I like social media, I believe it can be a useful tool. I also think that Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have perverted said tool, and it’s time to give Mastodon a try.

What is Mastodon? My elevator pitch is that it’s a social network for sharing short messages, photos, links, and more that is built by and for people. It’s open source and federated, which means there are no ads, no invasive tracking, no shareholders to demand #maximum #engagement, and no single company or server that can be shut down. It already has over 2 million users, and you can learn more at JoinMastodon.org.

I’m at toot.cafe/@chartier. So why switch to Mastodon?

Mastodon is incentivized to build for us, not advertisers or insidious shareholders

There are no obnoxious ads, no increasingly invasive tracking, and no complicit CEOs or shareholders who prioritize #engagement over the safety of their fellow human beings or the health of our society.

No Nazis, white supremacists, trolls, or conspiracy peddlers

They are quickly banned from most instances (think of them like interconnected communities, or servers). The few instances that allow them are blocked by all the others. Toxic actors are effectively ostracized from the greater community.

Use whatever apps you want

Mastodon welcomes third-party apps—remember what that was like? It has an open API and a growing app ecosystem. I can recommend Mast and Toot for iPad and iPhone.

No manipulative tactics like algorithmic timelines

Again, incentives matter. But hey, even if you want an algorithmic timeline, you might be able to find an app that does it or build it yourself.

Privacy if you want

Posts can have privacy settings to be sent only to your followers, or even just for yourself. You can also have a public account but choose who can follow you.

Thanks to @packbat for help on this one

The Content Warning feature is a useful evolution of social media

You can optionally hide sensitive content, spoilers, etc. even in public posts, like this (click “Show More” to view the actual post). You can also add a title to let people choose whether to click and view the whole thing. It’s really useful, and a whole culture of manners has formed around it.

It designs to limit toxic behavior

Mastodon tries to avoid features that mostly create or get coopted for bad behavior. Private toots (posts, or tweets) is one example; there are no native features to boost (retweet) or otherwise share them.

Counters for the number of boosts and favorites are hidden on posts in your main feed. The idea is to avoid liking and boosting stuff just to hop on the popularity train; that you can share a post you found because you genuinely like it.

There is also no native support for quoting a post and adding commentary (of course, you can still screenshot a toot or link to it. But I’m talking about native design decisions). While this feature can be useful on Twitter, these days it is overwhelming used in toxic ways. One is performative arguments: the participants are not trying to have a real discussion, they’re just dunking on the other for their followers. Another common abuse of quote tweets is to mobilize one’s followers to attack the person being quoted.

I like that Mastodon attempts to make bad behavior difficult. Last time: incentives matter.

Built-in community

Speaking of intermingling communities, joining a Mastodon instance means you get a new community right off the bat.

Many instances cater to some kind of a theme—technology, board games, knitting, art, you name it. When you join an instance and start following people, you get a timeline of people you follow and what’s called a Local Timeline of posts by people on your instance. It’s a great way to find A) new people to follow who are B) into your thing.

There are lots of ways to search or browse Mastodon instances, such as Instances.social and Fediverse.network (which is a directory of all Fediverse services, including Mastodon and PixelFed for photo sharing).

Thanks again to @packbat for this one

Mastodon can’t be shut down

It’s decentralized—a bunch of servers run by intermingling communities all over the world. You or I could host an instance, or even get a managed service like Masto.host to host it for us. Anyone can start an instance that talks to all the others, then set their own rules (although most instances follow an inclusive, fairly standard code of conduct). There is no central company or server to shut down.

You can help make Mastodon better

Mastodon is open source. You can hop in and lend a hand.

PC Mag thinks you should

Max Eddy published a good how-to guide for quitting Twitter and getting started with Mastodon.

Seriously, no nazis

It’s great.

A more humane funding source

Many instances are supported in a variety of ways, like Patreon. The largest ones have dedicated, usually paid moderators. But one of the goals of the platform is to avoid creating massive instances that attract the inevitable problems of centralized services. Mastodon wants to be a collection of smaller communities that talk to each other. Kind of like the way people behave in real life.

Get started on Mastodon

Like I mentioned,  PC Mag has the latest guide to getting started with Mastodon, and it’s pretty thorough. Even if you skip deleting and archiving your old accounts for now (and I don’t blame you. This stuff is hard), the rest can get you up and running. I’m  @chartier@toot.cafe there, and it will be nice to see you.

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