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What Is Mastodon? 5 Things To Know About Twitter Users Leaving For The ‘Nonprofit’ Social Network


Twitter refugees are fleeing Elon Musk’s vision for the social network — a vision that includes him cutting back on content moderation, forcing users to pay for verification, and laying off half the staff, almost guaranteeing that Twitter becomes the “free-for-all hellscape” Musk promised it wouldn’t.

Some of the birds who flew the Twitter coop since Musk bought Twitter on Oct. 27 for $44 billion have switched to Mastodon Social, a 6-year-old site claiming to offer social networking that’s not for sale. Launched in 2016 by software developer Eugen Rochko, the site proclaims, “Your home feed should be filled with what matters to you most, not what a corporation thinks you should see. Radically different social media, back in the hands of the people.”

One of the things Musk said he would do is let Donald Trump back on Twitter, which permanently banned the former president on Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the Capitol riot, for violating rules against hate speech and glorifying violence.

Musk tweeted at least three derogatory comments about Mastodon on Nov. 7 before deleting the posts, New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey is working on a new network called BlueSky that he has said he wants to be decentralized.

Here are five things to know about Twitter users leaving for Mastodon.

What is Mastodon?

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A “free, open-source decentralized social media platform” Mastodon aims to be “a viable alternative to Twitter.” Named for an extinct relative of mammoths and elephants, its software was developed by Mastodon gGmbH, a German nonprofit led by Rochko. 

The site has promised to “never serve ads” or sell user data. The code is open-source and users have more control over how to moderate content.

Being open source means the site’s original source code is publicly available and can be redistributed and changed. People can contribute to the code that underpins it by finding and fixing bugs, adding new features and translating its interface into different languages.

“The ‘public square’ of the web must not belong to any one person or corporation!” Mastodon tweeted the day after Musk’s purchase of Twitter became final.

The site has some momentum

More than 70,000 users joined the day after Musk finalized his purchase of Twitter, according to the site, and 230,000 new users joined over the past week. However, it has a lot of catching up to do, with an estimated 4.5 million accounts and 1 million active users, compared with Twitter’s 237 million daily active users.

Most of #IrishTwitter seems to have moved to [Mastodon],” a Twitter user wrote Friday. “It’s the same vibe as having moved to a smaller, cozier pub with better music and a turf fire and nobody’s thrown up in the corner yet.”

Others on Twitter are more vested in the status quo, such as economics journalist Matthew Yglesias, who tweeted to his 535,000 followers, “Mastodon is the latest in a long line of doomed software projects led by idealists who don’t understand that normal people place a very high value on things being simple and easy to use — Twitter is already too close to the Mastodon model to gain true mass acceptance.”

Some find the site difficult to use

Many find Mastodon clunky, too technical and with too small of a user base, raising questions about what can truly replace Twitter, Washington Post reported.

“If Twitter dies, does the entire idea of microblogging die with it?” asked J. Emory Parker, a data project manager with Stat news who is on Twitter and Mastodon Social.

How it differs from Twitter

Superficially, Mastodon looks like Twitter. Account users write posts called “toots” that can be liked, reposted, replied to and followed.

While Twitter is a single website with a central news feed, Mastodon is a network of thousands of sites, called instances or servers. When logged into a site, the layout seems similar to Twitter. Posts show up in a news feed, and people can use hashtags, boost posts and like them.

The volume of new traffic on Mastodon caused a slowdown, Rochko posted Sunday on Mastodon, adding, “…it’s nice to see your work finally taken seriously in the mainstream …”

Mastodon users choose which server they want to join when signing up. Topics range from progressive politics to communities for cat lovers, but many have flocked to, and as stand-ins for Twitter — each a separate instance that can function as an individual Twitter-like site.

Unlike Twitter, Mastodon presents posts in chronological order, rather than based on an algorithm. It also has no ads and most of its severs are crowdfunded by the people who use them. The servers that Mastodon oversees — Mastodon Social and Mastodon Online — are funded through Patreon, a membership and subscription service platform often used by content creators.

How is Mastodon moderated?

All Mastodon servers have their own moderation rules, and some have none, BBC reported. Some servers choose not to link to others that seem to have a lot of hateful content or are full of bots. This makes them invisible to people on the servers where they are blocked. Posts can also be reported to the server owners.

Server owners can delete hate speech “but that does not necessarily delete it everywhere,” Zoe Kleinman wrote for BBC. “It’s going to be a huge issue if this platform continues to grow. There are already reports of people being targeted by hateful content and the BBC has seen examples of homophobic abuse.”

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