Understanding Mastodon

This morning I read a great article by Paul Stamatiou, known online as Stammy. He discusses his experience with Twitter, and his migration to Mastodon. Stammy does a great job of explaining how to get started with Mastodon, how its different from Twitter and why that’s a good thing. He’s also discusses taking control of your data and online identity. It’s a long article, but well worth reading.

The Digital Town Square

Since Elon Musk has taken over Twitter, he’s taken to describing it as a digital town square. It’s a great little sound bite for the press, but it’s not true. That implies that everyone has an equal voice, and everyone can be heard. It may have started out that way, but that hasn’t been true in a long time. It really hasn’t been the case since Twitter has been using an algorithm to manipulate the content of its users. The mere act of pushing some content forward, means that someone else’s content has been pushed back. Also there’s the population aspect. It’s just mathematically impossible to read everyone’s tweets. It’s far from being a town square. Twitter is like standing in a corn field, shoulder to shoulder, where our thoughts are harvested. No matter how much Musk likes to talk about the town square, it’s not true. Twitter is a corn field.

The Local Pub

The idea of the Fediverse is still new to people, so there’s a learning curve. It short it just means there’s more than one place you can go, and still have a community of people to connect with. Think of Mastodon like your local pub or bar. You may go to the one that’s close to you. Some of your friends may already have a place in mind. Ben Ramsey created the phpc.social on Mastodon in 2018. I’m a PHP developer, so when people in the PHP community started talking about moving to Mastodon, phpc.social was a natural place for us to go. I’m also interested in the Open Web. I could’ve looked around for an server instance that focused on the open web community, a different PHP related instance, or even entirely different instance related to one of my other topics of interest.

I like the analogy Mastodon being like a local pub. It has more of a neighborhood feel. It’s open to all, but it’s the people that show up regularly that make the community. It’s also a nod to the ActivityPub protocol that powers the Fediverse. When someone misbehaves, the barkeep can have someone thrown out. In Mastodon, this is like a server admin who can suspend someone’s account. Each instance is responsible for managing it’s own community. This is a good thing. Twitter suffers from the problem of too many people misbehaving, and not being held accountable. From spam and disinformation, to harassment and doxing, Twitter hasn’t been great historically about moderating the platform. Musk came in on day one and dismantled the moderation. The exodus of Twitter’s user base being spread across multiple Mastodon servers means it becomes more work for people who spam and harass other, while giving the decent people more opportunity to have good conversations in their communities.

One of the most important things that Stammy mentioned, is that it’s important to treat Mastodon as it’s own thing, and not like a Twitter clone. Sure there are some similarities. The one thing that should stay the same – don’t be a jerk, and you’ll be fine.

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