Here’s what you need to know about Mastodon, the Twitter alternative

In the wake of Elon Musk closing the deal to buy Twitter on Oct. 27 and shortly after he fired management, users have rethought the platform.

The hashtags #TwitterMigration and #TwitterExodus are growing in popularity, and the most common name associated with them is Mastodon – the new home for fleeing tweeters.

In fact, Mastodon is not that new. It was launched in October 2016 by German software developer Eugene Rochkourged by his dissatisfaction with Twitter and his concerns about the centralized control of the platform.

After his 15 minutes of fame in early 2017Mastodon’s growth slowed to a crawl.

Now it’s back on the rise – more than 70,000 users joined the network the day after Musk’s Twitter deal was announced. At the time of writing, Mastodon has more than one million active userswith nearly half a million new users since October 27.

Meanwhile was Twitter lose its most active users of its 238 million users even before Musk acquired the platform.

How hard is it to sign up with Mastodon?

Registering on the network takes a few minutes just like any other social media app. However, Mastodon is not a Twitter clone – you need it to choose a server to join.

Screenshot of the Mastodon server selection page. Mastodon

Servers are grouped by topic and location and are supposed to bring users together based on common interests. The server is also where your account resides, so your account name will be [email protected] (more on this later).

There are currently just over 4,000 servers choose from. Some are closed to registration because they have reached capacity or prefer to keep their communities smaller. For example, Mastodon’s flagship server mastodon.social is not currently accepting new members.

Once you register by joining your chosen server, the interface is somewhat similar to Twitter, with short messages (up to 500 characters by default) called “toots” instead of “tweets”. Given the recent spike in popularity, the app can be slow to respond as some servers are under heavy load.

For those looking for a relatively seamless transition without losing their online community, there’s a Twitter migration toolkit for that finding your followers and followers on Mastodon.

There is also a tool that allows you to do that cross post between the two.

Okay, so why does Mastodon have servers?

Mastodon is not a platform, but a decentralized network of servers. This means that no single central authority owns and controls the entire communications platform (that is, the opposite of Musk owning Twitter and changing his mind about how the platform works at any given moment).

When you join a server, what you post will be visible on that specific server. To some extent, your content may also be viewed on the Mastodon network, subject to the policies of other servers that are compatible with the one you are a member of.

This is in stark contrast to Twitter, where whatever you tweet is available to all Twitter users unless your account is follower-only protected.

The purpose of selecting a server on Mastodon is to let you interact in an environment with the policies you prefer and a community you like. Each server can have its own code of conduct and moderation policy. Individual server administrators can also prohibit users and other servers from accessing their content and messages.

In addition, all servers are part of an interconnected network that fedivers. The fediverse can include any social media app that uses the same decentralized principles as Mastodon. This means that users within the fediverse may be able to follow each other on different servers.

Is Mastodon safe? What about moderation?

In principle, decentralization could allow for greater freedom of expression, one of users’ biggest concerns about the future of Twitter.

Twitter provides content through opaque AI based algorithms that select what you see on your feed. Mastodon displays posts in chronological order without curation.

You may worry that if there is no central authority, it will become complete chaos, with people posting dangerous and offensive content.

However, thanks to community moderation, most servers hold users to a high standard and can easily ban or filter hate speech, illegal content, racism, discrimination against marginalized groups, and more. In 2017, vice journalist Sarah Jeong even called it “Twitter without Nazis”.

Community moderation has proven its strength in practice: when the far-right platform Gab moved to Mastodon in 2019, many servers on the network have banned it without any central guidance. While it may still use Mastodon code, Gab doesn’t seem to be part of it the fediverse anymore.

Is Mastodon the new Twitter?

All in all, Mastodon is neither a replacement for Twitter nor a decentralized replica of it – the presence of individual servers makes it fundamentally different from any other social media platform.

As an open-source, decentralized network, Mastodon appeals to young, tech-savvy users, and it should come as no surprise if many of them find Mastodon a welcome upgrade to Twitter.

In addition, free speech concerns about central authority censorship could be another group that finds a new home there. For now, it’s too early to say which user groups will become the most active and how big Mastodon will become.The conversation

This article has been republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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