A social network without the toxicity and where ‘likes’ earn cash for charities. Wishful thinking? Think again
Former Saatchi advertising maestro Dominic O’Meara wants to show us all the path to social media enlightenment with his new startup, Supernova.
It is billed as an ethical alternative to Facebook and Instagram, which have been jointly dogged by accusations of ramping up misinformation and damaging mental health. O’Meara wants to test his belief that a growing slice of the population is craving a life- affirming, glass-half-full outlook instead.
And with a pledge to donate over half of its earnings to charitable causes, he explained that if Supernova can coax a mere one per cent of the social media advertising market away from the big players, he’ll be handing £600m to charities every year.
“That one per cent is completely possible,” O’Meara said. “People are cheering us on: they think it’s about time someone brought an alternative to this market, and one that is ethically driven.”
Studies have pointed to teens and young people abandoning Facebook and Instagram in droves in recent years. But while Mark Zuckerberg may have been shaken by whistleblower Frances Haugen’s claims that the platform stokes division in pursuit of profit, it’s safe to say his spot among the super-rich elite is firmly cemented by an estimated $89bn (£65bn) personal fortune.
O’Meara said the Supernova concept began by imagining a network that shared its wealth democratically with content creators. But even taking Facebook – the daddy of them all – as an example, he calculated the weekly share of the spoils for its three billion users would amount to just a few pounds a week each. Instead, he hit on the idea of pointing them to a higher, altruistic cause.
“I realised there’s no point in us trying to take these tiny crumbs off the table,” O’Meara said. “What we need to do is pool all that money together, and then channel it towards positive outcomes.”
To that end, 60 per cent of Supernova’s ad revenue is paid into an action fund, with users deciding how the cash is divided between eight causal areas. “A ‘like’ of your post is not a ‘like’. It’s like a vote for your post and it’s a vote for the share of the action fund,” O’Meara explained. Millennials and Gen Zers are the main target audience.
What about business customers? O’Meara said he offers an alternative for brands keen to distance themselves from toxicity, citing 2020’s #StopHateForProfit boycott, in which more than 1,000 advertisers pulled millions of dollars in ad spend from Facebook.
“These mainstream platforms have become argumentative, tense environments – because that’s the way they’ve been allowed to grow up,” he said. “Advertisers are fed up with the status quo, the toxicity.”
It’s about time someone brought an alternative to this market, and one that is ethically driven
New Supernova users will discover an experience not unlike Instagram. Behind the familiar-looking interface, though, O’Meara promises human moderators tasked with weeding out hate.
At the time of writing, they had only a few thousand Supernova users to monitor, as O’Meara has opted for the softest of soft launches, eschewing an “uncool” onslaught of advertising for more organic, word-of-mouth growth. But he insists that human moderation – in tandem with artificial intelligence – is achievable even with explosive growth.
“If you set some kind of example, focus people’s minds and imagination on something more purposeful and positive, then you give people a different set of values right from the outset,” O’Meara said. “It’s not about having armies of moderators to weed out nasty content: it’s about conditioning people to not produce nasty content in the first place.”