Is Mastodon the new Twitter?

A text Brian C. Keegan, Assistant Professor of Information Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. This text was originally published on the site We are talking about France.

After Elon Musk’s high-profile takeover of Twitter, many are looking for alternatives to the increasingly toxic microblogging platform. Many turned to Mastodon, which attracted hundreds of thousands of new users after the Twitter takeover.

Like Twitter, Mastodon allows users to send messages, follow people and organizations, and like and repost other people’s messages.

But while Mastodon supports many of the same features that Twitter offers, it’s not a stand-alone platform. Rather, it is a federation of interconnected and independently managed servers. Mastodon servers are based on free software developed by the German non-profit organization Mastodon gGmbH. The interconnected Mastodon servers, as well as other servers that can “talk” to the Mastodon servers, are collectively called the “federiverse”.

Mastodon U

The main thing about Fadiverse is that each server is governed by the rules set by the people who run it. If you think of fediverse as a university, each Mastodon server is like a residence (or dorm).

Where you initially live may be somewhat random, but it profoundly affects the type of conversations you engage in and the relationships you form. You can still interact with people living in other Residences, but your Residence bosses and rules determine what you can do.

If you are not satisfied with your place of residence, you can move to another place that suits you better and take your relationship with you. But then you follow the rules of the new place you live. There are hundreds of Mastodon servers, called instances, where you can create your account, and these instances have different rules and standards about who can join and what content is allowed.

Conversely, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook put everyone in one giant dorm. As millions or billions of people signed up, the companies running these platforms added floors and rooms. Within the dorm, everyone can communicate and theoretically participate in others’ conversations, but everyone must live by the same rules.

If you didn’t like it or didn’t follow the rules, you had to leave the mega-dorm [Facebook ou Twitter NdlR], but you couldn’t bring your contacts with you to your new accommodation – a different social media platform – or talk to people who stayed at the original mega-hostel. These platforms use the fear of data loss to lock people into a high-security dormitory where their otherwise private behavior is used to sell ads.

Encourage virtuous behavior

Large social media companies sell advertising to pay for two main services: the hardware and software that enable users to access the platform, and the social infrastructure of usability, policy and content moderation that keeps the platform in line with user expectations and rules. .

If you don’t like what someone is doing on the Mastodon server collection, you can disconnect and switch to another server while keeping the connections you’ve already made. This removes the fear of missing something that could tie users to a server where they have to put up with other people’s bad behavior.

There are several factors that should put Mastodon servers under great pressure to actively and responsibly manage the behavior of their members. First of all, most servers don’t want other servers to cut links completely, so there is a lot of reputational pressure to control member behavior and not tolerate trolls and stalkers.

Second, people can migrate between servers relatively easily, so server administrators can compete to provide the best moderation experience that attracts and keeps people.

Third, the technical and financial costs of creating a new server are much higher than the costs of server moderation. This should limit the number of new servers that evade bans, avoiding the endless problem of spam and troll accounts that major social media platforms face.

Defective model

Mastodon’s federated server model also has potential downsides. First of all, finding a server to join Mastodon can be difficult, especially when the influx of people trying to find a server leads to waiting lists, and it’s not always easy to find the rules and values โ€‹โ€‹of the people running the server. .

Then there are the significant financial and technical challenges of maintaining servers that grow with the number of members and their activity. After the honeymoon is over, Mastodon users should be prepared to pay membership fees, participate in fundraising campaigns, or view promotional ads to cover server hosting costs, which can run into several hundred dollars per month and per server.

Despite calls from newspapers, universities, and governments to host their own servers, there are complex legal and professional challenges that can severely limit the ability of government agencies to effectively manage their “hostels.” Companies with their own verification methods and codes of conduct may be better equipped than other entities to host and manage Mastodon servers.

Another problem is that the current “core option” of servers, which completely cut ties with other servers, leaves little room for relationship repair and reconnection. Once the connection between two servers is lost, it is difficult to reconnect it. This can lead to destabilization of user migration and amplification of polarization echo chambers.

Finally, there is tension between long-time Mastodon users and newcomers around content rejection, hashtags, post visibility, accessibility, and a different tone than what’s popular on Twitter.

Despite the collapse of Twitter and ongoing problems with major social media platforms, for many people the new lands of Mastodon and the “fediverse” are far from ideal.

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