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Friday, November 25, 2022

What is Mastodon and why are people leaving Twitter for it? – The Seattle Times

Since Elon Musk completed a $44 billion deal to purchase Twitter on Oct. 27, he has struggled to assuage concerns about a potential proliferation of misinformation and hate speech on the platform. Amid the brouhaha, some Twitter users have sought out alternative social media platforms. A popular one is Mastodon, which has an estimated 4.5 million accounts.
On Monday, Musk, 51, tweeted at least three derogatory comments about Mastodon before deleting the posts. Here’s what to know about the social network.
What is Mastodon?
Launched in 2016 by software developer Eugen Rochko, Mastodon describes itself as a “free, open-source decentralized social media platform” that aims to be “a viable alternative to Twitter.” The platform is named after an extinct relative of mammoths and elephants.
Its software was developed by Mastodon gGmbH, a German nonprofit led by Rochko. The company did not respond to requests for comment.
Being open source means that Mastodon’s original source code is publicly available and can be redistributed and changed. People can contribute to the code that underpins Mastodon by finding and fixing bugs, adding new features and translating its interface into different languages.
Anyone can create his or her own version of Mastodon, known as a server, with rules and regulations that apply only to that version. Those are enforced by the people who use that version.
The way that Mastodon operates has raised issues. Right-wing social networks Gab and Truth Social have used Mastodon’s code, which the company opposed. Mastodon has acknowledged that being free and open source means giving up the ability to choose who can use it.
Mastodon can be used through a web browser or through its apps for iPhones and Android devices. At least 20 third-party apps have also been developed for access to Mastodon.
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How does Mastodon differ from Twitter?
Twitter is a single social network, which means that people sign up for and share content only on Twitter. Mastodon is what is known as a federated platform, meaning it is a collection of social networks — or servers — that link together but are owned by different people or groups.
Mastodon is a part of the Fediverse, or federated universe, a group of federated platforms that share communication protocols.
Unlike Twitter, Mastodon presents posts in chronological order, rather than based on an algorithm. It also has no ads; Mastodon is largely crowdfunded. Most servers are funded 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.
Although Mastodon visually resembles Twitter, its user experience is more akin to that of Discord, a talking and texting app where people also join servers that have their own cultures and rules.
Unlike Twitter and Discord, Mastodon does not have the ability to make its users, or the people who create servers, do anything. That includes establishing content moderation, or rules for what posts to keep up and what to take down.
But servers can dictate how they interact with one another — or whether they interact at all in a shared stream of posts. For example, when Gab used Mastodon’s code, Mastodon Social and other independent servers blocked Gab’s server, so posts from Gab did not appear on the feeds of people using those servers.
How do you join Mastodon?
To join Mastodon, you sign up for an account on a server. This website will be home to your account, profile and feeds. Some websites allow immediate registration, while others require an approval or an invitation. There are at least 4,000 independent servers, according to estimates by fediverse.party. Many servers are topical, ranging from one for “all the ravers in the universe” to one for Britain.
Like an email account, your username includes the name of the server itself. For example, a possible username on Mastodon Social would be janedoe@mastodon.social. Regardless of which server you sign up with, you can interact with people who use other Mastodon servers or you can switch to another one. Once you sign up for an account, you can post “toots,” which are Mastodon’s version of tweets. You can also boost other people’s toots, the equivalent of a retweet.
Setting up your own server is more complicated. You have to host it yourself, which requires a website, a virtual computer system connected to the internet and an email provider. Your computer also needs to install some security protocols and programming languages. With those in hand, you can download Mastodon’s code. There are providers dedicated to hosting and running Mastodon servers. The company also has detailed instructions for those interested in setting up their own server, which is not necessary for joining or using Mastodon.

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