USERS LOG­GING OUT OF TWIT­TER AS MASTODON CHECKS IN

Business Standard - - FRONT PAGE - NEHA ALAWADHI

Ear­lier this week, sev­eral Twit­ter users be­gan mi­grat­ing to the so­cial net­work­ing plat­form, Mastodon, af­ter a protest that be­gan with Supreme Court lawyer San­jay Hegde’s Twit­ter ac­count sus­pen­sion, and moved on to a larger con­ver­sa­tion about Twit­ter’s poli­cies be­ing al­legedly an­tiDalit. NEHA ALAWADHI re­ports

If you are on Twit­ter, chances are you would have seen #Mastodon trend­ing on the mi­croblog­ging plat­form on Fri­day. If you were won­der­ing what it is, the sim­ple an­swer is that it is an al­ter­na­tive to Twit­ter.

Ear­lier this week, sev­eral Twit­ter users be­gan mi­grat­ing to the so­cial net­work­ing plat­form af­ter a protest that be­gan with Supreme Court lawyer San­jay Hegde’s Twit­ter ac­count sus­pen­sion, and moved on to a larger con­ver­sa­tion about Twit­ter's poli­cies be­ing al­legedly anti-dalit and cer­tain castes and re­li­gion.

While it may be trend­ing, Mastodon is a tad more com­plex than Twit­ter, but is built on a com­pletely free and open source code, and is not owned by any sin­gle en­tity or per­son.

Mastodon is not a sin­gle web­site like Twit­ter. There is also no sin­gle app that you can down­load to sign up on mastodon. Ex­am­ples are Tusky for Mastodon, Sub­way Tooter, Too­tle and so on. The whole con­cept works on what are called “in­stances”. So in or­der to cre­ate an ac­count on Mastodon, you will have to first find an in­stance, for ex­am­ple mastodon.so­cial, imastodon.net or mastodon.xyz.

Once you find that, there is a pretty stan­dard ac­count cre­ation pro­cess that then ver­i­fies you us­ing the email

ad­dress that you pro­vide.

The look and feel is pretty sim­i­lar to Twit­ter, ex­cept that it takes some time to find your way about.

The equiv­a­lent of a tweet is called a toot on Mastodon, a retweet is called a boost, one can “favourite” toots (like Twit­ter had, be­fore it con­verted favourites to “likes”). The num­ber of char­ac­ters per toot is 500, as against Twit­ter’s 280 char­ac­ter limit.

Eu­gen, the de­vel­oper of mastodon.so­cial tooted on Fri­day that 12,900 peo­ple joined the mastodon.so­cial in­stance this week.

There is also no con­cept of ver­i­fy­ing users, so “ev­ery­one is equal” is a big theme at Mastodon. There is also the con­cept of “lo­cal” and “fed­er­ated” time­lines. Which means broadly, that even if you have an ac­count on the

mastodon.so­cial peo­ple on another in­stance may be able to find you and see your posts. Re­port­ing bad con­tent is also eas­ier and bet­ter man­aged be­cause ev­ery in­stance has a sep­a­rate ad­min and a moder­a­tion team, along with its own code of con­duct.

While users have had is­sues with how Twit­ter deals with mis­in­for­ma­tion and hate speech, this is prob­a­bly the first time there has been a con­certed ef­fort to move away from the plat­form in In­dia.

“There’s been a lot of dis­cus­sion this week about Twit­ter's per­ceived bias in In­dia. To be clear, whether it's the de­vel­op­ment of poli­cies, prod­uct fea­tures, or en­force­ment of our Rules, we are im­par­tial and do not take ac­tion based upon any ide­ol­ogy or political view­point,” Twit­ter In­dia tweeted on Thurs­day.

It fur­ther said that Twit­ter's pub­lic ver­i­fi­ca­tion pro­cess is closed, but pub­lic fig­ures are ver­i­fied on a case-to-case ba­sis. A Twit­ter user how­ever, pointed out that even though Mastodon has been hailed for be­ing open source, which means its code can be seen and mod­i­fied by any­one, it has also been mis­used by some el­e­ments.

A re­port by VOX-POL, a re­search net­work, from Septem­ber this year talks about how the “so-called Is­lamic State (ISIS) sup­port­ers have ex­per­i­mented with Mastodon. In­creas­ingly ter­ror­ists and vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists are build­ing their own soft­ware ap­pli­ca­tions and much of this de­pends on re-us­ing ex­ist­ing code and soft­ware that was orig­i­nally de­vel­oped un­der the open­source model and pub­lished for ev­ery­one to re-use and mod­ify”.

Sim­i­larly, de­vel­op­ers of Gab, an “al­tright” so­cial me­dia plat­form, took the source code of Mastodon against the wishes of the Mastodon com­mu­nity and built a plat­form which has been joined by ex­trem­ists who were banned from other plat­forms. Gab's role came to light in the 2018 Pitts­burgh sy­n­a­gogue shoot­ing where the ac­cused Robert Gre­gory Bow­ers shot 11 peo­ple and in­jured seven. Bow­ers had posted anti-semitic com­ments on Gab. In essence, it is too soon to tell if Mastodon will be able to reach the kind of user base that Twit­ter or other so­cial me­dia plat­forms have, and also if it will be able to main­tain the same level of free­doms as it cur­rently claims to sup­port.

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