Imagine a social network headed by a well-adjusted person. What it would look like? Who would join? It seems an unlikely scenario, considering who runs the major platforms. Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook to rate girls’ looks and “matured” into deputizing executives to foment anti-Semitic rumors. Kevin Systrom sold Instagram to Mark Zuckerberg. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey dresses like this. It’s jokers all the way down—or so I thought, until I joined actor Romany Malco’s niche self-help social network, Life Management Tribe, and got a glimpse of how much more pleasant the internet would be if social networks were small, independent community hubs led by nice humans instead of corporations clawing desperately toward maximum growth at all costs.
I am not the target audience for Life Management Tribe, as it is essentially a platform for Romany Malco superfans to exchange platitude-based memes and inspirational quotes; I, meanwhile, am a regular Romany Malco fan and do not like self-help culture. (Malco also tends to post about the evils of sugar; I like sugar.) The site has some basic flaws: Its 2004-core web design looks like a lackadaisical rip-off of Facebook, and there is a system where you get participation points, but they can be redeemed only on a site selling novelty clothing items designed by Malco.
And yet, it’s completely charming. It reminds me of Jeremy Renner’s app, Jeremy Renner, which is also an online community focused on a single, seemingly random celebrity—but while Renner’s app has been continually beset by member drama, Malco’s site is a relentlessly positive social network, even more so than Ello, the nobly intentioned and doomed “anti-Facebook” launched in 2014.
Malco, known for his roles in Think Like a Man and The 40-Year-Old Virgin and currently starring on ABC’s A Million Little Things, has a longstanding interest in social media; he was an early, earnest YouTube adopter and consulted on an advisory panel about social media outreach for the Barack Obama White House. However, he has soured on most of the major platforms over the past few years. “I began to feel an anxiety when I would get online. I didn’t know how to engage, especially during the election and stuff like that,” Malco told The Ringer. “In all that frustration I was like, I’m going to just create a social network for people who are interested in personal and professional development. They can share their insight with me. I can share my insight with them.”
Most of the action takes place in the comments sections under Malco’s frequent posts; he is fond of life-coach-esque missives to the site members, like “Please don’t forget to perform an act of kindness today.” My feed currently features a member encouraging others to buy BPA-free water bottles, another member sharing a photo of a new plant they bought, and a video of another member’s workout. “I believe that we are creating a place where you can actually go to and be like, I’m done with the drama, I’m done with the negativity, and experience through a community of people—some wise, wiser than others, but all generous, all gentle and mindful of what they say and do on the platform—providing you with their perspectives,” Malco said.
If the community continues to grow, it will inevitably become harder to moderate and easier for trolls and scammers to infiltrate. (A medically inadvisable video about the benefits of water fasting has already appeared in my feed, and the potential for alternative-health nonsense flooding in is high on a site focused on self-improvement.) Nothing gold can stay, even gold from the mind of the actor who played the only fully sympathetic character on Weeds. The main reason Life Management Tribe is a wee digital utopia for Romany Malco fans in search of content about having a positive mental attitude is that it is a tiny, self-selecting community. And Malco knows it. By design, the site is impossible to scale and created in service of niche interests. “I’m not trying to get everybody on this site. That’s not what this is. I’m not trying to compete with Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or none of that. This is specifically for people seeking to promote personal and professional development, psychological wellness. This is not for everybody,” Malco said. “Without hesitation, we will kick anybody out.”
It shouldn’t be remarkable for a social network founder to have a reasonable, quality-over-quantity approach to his creation, but it is. What a refreshing attitude! If I wrote this compliment in a post on Malco’s site, there’s a chance that he would be one of a few dedicated people reading it. Which is, of course, the point.