Blue skies over Mastodon

Erin Kissane:

During the big waves of Twitter-to-Mastodon migrations, tons of people joined little local servers with no defederation policy and were instantly overwhelmed with gore and identity-based hate. A lot of those people, understandably, did not stick around, and plenty of them went back to their other social spaces and warned others that Mastodon wasn't safe. For people who lucked out and landed on a well-moderated instance, finding fun people to follow was hard and actually following each of them often involved three separate steps, depending on which link you happened to click. [...]

I -- a nerd -- actually really like Mastodon most of the time, but I would like it so much more and feel like it was doing a lot more good in the world if it were more welcoming and easier to use. When I raise these points on Mastodon, I get a steady stream of replies telling me that everything I'm whining about is actually great, that valuing a "pleasant UI" over the abstraction of federation is shallow and disqualifying, and that that people who find Mastodon difficult don't belong anyway, so I should "go join Spoutible" or whatever. [...]

I haven't mentioned the simplest and IMO best critique of Bluesky and most other big platforms, which is that they emerged out of venture-capital galaxy brain, which has the moral sense of an AI chatbot. After the past decade or so on Twitter, "I won't touch anything Jack Dorsey has touched" is a reasonable reaction. "I will only put my social labor into platforms that can never benefit billionaires" is fair.

But the missing step, to me, is when people with principled objections to other platforms are unwilling or unable to make the alternatives of their choosing more welcoming to more people. And there are absolutely people trying to do the work, but they're dependent on the choke-point of what Mastodon-the-company decides is valuable. (Almost like something...centralized?)

I have a lot of complaints about Mastodon, but I'm sticking with it because I am 100% in the "I won't touch anything Jack Dorsey has touched" camp. That is absolutely and forever disqualifying.

This guy. This fuckin' guy: "Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness."

(If you're going to "well actually" me on your opinions on his level of involvement with Blewsky, just stop now.)

Also -- despite its faults, which, again, are many -- I personally find Mastodon about a thousand times more pleasant and interesting than I ever found Twitter.

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35 Responses:

  1. The @internetarchive has its own server, and @textfiles maintains the block list. I only remember his saying there was one we blocked. maybe there are more, but I have not seen it at a management level. Does not seem like a wave.

    Mastodon world seems quite civil.

    • Tara 🌹 says:

      you are a (apparently cis/het) white man, of course you don't see it.

      I'm a mod on an lgbt-focused instance; we have hundreds of instances blocked and still get reports every day of hate speech and attacks.

      there are instances dedicated to hate speech; explicitly Nazi instances; everything you can imagine.

      I'm glad your experience is a civil one; mine mostly is too, but i have seen a lot of the sausage making that goes into keeping it that way.

      @jwz @internetarchive @textfiles

    • There surely must be more. A completely unfiltered Federation is absolute vile, there are AcitivityPub instances sending Redroom-style gore, CSAM, nazi-level racism, harassment bots and whatnot. Of course those are the minority... but still.

      It's what Nostr and others are proving: invite everyone and the most filthiest will occupy the stage.

      • Jason Scott says:

        the internet archive mastodon server is basically a read only low traffic outpost with a gaggle of bots and a couple active people, like brewster and me. It's its own thing for that reason, totally understand why people ignore it for random attacks.

    • Eric Meyer says:

      Generally, it is, for people like you and me. For people of color especially, that has not been their experience. At all.

    • Wait'll you have a post go viral in the unsavory parts of the Fediverse. It happened to me once, when I suggested silencing new instances by default. I got antisemitic replies and pretty much every kind of racial and homophobic slur you can think of, along with people telling me to kill myself and calling me a Nazi complete with swastikas. And my instance does defederate from bad actors. Defederated from pretty much all of those ones after that.

      Because of the way federation works, you won't see that behavior until it's directed at you or someone on your instance. And once it is, it's like the floodgates have suddenly been opened.

      Of course, if you're not a cis het white dude, it can be like that all the time.

  2. Rodger says:

    I want to like Mastodon more but honestly it feels like the FSF of social networks a lot of the time.

    I think the piece is a great critique - one example of the attitude around the usability stuff recently was people acting like you’re an idiot for not understanding that your private account will publish all your posts to the instance RSS feed and you can’t switch that off because obviously that’s what “private” means right?

    • Doctor Memory says:

      the FSF of social networks

      ActivityPub is, as I understand it, the lineal descendent of GNU Social.  So this is uncomfortably close to literal truth.

      • mattl says:

        ActivityPub is the descendant of OStatus. Mastodon was initially a GNU social rewrite in Rails. GNU Social (capitalized Social) started as a spin-off of GNU FM/ (I didn't want to host a full-blown social network) with mostly FSF staff/interns working on it. GNU social (lowercase) eventually merged with StatusNet (created by OStatus creator and ActivityPub chair Evan Prodromou) and FreeSocial under the name GNU social.

