for users to sell original adult content that Apple bans on the App Store.
Although OnlyFans doesn’t have an app, it has grown tremendously over the past year. It was mentioned in a rap verse by Beyonce earlier this year, and TikTok and Instagram users frequently post links directing their followers to their OnlyFans accounts.
OnlyFans didn’t provide how many active users are active each month, but the app has a total of 75 million users and 1 million creators, up from 30 million users and 450,000 creators in May.
Although OnlyFans is primarily known for subscribing to and buying adult content, some use the app to sell subscriptions rather than post pornographic content. If OnlyFans continues to captivate users, this could de facto become a spot for users who want a paid social media experience without advertising.
OnlyFans poses are a unique challenge. Facebook has banned porn for its services throughout its history, and it wouldn’t be allowed to have an iOS app if it suddenly decided to change its policies. OnlyFans has apparently built a moat preventing Facebook from copying its services the way it does with Snapchat and TikTok.