When Ello launched in September 2014, it was labelled the “anti-Facebook” social network for its manifesto decreeing an ad-free environment and promising not to track its users.
“We don’t consider them competition because we don’t see them as a social network at all,” Ello’s founder Paul Budnitz told Business Insider on Thursday. ” They’re an advertising platform.”
Despite not seeing Facebook as an opponent, it certainly is putting on the air of one.
Ello is paying for two buses to shuttle protesters from San Francisco to Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters for a June 1 protest sparked by Facebook’s policy of requiring real names on its social platform — something Ello does not require.
Next week’s protest is a revival of a movement to change a Facebook policy that currently will lock users out of their account after seven days if they are reported for having a fake name and cannot show identification. The group organising the protests has claimed that the policy targets and can even endanger already maligned populations, including domestic violence victims and transgendered teens.
The #MyNameIs campaign first tried launching a petition to block Facebook from the San Francisco Pride Parade, but the board voted 5-4 to let the social network march in June’s event.
So why is Ello involved now?
Ello went viral, in part, thanks to Facebook’s crack down on the real names in the LGBT community, said Budnitz. Users went to the ad-free social network in droves, and sign-ups for the invite-only service were as high as 38,000 per hour.
Ello currently has “millions” of users, according to Budnitz, a fraction of Facebook’s 1.44 billion users.
As the social network evolves, interest groups have sprung up on the platform, including a drag community led by Sister Indica Sativa. When Sister Indica reached out to Ello about helping out the community, Budnitz said he didn’t hesitate and the site has declared June 1, the day of the protest, Ello Pride Day.
Budnitz said he sees the real-name policy being only beneficial to Facebook’s advertising agenda since consumer behaviours are more valuable when linked to a real name.
“Facebook claims the real name policy is about safety,” Budnitz said. “The reality is you are much safer if you control the data you post about yourself.”
It’s not the first time Ello has helped a community member — there have been filmmakers and documentary makers before Sister Indica — but it is the first time it is going up against a formal corporation.
“I personally find people who are willing to go take a stand for something like this really inspiring,” Budnitz said. “Maybe as a company we’re able and willing to take a stand because we’re not supported by advertisers.”