Over the past few weeks there has been a major furore over micro-blogging site Twitter’s policies, with many accusing it of not being democratic. One major trigger was the suspension of Supreme Court Lawyer Sanjay Hedge’s Twitter account twice, for allegedly violating Twitter’s rules against using hateful or sensitive content. His account was first suspended over an image, and the second time, over a poem he retweeted.
Several users have accused Twitter of being casteist after accounts of prominent intellectuals from marginalized Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi (DBA) communities were suspended allegedly without any valid justification. Twitter, however, denied charges of being biased and said in a Tweet that it is impartial and does not take action based upon any ideology or political viewpoint.
A result of this backlash over Twitter has been a sudden surge in Indian users in the free and open-source social networking service ‘Mastodon’. Most of them are angry Twitter users who have moved out of the micro-blogging site in a bid to be able to communicate and network in a space that is not being controlled by one network or company.
Mastodon claims to have already garnered over 2.2 million users.
What is Mastodon and how is it different from Twitter?
Mastodon is a free and open-source social networking platform, created by German coder Eugen Rochko in 2016. While platforms like Twitter, Facebook, etc are hosted on one server and controlled by a single entity, Mastodon is an open-source platform that allows users to create their own servers, thus creating their own communities.
On a platform like Twitter or Facebook, you have to share data while creating a profile. In order to interact with others, they also need to be on Twitter or Facebook. And in interacting with others, you need to follow the rules and preferences set by that platform. All the data you share will then be with that one large corporation which is running the social media platform.
Mastodon, unlike these platforms, is decentralised. Anyone can create their own server of Mastodon. Therefore, Mastodon is not owned by any single company or entity.
And every server created can have its own terms and rules. Every new server (or version) of Mastodon that is created is called an ‘Instance’.
All instances are owned, operated and moderated by the community that creates them, thus making the platform decentralised. Within one instance, users can follow and interact with each other. Users can also follow and interact with users from other instances also. Such a network is called a federated (interconnected) social network.
What this means is that while each server is like one community, these servers are connected as a federated social network and can interact with each other in what is called a ‘Fediverse’.
The major advantage with using Mastodon, is that one’s data is not owned by any single corporation, with the risk of it being sold to or used by advertisers.
“Centralisation is not just centralisation of power, but centralization of data as well. So, the more data a platform like Facebook collects – it’s all in one place. It’s easy to access and to analyse. With Mastodon, the data is separated. Every server stores only the data of its local signed-up users and the data that they subscribe to from their friends. If you take the data from just one server, you don’t have a lot. Some of the other benefits of the decentralised approach are that indeed it’s harder for governments to deal with, not only in terms of collecting data or enforcing some kind of rule or secret requests for tracking,” Eugen Rochko told Slate in a podcast.
Mastodon is crowd-sourced and most of its servers are crowd-funded by its users.
How it works
Signing up for Mastodon requires just an email ID, a username and password.
Users can create their profiles, follow other users and post messages, videos and images, similar to how it is done on other social media platforms. In fact, the layout of Mastodon is very similar to Twitter’s. Unlike Twitter, Mastodon has a 500-character limit for each message, or ‘Toot’, as it is called on Mastodon.
To interact with users or view activity on other instances, one can simply click on the ‘Federated’ button on the menu on the right.
While platforms like Twitter only have two options of being a fully protected account or a fully public account, Mastodon offers much more customisation.
Each individual message can either be fully public, appearing to your followers, the public timelines, anyone looking at your profile.
Or, it can be unlisted, appearing to your followers and anyone looking at your profile, but skipping the public timelines. Or it can be private, appearing only to your followers and people mentioned in it and finally, it can be direct, appearing only to people mentioned in it.
Mastodon, similar to Twitter also has a ‘lists’ feature for categorising the people you are following. But unlike on Twitter, you cannot add someone to a list unless you are already following them, and the lists are personal, not public.
Mastodon also offers effective anti-abuse tools to help moderate instances as users and communities see fit.
According to Mastodon, one major advantage over a platform like Twitter is the fact that each server has a separate admin and a moderation team, along with its own code of conduct.
“The moderation team of your server, be it just one admin or multiple people, is a lot closer to you and more approachable and can therefore take abuse seriously,” Mastodon’s website states.
Also read: Explained: Why #CasteistTwitter was trending and the company’s response