Whether you're on Twitter or not, it's likely you won't have failed to notice all the chatter around its new CEO - a certain shall we say... zany? billionaire, Elon Musk. Already the changes have been substantial, with Musk implementing (and then backtracking on) the option for users to buy themselves a blue 'verified' tick, causing all kinds of carnage (think: people creating celebrity and brand parody accounts). He's also laid off half the company's staff.
With all that in mind, and with concerns over an increase of hate speech on the (arguably, already volatile) platform, some Twitter users (and celebrities such as Gigi Hadid) have said they're planning to ditch it, or migrate over to 'Mastodon' instead. But what is Mastodon? How do you use Mastodon? And will it really become the new 'it' social media app?
What is Mastodon?
Named after an extinct elephant-like mammal, Mastodon is being heralded as a more intimate and 'nicer' version of Twitter, with a lot of familiar-looking features. Over on Mastodon, for instance, users have traded in hashtags for 'instances' and instead of tweets, you can 'toot'. Ahem.
It was created in 2016 by Eugene Rochko, after he became disgruntled with Twitter, and he recently told TIME, "It is a very positive thing to find that your work is finally being appreciated, respected and more widely known. I have been working very, very hard to push the idea that there is a better way to do social media than what the commercial companies like Twitter and Facebook allow."
The main difference though, between Mastodon and Twitter, is that rather than being one multi-functioning platform, there are lots of different independently-run and self-funded mini platforms known as servers (themed around everything from interests like tech and gaming, to location e.g. 'Glasgow.Social' is one) – anyone can create their own server and dictate the rules at play within it. You'll be asked to join one as soon as you sign up for Mastodon, but that said, you can still see all the other servers anyway, so it's not really a huge deal when it comes to deciding which one you choose to join – and if your pal opts for server A, whilst you're over on server B? No probs, you can still talk to people on a different server if you like and view all the other content on the app. Only thing is, if your server goes down for whatever reason, that's your account in hot water too (and apparently it's a bit fiddly to change server once you've committed).
Reports say Mastodon is all crowdfunded and a non-profit (with a slogan affirming it's 'not for sale'), which is a big part of its appeal right now, given that Twitter just 'sold out' to an astronomically rich man for the princely sum of $44 billion. It's free to use, but some of the server hosts do ask for donations, as they don't get paid to run or moderate their servers.
How popular is Mastodon?
According to the platform's CEO (and only full-time employee), Rochko, Mastodon has recently surpassed one million daily active users – many of whom are new, following Musk's Twitter takeover. It's currently number 12 on the App store's 'social networking' chart in the UK.
In contrast, Twitter is thought to have around 300 million active users.
Where does Mastodon stand on free speech?
As well as Mastodon, other platforms including Parler (recently purchased by Kanye West, after he was banished from Twitter for making antisemitic slurs) and Gab, are offering an alternative to Twitter after mass discussions on free speech = hate speech going unchecked. While Parler has a reputation for hosting a tonne of extreme right wing Trump stans with a lot of rage, Rochko says Mastodon has 'naturally' attracted decent people. Whilst it might sound a risk that everyone can create their own rules on it, the CEO says it's actually led to a lot of thriving safe space communities.
"You can have communities that have much stricter rules than Twitter has. And in practice, a lot of them are [stricter]," he told TIME. "And this is part of where, again, the technology intersects with guidance or leadership from Mastodon the company. I think that, through the way that we communicate publicly, we have avoided attracting a crowd of the kind of people who you would find on Parler or Gab, or whatever other internet hate forums. Instead we’ve attracted the kind of people who would moderate against hate speech when running their own servers.
"Any server that wants to be promoted by us has to agree to a certain basic set of rules, one of which is that no hate speech is allowed, no sexism, no racism, no homophobia, or transphobia."
So, anyone else off to download Mastodon?
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