The Twitter Alternative Is Exploding
Following Elon Musk's $44 billion acquisition announcement, thousands of dissatisfied Twitter users are flocking to competitor social network 'Mastodon.' The 'alternative social media network' apparently gained over 176,000 new users in the week following the news of the acquisition. It also led to a number of 'woke warriors', Left-wing organisations and Musk's business rivals threatening to quit Twitter, although the vast majority are yet to delete their accounts. The European Union is the latest group to join the social network Mastodon, which has seen a surge of new users after Elon Musk's bid for Twitter was accepted. It is also known as “Fediverse”.
Mastodon emerged in 2016 by Eugen Rochko, German-born founder and CEO, as a decentralized alternative to Twitter. It is not one website, but a collection of federated communities called “instances.” Its code is open source, which allows anyone to create an “instance” of their own. There is, for example, metalhead.club, for German metalheads, and koyu.space, a “nice community for chill people.” Each instance operates its own server and creates its own set of rules. There are no broad edicts about what people can and cannot say across the “fediverse,” or the “federated universe.” On Mastodon, communities police themselves.
Mastodon is an open-source microblogging social network similar to Twitter where people can make profiles, post messages (up to 500 characters in a standard “toot,” which is Mastodon’s version of a “tweet”), share images or videos, and follow other people’s accounts. Unlike Twitter, Mastodon is partially decentralized, which means there is no one company running the entire Mastodon network. You can use Mastodon through a web client on any device with a web browser, or through a mobile client on a smartphone or tablet. It includes features similar to Twitter, including replies, boosts (like “retweets”), favorites (similar to “loves” on Twitter) a timeline view, and support for moderation features such as blocking and voluntary content warnings that hide sensitive content. Mastodon also incorporates features that Twitter doesn’t, such as automated post deletion (for older posts of a certain age), requiring approval for follows without restricting your account, and opting out of search engine indexing. Mastodon also allows users three options when they tweet: public, private and direct. Public toots are public for anyone to see while private goes only to your followers. Direct toots will go directly only to the users you mention in the toot.
Just like after Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, there was a similar interest in and migration towards Mastodon in 2019 when Indian users began criticising Twitter for its content moderation biases after senior advocate Sanjay Hegde’s account was suspended from the platform. Before that, platform founded in 2016 had briefly gone viral in 2017 due to Mastodon.social’s strong stance against neo-Nazi chatter, excessive advertising, untagged pornography and sexually explicit content. Mastodon's main goal is not to overtake Twitter, but to give control of data back to the users. Since there is no single entity that is in charge of the platform, you are not at risk of your data being collected and sold to advertisers.
It had a fairly healthy user base of more than 4.4 million users in 2021 across all instances. By comparison, Twitter had 217 million active monetiseable users by the fourth quarter of 2021. While the platform offers some comparable features to Twitter, it simply cannot compete with the number of options Twitter gives you. It's also fairly standard in appearance compared to the larger microblogging platform. But all that also comes with extra complexity for new users who may not easily understand Mastodon’s unique structure or how it works. But those who stick around long enough may see some significant new features. While Mastodon has been in the spotlight as a potentially viable Twitter alternative in the past, it has yet to reach the mainstream. But its current popularity comes at a moment when Twitter is also exploring how it could become an open-sourced protocol — much like Mastodon.