Decoding the Mastodon conundrum

Mastodon. (Photo: @MastodonProject)

Mastodon (an extinct large mammal) and ‘social media refugee’ were terms that were not very well known in most of the Indian Twitterverse till last week. That changed when scores of Twitter users suddenly jumped ship to set up new social media accounts on Mastodon, an open-source social media platform that on functionality and usage seems a mix of Reddit and Twitter. 

This movement started after the Twitter account of Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde was blocked by the platform because some of his posts about a man protesting against Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany got reported. Twitter suspended his account and asked Hegde to take down the posts, to regain access to his account. Hegde announced that he’s going to start posting on Mastodon instead of Twitter and many decided to quit the microblogging in solidarity. 

We take a look at the social media platform that is gathering so much interest. 

What is it?

Mastodon was founded on October 5, 2016, by coder Eugen Rochko and is very similar to social media platforms like Reddit (with its communities feature) and Twitter, with a very similar timeline that allows for 500 characters, much above the 280-word limit that Twitter has. 

Users can create profiles, post images, messages and videos, and follow other users. According to the service, user interest is largely rooted in Mastodon’s alternative view of its service; that is designed more as a public trust than a business. 

What makes it different from other social media platforms is the fact that unlike Twitter, where all interactions take place on a single server controlled by the company, Mastodon works like a federation, a collection of many instances, which communicate with each other to form a wider network. Each user is a member of a specific, independently operated server. 

The lack of a single server essentially means that users can choose a specific server which has policies they agree with, or to leave a server that has policies they disagree with, without losing access to the broad Mastodon social network.

Getting in

As a user, you can build your social network, called an Instance. However, that could mean you would be the lone user until you get others to join your instance. Much like other social media platforms, the best way ahead is to search for and join an instance that looks at your areas of interest.

Will it replace Twitter?

In terms of reach and scale, Mastodon with about 2.2 million users, is far behind behemoth like twitter with 321 million active users. Though people may join in for the novelty factor and a means of registering their protest at Twitter’s arbitrary harassment policies, it seems unlikely that the interest will be sustained in the long run. 

The big driver of social media platforms is the allure of getting your message across to people across the world. To build a follower base of that scale would take a lot of years and may not be the most feasible option for many users. So, though the conversations are likely to continue on Twitter, we hope this changes the way social media platforms take a look at its abuse and harassment policies. 

Though it may appear easy, switching social media profiles, especially platforms such as Twitter and Facebook is a tough task. It works as a message to be sent across, but not as a conscious decision. Most of your contacts and friends will be left behind and one could be stuck in an echo chamber with no source of alternative viewpoints.  

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