  3. cetan says:

    this is it: "Also -- despite its faults, which, again, are many -- I personally find Mastodon about a thousand times more pleasant and interesting than I ever found Twitter"

  4. Amy says:

    My biggest problem with this whole discussion is how these various points run at odds with each other:
    - Dorsey is a tool, and I don't want to touch anything he's touched, is valid and true.
    - Mastodon has pain points, is valid and true.

    From here you can go down a few paths: the main two are the former is more important, so stick with Mastodon; or the latter is more important, so go try the alternatives. I'm seeing a lot of people who follow the former that are complaining about those who choose to follow the latter while also insisting the pain points are the point. Like, naw my dude, pick a side: either you want Mastodon to be difficult for some people and thus scare them away to other options, or you need to recognize that not everyone is going to find your acceptable pain points worth navigating and you need to change them if you want them to stay.

    It's fine¹ if one wants to exclude people, just own it. You seem to get this, and correct me if I'm wrong, you see this as a value trade: the downsides are worth navigating because of the positives. But there are too many idiots who want their cake and to eat it too, and no, that's not how the math works here. Either you are making design choices to leave people out, and in that case shut up when the choices cause the people they leave out to leave mastodon, or you need to listen to the feedback people give when they have a bad time, and fix those issues if you want them to stay.

    ¹ Fine being a relative term here. I don't think it's fine that systemic racism and NIMBYism is driving POC and other minorities away from mastodon, and in time if too many of them leave, then I may wander off as well. Some of them are making headway getting this point across to those who run things, so I hang in right now because Dorsey's touch on a project is death as far as I'm concerned, and I don't see another social network that scratches the itches that mastodon does for me.

    • This is similar to what I've been thinking about Mastodon--that it's fine if the Mastodon community decides that it's going to be a niche social media outlet, rather than the new hotness where everyone who's anyone needs to be. A little more balkanization and a little less centralization may be good for us (at any rate, it feels a lot healthier to me).

      The problem is that right now it seems like the community is torn between wanting to be the new Twitter, and wanting to maintain the indie cred that comes with minmizing user friendliness.

      • jwz says:

        "The Community" [citation needed]

      • Doctor Memory says:

        Part of the problem is that there are a bunch of people who are entireyl convinced that the shibboleths of a bunch of early adopters and core team members, all of whom predate the 10X increase in the general userbase, are in any way "the community" any more.

        Having watched this exact dynamic play out on Usenet 30 years ago, all I can really say is: LOL

  5. slyborg says:

    There is this weird vibe that some in the tech pundit-sphere have about Dorsey to the effect that he's really just a cool and froody dude and people should just overlook ... the stuff he's done. Maybe it's the beard.

  6. Birdy says:

    I am one of those people who lucked out and got into a good small instance that is well moderated (luckily run by people I know) and have been able to find people to follow whose posts I happen to enjoy.

    Would I like mastodon to feel more well put together and cohesive? Absolutely. But I've been putting up with using Linux for almost 28 years now, so I can't really complain about Mastodon. I doubt I'd have tried to get into Linux as an adult, but luckily(unluckily?) I was brought into it as an impressionable child. Mastodon does fair a bit better for me in that I was able to put up with it enough to get into it as an adult.

    But I sympathise with anyone who finds it too tedious to get into.

    • jwz says:

      "I can handle this because used Linux in the 90s" is the lowest of all possible bars. Not really a ringing endorsement.

      • 16

        The whole "if you don't like XYZ about the Fediverse, go find a different instance" really echoes the whole "if you don't like XYZ about Linux, go try this other distro" that used to be the standard response to complaints back in the 90s.

        • Eric TF Bat says:

          This, plus the extra suggestion lurking in the shadows, that if you don't like ANY of the distros (instances), the source code is there for you to make your own.

  7. The same. I do hope that the rough edges get fixed soon; a number of high-profile people have jumped to Bluesky, and while it looks good, it only does so if you don’t ask how does the engine work and what are the safety features. Which are things that non-technical people mostly don’t care about. (that chicken will come home to roost soon enough) The Fediverse can potentially close these gaps in an open way.

  8. Jason Kaczor says:

    So - I signed up on a big popular server back in November - but did nothing really.  Once I found a good mobile client a month ago, I switched to a different server, migrated over started using it.  Searching for #hashtags of interest, following people, following their people if info in "About" align, so - now after a few weeks, I am subscribed to about 1.8k people.   

    So far, I have yet to see any hate, or gore - or blatant racism.   And - as our host has mentioned, it is far more interesting than my Twitter feed (where I am subbed to about 2.5k) - more creatives, artists and musicians are actually posting on Mastodon.  

    Currently less bots - and less "fishing" accounts (unlike, say... Instagram).  Yes, there is some weirdness - but it happily reminds me of the days of Usenet and BBS's.  It certainly feels more "authentic" than any other social network I have been on... ever.

    • 10

      The tricky part of racism, sexism, and the harrassment stemming there from is that when you are someone who is not the target, you rarely see it. That stuff usually flows underground and lands in DMs. The guy standing in the middle of the public square screaming abuse actually is quite rare.

