After Elon Musk’s controversial takeover of Twitter, many users are searching for an alternative. One social media that has seen a surge in usage is Mastodon, but is it a viable replacement?
Wait, Elon Musk bought Twitter?
Many people are familiar with Twitter’s primary purpose: engage with high-profile individuals and get information out quickly. However, recently there’s been controversy with the ownership of Twitter and how the newly self-proclaimed ‘Chief-Twit’ will run the social network.
Elon Musk started the messy process of buying Twitter back in April and he finally bought the platform on October 27th for $44 billion (£33 billion).
Ever since bringing a sink to the Twitter offices on his first day (a play on the ‘let that sink in’ joke), he has wasted no time in radically changing Twitter’s landscape. He has fired almost all executives (many from the safety and moderation teams) and infamously proposed a new verification system where users can pay $8 (£7) to have the famous blue check symbol added to their account.
“Elon Musk has ended up with a trainset he has no idea how to run,” Professor Eerke Boiten, Head of Cybersecurity and Infomatics at De Montfort University, said.
“I think the trend of libertarian/mad people buying their own social network will pass at some point,” he added, with reference to Donald Trump and Kanye West now owning their own social platforms too.
Because of the controversy, Twitter users are now searching for an alternative to fulfil their online engagement. One such platform is Mastodon, which has been thrust into the limelight.
What is Mastodon?
Mastodon, founded in 2016 by German developer Eugen Rochko, was created because the founder felt disillusioned with Twitter at the time. Many people now relate and are flocking to Mastodon to see if a Fediverse is better for them.
A ‘Fediverse’ is a social network that works on the same core technology but is separated into different servers called ‘Instances’. You create an account with one instance (you get the server as an address in your username, such as ‘@mastodonapp.uk’ for the UK instance) and you can follow and see people’s posts from other instances.
There are no ads on Mastodon, and users can post up to 500 character ‘toots’ for all to see.
The company says that the user base has practically doubled to one million since Musk’s Twitter takeover.
“I think it is hard to explain because it has first been taken up by people with, on average, more tech knowledge and maybe who remember how the internet used to be run,” Dr Boiten noted.
Is Mastodon and decentralisation the way to go?
The current zeitgeist around Mastodon right now is that it’s a breath of fresh air compared to the many centralised and profit-focused platforms.
“The best thing about it right now obviously is the lack of Elon Musk,” Dr Boiten said.
“If you centralise power to that extent, you can see how it gets abused.”
Mastodon gives users a taste of what the internet was like before big tech took over. After posting something on Mastodon, many people say they receive more interaction from their followers compared to Twitter.
Users say the closer relationship between communities and the customisability between servers makes it a much more welcoming community, where you don’t feel like your social life is at the hands of a corporation. With hundreds of networks, you can easily switch if you don’t like the rules of an instance. It feels, they say, much more direct than the mess of Twitter’s feed.
Moderation becomes an issue for every company as they grow, and each small change has huge impacts. Mastodon isn’t the 1000+ employee company that Twitter is (allegedly, it has only 10 engineers) so we’ll have to wait and see how the platform deals with controversy.
Whilst it’s unlikely that Mastodon becomes a replacement, it can be an alternative for people who are looking for a community focused social network like Reddit and Discord.
It can feel clunky at times and has a big learning curve, but it’s the closest thing we have to Twitter 2.
As for Dr Boiten, he’s staying on Twitter for the public visibility, but is excited to see where Mastodon is heading.