By Amalgam Staff.
Social networks have become ubiquitous in modern life. So many of us rely on social networks to keep in contact with friends and family and to meet new people. Very few have become as popular as Twitter, where more than 300 million users as of the second quarter of 2018 can make 140 characters or less messages (“tweets”) with each other.  .
Twitter has become a hot ground for all types of discourse, which has brought Twitter under the attention of various governments, organizations, and individuals for how it moderates speech on the platform. .
Many are concerned that Twitter employees and officers, impose their own beliefs on the platform by banning users with incongruent political views. .
This came to a headway with many conservative pundits claiming that Twitter is liberal leaning and tends to promote those views on the platform, which Jack Dorsey said is unfortunately true at the company..
Concern for Twitter’s content moderation often arises because Twitter is the sole moderator of its’ social network. . Twitter’s rules, i.e., code of conduct, are enforced, and decided to be enforced, when Twitter itself deems it to be necessary. . When only one centralized party moderates content and controls access, there is little to no recourse for users of the platform when they run awry of the centralized party. .
Additionally, Twitter solely controls access to its platform, and once a user is banned, there is little to no recourse. . Such a massive platform like Twitter’s can easily be swayed and manipulated where one party is controlling access and moderating content on a social media platform. .
For example, in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Russian trolls such as the Internet Research Agency abused the social network to spread misinformation to voters. .
The issues that Twitter and other social media platforms face arise from their centralized social media platform model, where only one party is tasked with access control and content moderation, and is always susceptible to outside influence from malicious parties or parties whose interests do not align with those of the platform’s users (and of course, data privacy and licensing). .
Given what many have seen with Twitter, a platform that rarely if ever moderates its own rules of conduct, and is susceptible to influence by malicious individuals, many have looked for alternative social media platforms, one that leaves access control and content moderation to the users, enter … Mastodon. .
Mastodon is a decentralized, open-source, micro-blogging social network that started in October 2016 (you can think of it as decentralized Twitter).  . Mastodon was created by Eugen Rochko, and is based on free and open source (FOSS) software. . Rochko primarily funds the project through his Patreon account. . Many are touting Mastodon as Twitter’s upcoming rival and they would not be entirely wrong, with its decentralization-by-design, and Rochko’s non-concern with profits. .
Mastodon is based on free and open source (FOSS) protocols such as AcitvityPub (think email but for social media). . Primarily, Mastodon allows anyone to join their social network if they have their own compatible server (“instance”) or signing up at an existing instance. .
Mastodon allows users to send ‘toots,’ which are akin to tweets, except that each toot is limited to 500 characters, rather than Twitter’s 140 characters. .
Additionally, Mastodon users can choose to make toots public or private, or even attach content warning (i.e., NSFW) tags on their post which will only show when requested, rather than Twitter’s model which does not allow a choice between public or private, or even option to hide suspect content. .
Mastodon differs from Twitter concerning:
- instance ownership; and
- content moderation. .
Firstly, with Mastodon, instance ownership always remains with the administrator (the person hosting the instance), in contrast with Twitter where Twitter controls all its’ servers. .
Lastly, with the Mastodon Model, administrators (and any moderators they assign) are responsible for content moderation, and if an individual user does not like how the administrator moderates content, they can always move on to a more-accepting instance. . This is in contrast with Twitter where Twitter can unilaterally moderate user content and choose to suspend or ban users at their own choosing..
This is quite a shakeup compared to Twitter’s case, because as a publicly traded company, Twitter’s actions are ultimately controlled by its shareholders, who are profit-seeking, even if such actions would ultimately harm Twitter’s users. . Furthermore, as CEO, Jack Dorsey can do little against the mandates and preferences of Twitter’s shareholders. .
In terms of decentralization, Mastodon operates in a federated decentralized model. . In this model, each user has control of their own accounts on a Mastodon server, but there is a common pool of shared toots which allows any user, regardless of the serve their account was created on, to communicate with users on other servers. .
Additionally, each instance has its own timeline of toots, which are only visible to the members of that instance. . Lastly, each instance can choose which instances it will communicate with. .
Mastodon’s decentralized model provides other benefits, such as making it easier to run non-commercially since costs are distributed among servers, and relieves any central point of failure. .
Social networks are ubiquitous in our lives, and the more popular they become, the more issues that will arise.
Twitter became on of the largest social networks in the world, but many user have become displeased with its access control and content moderation practices.
Given the issues these users faced, some decided to change the dynamic and create their own social networks, which would not fall prey to the same issues as Twitter.
Mastodon is a decentralized social network, created by Eugene Rochko in responses to the issues he and other users faced on Twitter.
Thereby, showing that centralization and decentralization efforts are responsive to one another, when one pushes, the other pulls.
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Originally published on 2018-10-26 on Medium.