  9. cmt says:

    If you don't like Mastodon but want to take part in that "Fediverse" thingy, you could choose some other ActivityPub-based platform (a whole bunch exists, I can't say anything about their usability and suitability, nor can I compare to Mastodon as I use none of that). I have no idea if any other "Authenticated Transfer" based software besides Bluesky exists.
    Still, running an instance of any social networking software in a somewhat secure manner on the 'net these days requires skill and resources. Doing content moderation on your instance requires totally different skills and again, resources. And then there's the whole regulatory compliance thingy going on - all of a sudden, regulators and law enforcement not only from your own jurisdiction want to talk to you (they'll not care that much that you perhaps don't want to talk to them), and you discover that you're lacking a third set of skills and again, resources.
    I have no idea how to solve that (the billionaires have solved the skills&resources problems, but they already demonstrated that they're not part of the solution set).

    • tfb says:

      Have the billionaires solved the skills & resources problems?  It doesn't look like twitter did even before emerald karen took over, and it certainly hasn't now, has it?

  10. Doctor Memory says:

    The best thing about Mastodon is it's managed to more or less reproduce the vibe of 1990s Usenet and IRC interactions inside something that looks like a modern social media platform.

    The worst thing about Mastodon is that... it's managed to more or less reproduce the vibe of 1990s Usenet and IRC interactions inside something that looks like a modern social media platform but in fact has exactly the same kind of insane because-the-stakes-are-so-low power dynamics of 1990s EFnet admin and news.admin.misc flamewars.  All it needs at this point is Kibo and John Grubor to make the circle complete.  As an ancient nerd I find this kinda hilarious but I cannot imagine that it's a comfortable experience for normies.

  11. Eric TF Bat says:

    Somehow I managed to interact with a couple of early-adopters who had settled on what Java programmers would call a "public final class" policy, whereby they rant about something and declare that they're sick of the topic. When I replied (sympathetically, I though) to some point of their very public post, they teleported straight to the conclusion that I was bullying them -- not in what I said, simply in saying anything at all.  I had the choice to argue or leave, and I figured discretion was the better part of not being an arsehole, so I left.

    I also mortally offended an Australian Aboriginal by stating that at least Australia's police are more tolerable than US ones.  They were so violently opposed to the idea that police officers could be compared in any way at all, they got me banned from the instance.  I Am Not Making Thus Up.  So... shrug emoji, I guess.

    It's cool.  People experiencing trauma don't have to be rational all the time.  Gods know the people inflicting the trauma rarely are.  So they have their safe(ish) space.  That's excellent.  I don't need to be there.  'Sall good.

  12. Yuval says:

    Wasn't Jack Dorsey working on Nostr?

  13. George Dorn says:

    Mastodon fans know that the network absolutely cannot compete [...]

    That's VC-brained thinking, right there.  The federation doesn't have to compete.  It doesn't need to grow until it owns all of the market and hears the lamentations of the women.  BlueSky can rocket up and destroy Meta and inevitably flame out and crash and burn and be replaced by whatever VC-backed AdTech-first bullshit platform arrives next, and the federation will just be there, quietly providing the experience its users want, undisturbed.  I don't care if my social media network is the most popular, I care that it does what I want it to and doesn't do what I don't want it to.

    • jwz says:

      You do care, though. You want Mastodon to be popular enough that most of your friends don't choose to use VC-billionaire-crypto-con-dot-social instead. Competing with them matters because network effects exist, and your personal experience will degrade otherwise.

      "IRC still exists and I'm happy with the channel I've been idling on since the 90s" is certainly a valid opinion, if that's how you roll, but probably one that is not in line with what most people want to get out of this whole social network experience these days.

      • Rodger says:

        Yep. Perhaps some people will base their friendships entirely on the purity of their software stack, but that’s not really a useful goal.

  14. halcy says:

    One interesting thing that the article missed, I think (but now has an edit in that goes in the direction of), and that a lot of articles like it seem to miss, is how there is a lot of vague tension between Eugen / Gargron as a lead dev / "BDFL" / Mastodon gGmhH CEO and a lot of early adopters (and consequently, people running small-medium size servers) about what the project should and should not be doing for exactly many of these reasons. The project has had, for the longest time, goals like "make onboarding better" and "try to improve discoverability", and a lot of early adopters (and/or former GNU Social users) seem to fear that this will change the ~vibe~ of the network, or lead to over-centralization, and push back on anything that might do this. When you've seen that play out multiple times live, "the Mastodon project should listen to the community more!" reads a bit weird because *the Mastodon project listening to the community* is why some of the concretely mentioned things in the same article have not been implemented, or are how they are.

    As the number of people who use the network grows, maybe that dynamic will change to some extent. Maybe it already has, given that "quote posts" and "search" and "make onboarding better" are high up on the roadmap.

  15. dano says:

    It gets worse. Dorsey is now promoting RFK Jr and Julian Assange.
    Here is the tweet of Jack Dorsey promoting RFKjr's podcast about Julian Assange.

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