the important thing
Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter is pushing some to abandon the blue bird social network to register on Mastodon, a decentralized platform. What is this new social network, how to register, what you need to know about its advantages and its limitations. Explanations.
Since Twitter was bought for 44 billion dollars by the extraordinary billionaire Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and Space X among others, concerns have arisen about the future of the social network and especially about the way in which the -moderation of the content posted there will be carried out. After claiming that the “blue bird” (Twitter logo) was released, it was explained that he was for unlimited freedom of expression and that he would be released from “Twitter jail” the accounts of users banned from platform – first and foremost that of Donald Trump – Musk fired many of the company’s top executives including Vijae Gadde, head of Twitter’s legal, policy and trust department – who made the final decision to ban the former president of United States – and decided to create a content moderation council with “very diverse views.” The risk of seeing an explosion of hateful or conspiratorial content is therefore very real.
“You have to be very careful on this platform in the coming days… What you retweet, what account you follow and your own view of what’s going on,” said Kate Starbird, disinformation researcher at Washington University. And if Yoel Roth, head of network security, wants to reassure by explaining that the “Trust and safety” team suffered only 15% of the departures – Musk fired half of the 7,500 employees – concern is growing to the point that some have decided to leave Twitter. The whole question is to know what are the alternatives to the social network that has become a big space for public debate.
Mastodon, decentralized alternative but more complex than Twitter
At the moment, the closest platform to Twitter is Mastodon, which does not allow the publication of Tweets but of… toots (toots in English). This social network that was created in 2016 indicated that it already has more than 655,000 users, of which more than 230,000 joined it last week. “We present a vision of social media that cannot be bought and owned by any billionaire. Your ability to communicate online should not depend on a commercial company!” also pointed out Mastodon … on Twitter.
At Mastodon, we present a vision of social media that no billionaire can buy and own. Your ability to communicate online should not be at the whim of a commercial company!
—Mastodon (@joinmastodon) April 14, 2022
Mastodon has the advantage of being a self-hosted, free and decentralized network, meaning it is not dependent on a company with its own servers. Mastodon actually works with different interconnected servers (instances): when you want to create an account, you have to select your server (for example mastodon.ie, mostodon.top, mastodon.social, etc.) managed by volunteers, associations, even administrations. The list of all servers is available here. Once your server is selected, you need to remember its address because it is where you connect on the web or through the Mastodon applications available for iPhone and Android smartphones.
A very different moderation
Then just create your account like on Twitter with your name or pseudonym (the account is in the form @yourname@instance). You can add your profile picture, indicate your interests, etc. As with Twitter, we can explore publications, exchange direct messages with other users, put “Pouets” in favorites, create lists, etc. Notable difference with Twitter: where tweets are limited to 280 characters, toots reach 500. Social network without advertising or algorithm, publications are displayed in chronological order.
As for content moderation, it really depends on the instance you connect to. Where Twitter has general moderation, albeit vague, on Mastodon, each instance does its moderation according to more or less strict rules. An instance A may decide to prohibit publication sharing with one or more members of instance B. For this purpose, blacklists may exist.
The choice of starting sample is important. In the event of a problem, you can transfer your account to another opportunity: the procedure is complicated but doable.
Privacy and security are at stake
Among Mastodon’s shortcomings, we can highlight that exchanges are not end-to-end encrypted. So we must be careful what we exchange, especially since administrators of opportunities may have access to private messages.
“New platforms inevitably have new risks and anyone moving to them must exercise caution and due diligence before disclosing or disseminating information”, recalls Benoît Grunemwald, CyberSecurity Expert at ESET France. “Threat actors are very good at exploiting new users, either by impersonating platform managers to obtain credentials or by impersonating contacts to obtain other data. At a time when these verified user is possibly harder to see, false information can spread more, which can cause big problems. So it is important to use the reflex of verifying any information on users”, continued the expert.
Waiting for the future BlueSky social network
If Mastodon has the wind in its sails, no one is saying however that it will go away. Its philosophy, its operation can be confusing. Therefore, some have bet heavily on BlueSky, a competing platform of Twitter’s future whose development is currently led by Jack Dorsey, the former founder and CEO of Twitter.
Bluesky is developing a social protocol. We released “ADX” (the X stands for Experiment) in May. Now that the design is starting to solidify, we’re renaming it the “Authenticated Transport Protocol” — the “AT Protocol.” https://t.co/Q0XUF8OhVD
— bluesky (@bluesky) October 18, 2022
On November 5, he made his mea culpa over the situation on Twitter. “People past and present on Twitter are strong and resilient. They always find a way no matter how difficult the moment. I realize that many people are angry with me. I am responsible for the reason why everyone is in this situation: I grew the company too fast. I apologize for that. I’m grateful and I love everyone who worked at Twitter. I didn’t expect it to be mutual now… or ever… and I get it.
On the BlueSky page, the developers explain “We’re building the AT Protocol, a new foundation for social networking that gives creators platform freedom, developers freedom to build, and users choice in their experience.”
In any case, the future platform aroused curiosity because in a few days almost 30,000 people were registered on the waiting list to try it.