Ask the average person what they dislike most about social network platforms like Facebook or Instagram and the answers are pretty consistent: massive amounts of advertising, how algorithms determine what you see in your feed, and all of the personal data these companies gather from their users. But even though people say they hate these things, they still put up with them. After all, it’s the way of the world now, the easiest way to stay connected, and those ads in that algorithm are the price you pay for a free experience.
Enter MeWe, a new, free social network that may change the status quo. MeWe’s owners are banking on the idea that people’s desire to stay connected while maintaining absolute control over their private information will help the company flourish – and potentially knock these other platforms off their respective pedestals.
But is MeWe really safe, private, and free to use?
What Is the MeWe Social Network?
MeWe is the brainchild of Mark Weinstein, who tells Parentology, “I am one of the original founders of social media.” Indeed, Weinstein launched the social-gathering websites SuperGroups (which included SuperFamily, SuperFriends, and SuperFamilia) in the late 1990s, eventually selling them off in 2001. Soon after, he saw platforms like MySpace and Facebook using subscriber’s personal behavior and information to help advertisers target consumers. Then in 2010, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stated that privacy as a social norm was a thing of the past. That got Weinstein’s attention.
“My God, that is such a distortion of what social media was meant to be,” Weinstein says. “It wasn’t meant to be something where people are objectified as data to track, sell, target, and manipulate. No. Social networking was for people to stay authentically connected and to find common interests and like-minded people.”
Fast forward to 2016 and MeWe’s public launch at South by Southwest, and its slow growth to today. The site’s home page, pictured above, puts their focus on privacy right up front. The site also features this 10-point Privacy Bill of Rights.
More About MeWe Privacy
Weinstein notes MeWe doesn’t use facial recognition technology – an important point given last year’s Flickr/MegaFace database leak – and that your personal information will not be sold.
The site’s Terms & Conditions state you can delete specific content data or your entire account, but it’s not instantaneous. Its verbiage, “…we delete your Content Data and remove your account from our production servers as soon as is technically possible based on our infrastructure design including a 30-day delay to insure the deletion request was made by you, etc.” There’s also a chance the data could remain on their backup servers for up to seven months. Otherwise, the notion you can completely wipe your data off MeWe does look legit.
Is MeWe Free?
Yes. You sign up for free and have access to all 21 features, including news feeds, chats, 8GB of cloud storage (about 15,000 photos), voice messaging and more.
The company makes money by offering a $4.99 monthly premium option, which gives you things like unlimited emoji and sticker packs, unlimited voice and video calling, unlimited custom themes, 100GB of cloud storage and more. Users can also buy elements ala-cart, like additional stickers for a $1.99 flat fee, or unlimited voice and video calling for $1.99 per month. There’s also MeWePRO, a collaboration and communication software for businesses helping with the company’s bottom line.
Is MeWe Safe for Kids?
MeWe’s Terms of Service state that users have to be 16 or older. There is a checkbox on the signup page, but like with every other social network or dating app, the company does not verify the user’s age. If an underage kid knows what month and year makes him old enough to use the service, he’s in.
To this, Weinstein says, “We are not in the business of collecting verified data on people and then having that database be at risk for somebody hacking it. We don’t want to manage that at all. That is part of our privacy stance.”
There are no specific parental controls. If parents want to monitor or restrict how people interact with their child’s profile, they have to make sure the regular privacy controls are set up. As for worries that underage kids are using MeWe, or that the older kids may be approached by creepy individuals, Weinstein says “parents are supposed to monitor where the kids are anyhow,” then pivots the conversation to Facebook.
“If a kid is on MeWe, they can opt-out of our member directory,” Weinstein says. “You can’t do that with Facebook. If you’ve got a 13-year-old and they create an account on Facebook, they are automatically and forever in Facebook’s member directory.”
Concerns About MeWe
There have been concerns raised about the general community on MeWe. Rolling Stone wrote about the increasing number of alt-right followers and conspiracy theorists who are moving over to MeWe after experiencing Facebook censoring them. The article notes that MeWe is not known as a hotbed of extremist discourse in the same way that 8Chan or Discord are, but the editors stated that they were able to easily find these groups.
“The claims made in the Rolling Stone article about MeWe members are false and do not reflect the make-up of MeWe’s millions of members,” a MeWe spokesperson stated in an email to Parentology. “MeWe is home to upstanding, diverse members, and has ‘open group’ communities of all kinds, including those for sports, technology, entertainment, video games, fitness, health, travel, foodies, politics left and right, and much more.” Weinstein also wrote an article for Medium that challenged the story’s assertions; we’ve placed a link to it in the sources section below.
That said, NPR did a report in 2021 on the rise of alt-right members flocking to MeWe following the January 6 assault on the Capitol, and President Trump’s ban from Facebook and Twitter. But unlike Parlor, which touts itself as a haven for free speech and not censoring members, Weinstein says MeWe is no place for hate.
“I don’t like sites that are anything goes,” Weinstein told NPR. “I think they’re disgusting. Good people right and left and middle can’t handle ‘anything goes.’ We don’t want to be around hate speech. We don’t want to be around violence inciters.”
While some journalists have found radical groups escaping MeWe’s policies, the company has done its best to remove them once reported.
What Parents Should Know
The fact that different groups exist on MeWe — just like they do on everything from TikTok to Snapchat — doesn’t mean you or your children will be approached or groomed by any organization. Users build their personal network by searching for people’s names or uploading their address book, which MeWe uses to find friends and relatives who are already on the platform. (This, too, can be deleted afterward.) And without these groups having the ability to market their organizations into your newsfeed, the only way someone will find them is to go looking.
MeWe also offers a “block and report” feature if anything too offensive comes across your screen. “That goes right to our trust and safety team,” Weinstein says. “We look at these every day. We have outright bans and deletions. I mean, we kick people off the site all the time.”
So, can the MeWe social network put an end to giants like Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram? Only time will tell. But with Weinstein now reporting 12 million global users at the end of 2020, it’s definitely something to watch out for.