*First, a disclaimer: I am by no means an expert of social media or tech. Nothing I write should be taken as anything more than opinion. I’ve now been using Mastodon, Pixelfed, and Harlimit video for a week. This is simply a review of what I think I know. Feel free to correct me or to add to my knowledge.
A Brief Overview of Mastodon and the Fediverse
What is Mastodon?
Mastodon is a decentralized social media platform composed of independent servers interconnected by the ActivityPub protocol. Mastodon is a part of the Fediverse and is only one aspect of it. Because of its similarity to Twitter it has seen unprecedented growth in 2022. To join Mastadon you must join an instance.
Who Created Mastodon?
EUGEN ROCHKO is a 29-year-old German programmer and the founder of Mastodon.Rochko began developing Mastodon shortly after leaving university in 2016. He was a fan of Twitter but wanted to create a platform not controlled by any single company or person, reasoning that online communication is too important to be at the whim of commercial interests or CEOs.
What is an Instance?
Instances are self-contained, self-hosted forks of social media platforms such as Mastodon. Anyone can run an instance on a cloud server, raspberry pi, or a home computer. That instance becomes connected to other instances through the ActivityPub Protocol and the Fediverse. It is possible to join an instance and change your data over to another.
Mastodon and others like it are all just software code that anyone can download and run from their own server. The code is all in the public domain and is open source.
What is the ActivityPub Protocol?
The ActivityPub Protocol is a computer code that allows servers to share social media feeds across social networks and instances of social networks. This means you can join one instance on Mastodon and receive feeds from anywhere in the Fediverse. (See Fediverse safety for further information.)
What is the Fediverse?
The Fediverse is a decentralized web of social media hosts. Rather than one company owning everything on the social media platform (think Meta owning Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp or Google owning everything else) a decentralized network is made up of independent servers running their own platforms with their own rules, moderation, and sign up procedures.
This is not limited to Mastodon, which is similar to Twitter. There are hosts such as:
- Pleroma, like Facebook
- PeerTube, like YouTube
- Pixelfed, like Instagram
Some have thousands of users and some have a small handful. But regardless of how many are in your instance you are still connected to the entire Fediverse.
Is the Fediverse safe?
Just like anything on the internet, you should always be careful when providing information. Instances have their own autonomy of how much moderation they want to do, and as the Fediverse grows it becomes more difficult for even those with the best of intentions to moderate.
Because the code is open source, it is constantly being scrutinized by thousands of people all over the world to ensure that no code is added that will track or take your data.
The best moderation tool the Fediverse has is its community. If one instance is involved in behaviour that is considered unfriendly, racist or transphobic (as examples) that instance can be cut by all other instances. This has been done with instances such as Gab or Truth Social. (And currently is happening to Mastodon’s original instance due to the volume of users and inability of the mods to moderate bad behaviour.)
- Read the instance and see if that group is one you with to join
- Turn on 2-Factor authentication if available
- Use a pseudonym
- Join a small instance. They run faster and tend to be better moderated. You can still see and interact with other users in other instances.
- Jump ship for another instance if you find one you may be better suited for or the one you are on is making you feel unsafe or unhappy
- Give anyone your banking or credit card info
- Click on links from profiles you don’t know
- Provide strangers with your identity (home address, phone number, etc.)
Why Use Mastodon (or the Fediverse)?
- No algorithms choosing what you see on your timeline
- A chronological timeline
- No advertising
- No tracking of your online footprint
- No one is selling your data
Can I check out what Mastadon looks like without joining?
Absolutely! Although the instance is now closed to new signups, you can check out https://toot.community/ to see how it runs.
Explore shows you what the community has been interested in over the Fediverse. Local are just the people in your instance (community), Federated will show you every post in the Fediverse.
The problem with the Fediverse: https://www.theverge.com/2019/7/12/20691957/mastodon-decentralized-social-network-gab-migration-fediverse-app-blocking
A helpful article of the Fediverse: https://medium.com/@VirtualAdept/a-friendly-introduction-to-the-fediverse-5b4ef3f8ed0e
An interview with the founder:
The problem with centralized social media: