As Christopher C. Santos and Justin Wade recalled it, they were sitting in their office in the fall last year talking about the problems with social media websites like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
It was not unlike any other day, but maybe the conversation was a little more intense.
Both work in information technology, or IT, for the Air National Guard at Joint Base Cape Cod.
The discussion centered mostly on censorship and the frustration of an overabundance of censuring from major social media platforms. Celebrities and affluent people in society, they complained, get better placement on a news feed than, say, a regular average Joe. Depending on the “bad guy of the day,” posts are deleted and users banned.
Major social media outlets, to Mr. Santos, a Mashpee resident, and Mr. Wade, from Marstons Mills, have turned from platforms used for voicing opinions and instead into news curators and publishers. The censorship was infringing on their First Amendment right, they contend.
One thing led to another that fall day, and nearly a year later, they are the owners of a new platform for Androids and iPhones. Instead of talking, they decided to simply just create their own social media app.
“I’m the type of person that if you say you can’t do it, I’ll do it,” Mr. Santos said.
Their creation is called “Sayscape, The Unbiased Social Media.” The name is a combination of “say,” as in say what is on your mind, and “escape,” as in escape the normal and censoring social media.
The ethos came from a basic principle as servicemen: to protect the rights of Americans, which includes the First Amendment.
“In the Air Force, we took an oath to protect the people and their rights,” Mr. Wade said. That right includes hate speech, but not when it promotes violence. “We don’t like hate speech, but it is a right. If you start talking violence, we will take you down.”
Both Mr. Santos and Mr. Wade are veterans of the Air Force, having served active duty. Mr. Santos has served more than 20 years in the military branch as both an F-15 avionics mechanic and an IT specialist. Mr. Wade has more than 10 years’ experience as cyber-transport specialist in the Air Force.
The two of them teamed up with coworker and Sandwich resident Joseph Nurse, also an Air Force veteran and an IT specialist at the base. Mr. Santos’ daughter Alexia Santos, a recent graduate of Mashpee High School, has also signed onto the four-member team. For the past year, the four have worked on the framework of the app, on front-end and back-end work, design, and fine-tuning different options.
The app officially launched last month on both major app stores. It has about 200 users at this time, although 5,000 Twitter followers that they hope to get to make the switch over.
But while it has launched, they are still fine-tuning and upgrading and working. Mr. Wade said that he alone spends hours of his free time daily.
They are currently looking for an investor to help bring the platform to the masses. They also have a web-page where users can purchase Sayscape apparel or donate to the cause.
The social media platform, they say, has three major differences and advantages over the major media sites. For one, they do not censor. Not even hate speech. Or, as the platform’s “About” section states: “We may not condone or agree with what is said, but you have the right to be heard fairly and equally.”
Hate speech, they argue, is a right. When hate speech turns violent or a user makes a threat, that is when they step in and cut off a user. Violence is not allowed in the First Amendment, they argue. In an example of a user going from hate speech into violence, a social media website called Gab came under scrutiny after a user threatened Jews through the platform and then went on a shooting rampage inside a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Gab has since been taken down.
Second, their website does not sell any user information, an issued raised about Facebook during recent US Senate hearings, as well as other social media sites. The site boasts that it has end-to-end encryption to keep all data secure. “We protect and will not sell your information to any outside agencies and or companies,” the website states.
Third, as a way to give back to the community, they created a special page within the app that allows only veterans inside. Veterans from any branch of the military can post freely, and only veterans can view and interact with the posts. At the top of the page is also a suicide hotline for veterans to text or call when in a crisis. Simply clicking on the number allows them to make a call directly.
To those that may be more sensitive to hate speech, Sayscape has a tool that allows a user to block certain words. A user, for example, could submit “puppies” as a trigger word. Any post with the word puppies in it would not show up on a users main feed.
Sayscape has also pulled features from a number of popular platforms, with their own custom tweaking, in order to give their users a better experience.
One feature allows users to edit a post within the first minute of posting. Twitter does not allow editing of posts ever, which creates a unique experience for users. Sayscape likes that idea, but they at least give a minute to allow for basic editing.
They also have a feature that allows posts or videos to be uploaded for just a certain amount of time, similar to Snap Chat. Unlike Snap, the feature on Sayscape allows a user to set the precise day and time it is erased.
The Sayscape platform’s news feed will be relayed to users in sequential order, rather than curated, as most major platforms are. While seemingly minimal to the laymen, a curated news feed allows for some users to reach more people than others, for example the Kardashians. “Why should the Kardashians be heard more than anyone else?” Mr. Santos questioned. To Sayscape, that is a form of censorship and everyone’s post on Sayscape is posted equally.
For the question of what to do with Russian bots and fake news, the Sayscape founders say to fact-check. Their app has a search engine (a private search engine that does not capture data called Duck Duck Go) on the front page of the platform in order for users to fact-check posts. The founders say that it is not their decision to decide what is and what is not fake news. That is up to the user.
Mr. Santos hopes that if Sayscape turns the corner into a bigger company, that it could become a good tech job for residents on the Cape, an area not known for its diversity in professional careers. The Mashpee residents said they would remain on the Cape, and with a relatively small footprint at that.