Meet the man who is trying to build a better social network and says he doesn't want 'sh**ty users'
- Former journalist and tech entrepreneur Robert Weiss is launching Roar Social, a platform built around "gamified giving".
- He hopes to create a site that brings people to together rather than profiting off discord.
- The company, which has raised about $10 million, will launch out of stealth later this week.
Whether it's misinformation on Facebook, privacy concerns at TikTok, or the perpetual cloud of controversy hovering over Elon Musk's Twitter, social media has an image problem.
That's why Robert Weiss believes that the time is right to launch a better social network that can take the doom out of doom scrolling. Weiss worked as a journalist for the LosAngeles Times and Newsweek and later served as an executive at TV networks such as FX and VH1 before going on to lead multiple tech companies including FanDragon, RockYou, and PollPals.
"Because of the hot mess that is legacy social media, I believe there's a real opportunity for disruption," Weiss said.That's what led him to found Roar Social, a social media startup based on the idea that "humans are hardwired for altruism."
Having raised about $10 million in seed capital from angel investors and family offices, and boasting a star-studded advisory board that includes the creator of MTV and the former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Roar will launch out of stealth later this week.
The platform is built around what Weiss calls "gamified giving." "The idea is marrying engagement with social impact," he said. Creators will post viral content like cat videos and cooking tutorials much like any other platform.But Roar replaces the "like" button with a "give" button that allows users to make micro-donations as little as one cent to one of a handful of pre-selected causes such as climate change, homelessness, or LGBTQ+ rights.
In theory it will enable creators to build a following while burnishing their progressive credentials, and users to indulge in compulsive scrolling without descending into a pit of despair. But in a social media landscape that tends to reward divisive and polarizing content, a question remains whether Roar's feel-good ethos can actually make for a viable business.
Weiss admits that Roar's business model will necessarily be less profitable than Facebook's or TikTok's, at least at first, but he's confident that it will be able to differentiate itself by building a brand that users, particularly younger users, can feel good about supporting.
That hinges on mastering the art of content moderation, an area where many other platforms have fallen short.
"We are going to, if necessary, kick off hundreds of users, we will kick off thousands of users," said Weiss, fully aware that this may impair growth. "I don't want to have shitty users," he said, "and by shitty users I mean people who are gonna be disruptive and who are gonna come on the platform and create havoc. So I want the right users and to get the right users, you need to be a little patient."
There's also the possibility that if their "posting with purpose" model takes off it will simply be copied by the incumbents. After all, it's not hard to imagine TikTok adding a micro-donation feature to its interface. Weiss actually thinks this is likely, but also believes that legacy platforms have too much existing baggage to incorporate altruism into their brand.
"Nothing is stopping McDonald's from selling filet mignon,"he said, "they could do it well, they could do it cheaply, butno one's really gonna gonna go to McDonald's to buy the filet mignon. I'm betting that if you're between 16 and 36 and you want to use your creator super powers for good, you are not gonna be doing that on legacy platforms."
Weiss isn't the only upstart trying to build a better alternative to the existing social networks. The open-source platformMastodon attracted a flood of users following Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter. Meanwhile Bluesky , developed byTwitter founder Jack Dorsey, has built up some cultural caché since it's launch. But it's an open question if any of these alternatives will catch on in a big way.
There's no doubt that Weiss has an uphill battle ahead of him. With a war chest of just $10 million, he'll be going up against competitors that spend billions attracting and retaining users. Even so, he says that he'd sooner see the company fail than compromise his core values. "I didn't wakeup in the morning and tell myself I wanna launch a social media company," he said, "it's a means to an end."
Correction: June 28, 2023 — An earlier version of this story misstated that Rob Weiss was the producer of TV showEntourage. The story has been updated to remove mention of Entourage.