A Purdue student has invented a new social media app in an attempt to fight the issues raised by social media giants selling their users’ private information.
Rising sophomore James Gastineau has coded a solution into the form of an iOS social media app called Bloctab.
“Bloctab is a social media platform that uses the Tinder swipe feature to sort out what’s trending and what’s not trending,” the 19-year-old said.
Bloctab, he said, not only does not collect data on its users, but it also features a democratic system to govern information on the platform using a group of “legislators.”
“It’s similar to a moderator,” Gastineau said. “But it’s more like a democratic official way.”
The legislatures, an independent entity that any user could join by submitting an application, wade through the reports of misinformation or offensive content and decide based on majority vote whether to blur the message, current legislator Alex van Bibber said.
“I think somebody said something about President Biden bombing someplace in Ukraine,” van Bibber said, so the legislatures voted to have it censored. They wrote a brief on why they blurred it, which is available to everybody on the app.
Van Bibber has known Gastineau since they met in Carmel High School and got involved in the app when Gastineau called him last year to pitch his idea. Van Bibber attends Indiana University and majors in finance, the same major as Gastineau. Besides talking about the difference between Krannert and Kelley, they talk extensively about legislative duties and features.
Although content can be blurred, anybody who wants to see past the warning to the original content still can.
“We don’t filter out fake news; it’s up for the user’s discretion to figure out what’s fake and what’s not,” he said.
But Bloctab’s main purpose is to be fun.
“One of our biggest hurdles is that we don’t want the platform to be too political,” Gastineau said. He wants to market to users who will contribute to the fun atmosphere.
The platform has five main tabs: trending, sports, entertainment, news and humor. When a post is in the feed, users can swipe left to dislike it and right to like it.
“I realized TikTok is doing great because it’s interactive, you swipe up and down,” he said. “With Twitter and Reddit, my opinion at the start was that it wasn’t as interactive. It’s you just scrolling; you read, you don’t swipe, you don’t do anything really cool on the platform. And I thought there was a market opportunity for that.”
Gastineau thought of the idea when he was a lifeguard in his senior year of high school. As he was watching the kids, his mind wandered to r/WallStreetBets, and how a decentralized group of individuals short-stopped Gamestop. This sparked the idea for a decentralized and democratic social media app.
“It took me about a week staying in my chair trying to figure out, what if I do this? What if the legislature gets too dominated by a political entity? Then what else can I do?” he said.
He has been working on the app for over a year and a half and receives marketing help from his sister’s boyfriend.
The app has attracted about 120 people, most of them his friends and family.
“One of my biggest hurdles is making it worth it for the users right now to be on it,” Gastineau said. “Because there’s not that many people on there, like imagine Twitter with only 120 people on there. It’s really hard to compete when there’s not as many people on (Bloctab).”
Tim Metken has known Gastineau for six years and originally joined the app to support him, but now checks it a couple of times a week. He found the premise intriguing.
“I like going on Instagram and I see what my friends posted, but it’s just annoying to me when they recommend stuff that you’ve clicked on and then you have an ad to purchase something (that’s) similar to what you searched on,” Metken said.
He remembers visiting Gastineau’s brother and seeing Gastineau working on various projects.
“I’d go over to their house and every couple months he’d have some new idea,” Metken said. “He was always coming up with stuff that I thought was cool.”
Besides Bloctab, Metken said, Gastineau also made a plastic bag to protect shoes from the rain.
“I don’t think that one took off, but I love the spirit. He had a little shop in his basement,” Metken said.
The app is still a work in progress; one challenge is the amount of spam comments on posts. A post by @Eleni Maguire titled “usc and ucla join the big ten. how?!” has 10 likes and six dislikes, but 167 comments, most of them spam.
“I don’t know who’s doing it, if it’s a bot, if it’s one of his friends picking on him, you know it’s a bad look for the app, obviously. I hope he knows how to limit that,” Metkin said.
Despite the bugs, Gastineau’s friends encourage new users to try it.
“It’s just an app where you can go and have fun with your friends,” van Bibber said.
“It’s transparent,” Gastineau said. “It’s democratic, and it’s interactive.”