When I pinned a portion of the lyrics to Duran Duran’s song “Future Past” on my Twitter feed on December 31, 2021, little did I know they would serve as a requiem for the site.
If you’ve not been following the Twitter saga, gazillionaire Elon Musk, who seems to have more money than sense, purchased Twitter and has been burning it all to the ground in the course of a few weeks.
I have been an avid Twitter user since joining in September 2008, but the site has not been to everyone’s social media tastes. Even with content moderation, there’s been a lot of nasty stuff on it over the years and it has tended to be most attractive to news sources, journalists, and politicians (not to mention disinformation campaigns by a rogues’ gallery of characters). When politicians can fire people over Twitter, that’s a powerful platform. There are many media sites that have used Twitter to build entire stories around tweets. (A very annoying habit, in my mind.)
When Musk announced his bid to take over Twitter, a number of people started looking for other social media sites. I was one of them, but my attempt was half-hearted because I was too busy getting a house ready to sell. I signed up for WT Social, but then never checked back in. It looked too much like a listserv with really long posts and part of what I liked about Twitter was its brevity.
Once Musk actually took over (after trying to walk back on the deal) and started firing people at the top of the company, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the site that I enjoyed would be in tatters. I didn’t think the site’s destruction would happen so quickly. People have been jumping off the site at a rapid pace.
Where are they jumping to?
Many of them, myself included, are migrating to Mastodon.
Mastodon is an open source social media platform similar to Twitter (with very important differences) that allows people to set it up on their own servers, called instances. Users can join these instances, some of which are open, others of which you have to request access. Some instances also appear to be small, private affairs, with a limited number of people using them.
All of these instances of Mastodon sitting on their separate servers can talk to each other, so people from one instance can follow people on other instances. Each instance has its own rules and topic focus. (Most of the rules boil down to not being a racist, sexist, transphobic, violent jerk.) If you decide you don’t care for a particular instance, you can join a new one and not lose your account.
Mastodon allows for posts that are 500 characters long. People can easily add content warnings on their posts and Mastodon users encourage those posting to remember accessibility features for users, such as alt descriptions on photographs and not lacing an entire post with hashtags but to include hashtags at the end of posts.
Many folks on Mastodon refer to Twitter as the “birdsite” because they had bad experiences there.
Posts in Mastodon used to be called “toots.” Though this term has been retired, you may still see it on some instances. You can favorite or boost (share) posts by other users, but you cannot add your own commentary to a post that you boost. (This was known as the “quote tweet” feature on Twitter.)
For a great primer on how to use Mastodon, check out this article by Clive Thompson, which I have been handing out like Halloween candy: https://clivethompson.medium.com/come-join-me-on-mastodon-folks-bbb073ff05d2
With all of the separate instances, Mastodon is an example of the Fediverse – an interconnected web of sites that can talk to each other, but there is no Tech Overlord that controls them all. From what I’ve seen, it appears many of the people running instances are doing it on a volunteer or minimally-compensated basis, collecting donations in order to help with expenses.
Which is causing some interesting challenges with the recent influx of Twitter refugees. Those running instances are having to manage software upgrades, server slow-downs with the sudden increase in usage, and moderation issues. It’s a heavy load for individuals to bear, so if you are joining now, be patient with the site.
I’ll leave you with another article, this one on the Fediverse by Cory Doctorow. It’s called “How to Leave Dying Social Media Platforms.”
If you’re a Twitter user and haven’t already done so, download a copy of your Twitter feed. I have a feeling the site might not be around much longer.
If you decide to join Mastodon and want someone to follow, you can find me at email@example.com.
Oh, one more tip. Once you sign up for an instance, make sure to go to that instance in order to log in. My instance is indieweb.social, so that’s where I go to log in. I made the mistake of trying to log in on the primary Mastodon website and was getting frustrated at not getting in until I realized what I was doing wrong.
I hope to see you on Mastodon!