Last updated on November 20, 2022
I’ve been on Twitter for 14 years now, which is strange to think about. In that time I’ve connected with dozens of real-life friends and acquaintances, followed and been followed by hundreds more people, stayed informed and entertained, and been a part of countless conversations.
I’m not going to talk in extraordinary detail about what’s happening at Twitter right now in the aftermath of Elon Musk’s takeover. Suffice to say… laying off half of the staff, making it possible for anyone to pretend to be a verified individual or public entity, and mandating a host of bizarre/extreme new workplace policies don’t bode well for the platform.
We rely on unstable platforms like Twitter for critical public discourse…
That is the issue at the heart of what is happening here, one which corporate-controlled social media is susceptible to: we rely on Twitter and platforms like it for public discourse, and as a repository of public knowledge and opinion. Allowing this kind of utility to be subject to the whims of a billionaire man-child like Musk is dangerous, but this is just an example of how platforms like Twitter could be corrupted by the actions of something like a government or corporation, or other billionaires for that matter.
That is the broad problem, which is to say nothing of the individual problems users will face. Information security experts are saying that the number of critical data engineers and security experts who have left Twitter over the last week could indicate a serious problem for users’ data security. (I’d definitely recommend not using Twitter for SSO and removing any potentially vulnerable data you may have there.)
Thankfully there is a solution: platforms like Mastodon.
Mastodon itself is a microblogging platform built on open-source software called ActivityPub. It’s function is similar to Twitter, with users posting tweet-like messages (they’re endearingly called “toots” on Mastodon). What makes it specifically and importantly different is that unlike Twitter, Mastodon and similar platforms are built on smaller server instances linked in what is called the “fediverse.”
Each of these servers are able to ‘federate’ with other servers, allowing users to communicate, see each-others’ posts, and reblog them across server feeds, similarly to Twitter. Importantly different from Twitter are the abilities to edit posts, easily filter your timeline by temporarily or permanently muting topics or other users, and the broader ability for things like individual server communities blocking servers run by Nazis.
Is Mastodon the perfect thing to fill the hole that a potentially destabilized Twitter would leave in our internet lives? Not necessarily, or at least not yet. That said, the idea of having an open internet where public discourse is organized into smaller communities bound together voluntarily in a larger federation is the future I think the internet needs to embrace.
You can find me there at @email@example.com. I’m not leaving Twitter just yet, but it’s not going to be a place I actively post and interact. I also won’t be checking my DMs there, so get ahold of me here.