Elon Musk’s rocky takeover of Twitter has already been marked by mass firings, resignations, and the account reinstatements of former President Donald Trump, as well as other controversial figures, leaving many users unsure of the future direction of the platform.
Amidst the chaos, several Twitter alternatives have reported a surge in new users. The latest to gain mainstream momentum is Hive Social, an app that combines some of the familiar elements of Instagram, Twitter, and even MySpace and was reportedly started by a college student who taught herself to code. On Monday, a profanity-laden tweet questioning what Hive was even caught the attention of Musk, who he answered with a simple “lmao”.
App analytics firm Sensor Tower confirmed to CNN Business on Tuesday that Hive Social has seen an estimated 871,000 installs worldwide, more than a third of which came from only in the last week. This week, Hive Social took first place in the social networking category on the US App Store.
While trying to download the Hive app onto my Apple device, however, I was greeted with a number of errors. First, it had trouble allowing me to register via my email address. Then, I got a pop-up message saying my device was locked for “unusual activity”. Despite this, I managed to create an account by providing my phone number. However, the platform does not currently offer two-factor authentication.
After creating my account, I navigated to his “Discover” page, where I was immediately presented with an unexpected image of a completely naked man. (On its barebones website, Hive Social says that nude content is allowed, as long as it’s classified as “NSFW Adult Content.”)
The interface is more like Instagram than Twitter: largely image-driven, but you also have the option to upload text-only posts. I had trouble using the search function to find people to follow. Adding to the confusion, I’ve seen a few different accounts that appear to have the exact same username, such as over a dozen accounts with a username @Catherine.
I wasn’t shown any obvious ads or overtly spam accounts as I scrolled through my “For You” tab, which was nice. Overall, there was also a strong sense of community building among many of the new users, as people shared tips and advice on how to get started using the app. The primary feed, made up of posts from people you follow, is chronological, unlike most well-known platforms.
Hive Social, which lists just two employees on LinkedIn, did not respond to requests from CNN Business for an interview or further comment. a Twitter accounts associated with the app said Wednesday that it was inundated with new user sign-ups, and “Email verifications are still down but Google and Apple sign in is working!” The Twitter account also responded to some troubleshooting requests from Twitter users who were similarly setting up their accounts on the platform and facing confusion and technical issues.
On its website, Hive Social also outlines goals to keep the community respectful. “We remove content that contains credible threats or hate speech, content that targets private individuals, personal information intended to blackmail or harass someone, and repeated unwanted messages,” she says.
“Threats of harm to the public (including threats of physical harm, theft, vandalism and all forms of financial harm) and personal safety are not permitted,” the website added. “Hive carefully reviews threat reports to determine if a threat is credible.”
Hive’s guidelines are admirable, but an open question remains about how it will be able to maintain its content moderation goals amid an overnight surge of new users. In an interview with Newsweek, Hive founder Kassandra (Raluca) Pop she said only three people — herself, a designer and a developer — are running the app. “It’s just the three of us and we’re doing pretty well, I think,” she told the outlet. And indeed, for such a small team, the app’s rapid user growth is quite a feat.
While the interface was inviting and some of the posts engaging, I found myself too frustrated with the constant lags and crashes to put much more time into the app. Its lack of a web interface has also left me unsure how well it will fill a Twitter-shaped hole for those looking for an alternative to the Musk-owned platform.
To be fair, Hive was born in 2019 and never tried to be a Twitter clone or accommodate a sudden influx of disgruntled Twitter users. The Pop founder told Newsweek she was inspired to create Hive after her own frustration with Instagram’s algorithm and ads.
Hive’s viral rise over the past week, and the hiccups associated with other Twitter alternatives like Mastodon (more on that here) or Post.News (which currently only accepts new users to join a “waitlist”), in many ways they reveal just how difficult it would be to replace a platform that has been so widely used by brands, government agencies and beyond for over a decade.
Beyond Twitter’s unusual set of circumstances, other social media giants are also facing a new reckoning caused by whiplash in demand and a worsening economic climate. As users and developers face dramatic changes to how social networks might work, digital rights groups are urging that this could also be a time to regroup and rebuild on the basis of past lessons.
“The problems of living in a system dominated by irresponsible big corporations seemed inevitable. But growth is stagnant for these centralized platforms, and Twitter is in the midst of a nasty meltdown,” wrote Cindy Cohn and Rory Mir of the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation in a blog post. “Our hearts go out to the thousands of workers abused or fired by incumbent players.”
“Major platforms have already screwed it up,” added Cohn and Mir, “but now we have a chance to get it right and build something better.”