Great Twitter Migration: Here’s all about Mastodon, the alternative
With Elon Musk at the helm of affairs at Twitter now, many users are leaving the microblogging site and looking for alternatives. According to CNN, one social media site that is benefiting from this shift is Mastodon, also based in the US.
It is not a new platform. It has been around since 2016. But thanks to Musk’s takeover of Twitter, it has seen a surge in the number of users. Currently, it has over 655,000 users, with over 230,000 joining over the last week itself, according to a BBC report.
Internet has dubbed the shift the “Great Twitter Migration.” According to CNN, university professors, scientists, journalists, and actors have already migrated to Mastodon.
So, what is Mastodon like?
Mastodon was created by German software developer Eugen Rochko in 2016. Its logo has an animal with a trunk, presumably a mastodon or mammoth. Messages posted on the platform are called “toots,” much like tweets.
In fact, Mastodon itself is very much like Twitter. Its timeline or “feed” comprises “toots” posted by users you follow. You can “favourite” these toots. You can also “boost” them to your followers, just like retweeting.
You can toot at other users, too. Those posts appear on the timelines of users who follow you both. Just like on Twitter, you can bookmark toots and create lists of users showing only their toots. All timelines are chronological, with no AI-based ranking involved.
How Mastodon is different from Twitter
The big difference between Twitter and Mastodon is that Mastodon is an open-source platform. It is not centralised, unlike Twitter. It has numerous independent and user-managed servers and no one company operates it. Twitter, on the other hand, runs on servers now controlled exclusively by Musk, who alone sets the rules.
Anyone can own and operate the servers Mastodon is run on. You can create your own Mastodon “instance” and write your own rules, deciding who can join and how the content will be moderated. Mastodon’s servers are themed according to the location (e.g., India) or interest (social, technology, etc.).
However, that does not bar you from interacting with others. All these “instances” can communicate with each other. Suppose you join an “instance” on one server and a friend joins another. The two of you can still follow each other on Mastodon and share each other’s toots.
Incidentally, Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, is working on a new network called BlueSky. He has said he wants it to be decentralised as well.
This “federated” network is what makes Mastodon unique compared to the social media sites you are used to. In fact, Mastodon itself is part of a much larger federation of apps known as the Fediverse. It’s just like making a call to a person who uses another cellular network.
Since Mastodon is decentralized, no one can buy it overnight. For the same reason, it is free of ads. Therefore, there is no financial incentive to collect user data either. Mastodon’s purpose is not to create revenue for anyone.
However, there is also nothing to stop people from writing a post promoting a company or product.
What about content moderation?
One of the greatest fears of Twitter users is that, under Musk, the idea of “free speech” will go too far. According to Western media, the use of racial slurs on the platform has already spiked after the takeover. However, things are not entirely different on Mastodon.
Currently, all servers have their own moderation rules, and some have none. So, technically, they can allow all kinds of content. These servers can block users propagating hate speech. Users can also report posts to server owners. If the admin of one Mastodon instance wants to block another—say, to protect users from harassment—they can do so.
However, even if the owner of one server deletes a particular content, they cannot necessarily delete it from everywhere. Observers say that may be a big issue if this platform continues to grow. There are many reports of hateful content.
Another reason for discontent with Twitter is the idea of having to pay a subscription fee to one of the world’s richest individuals merely to authenticate your account.
So, is Mastodon any better? Well, it depends on which server you are on. Some servers ask for donations. However, the platform is largely free.
So, how do you use Mastodon?
If you are impressed so far and want to join Mastodon, here is what you need to do. It’s better to start off on a laptop or PC instead of your phone.
First, you must choose a server. They are themed by country, city, or interest. You can choose anyone. As we have explained already, you will be able to follow users on all the others anyway. The server becomes part of your user name, too.
To look for people on the same server, you can search just by their name. But for those on a different server, you need the full address. Unlike Twitter, Mastodon does not suggest people you may be interested in.
You can also search hashtags.