Mastodon is the largest decentralized social network on the Internet. Instead of a single website, it’s a network of millions of users in independent communities, all of whom can interact with each other seamlessly. No matter what you’re interested in, you can meet passionate people who post about it on Mastodon!
WTF is Mastodon?
Mastodon is a heavy metal band from Atlanta, Georgia that is – oh wait, that’s the wrong Mastodon. Mastodon is a social media app that has been around since 2016. It is powered by a network of independent servers around the world. The network is called “Fediverse,” derived from the term “Federated Social Media,” the official term for a platform that is decentralized, or not controlled by a single private server.
Of all the Twitter alternatives in recent conversations since Elon Musk’s acquisition, Mastodon has emerged as the next best thing. Mastodon is very similar to Twitter in that both are microblogging platforms. You can publish short posts and they will be included in a central feed where you can read other people’s posts. You can also “tag” (like) posts, “boost” (retweet) posts, share posts, and follow other people.
Unlike Twitter and basically every other popular social media platform, Mastodon’s self-managed approach is to give users autonomy and decision-making power over how the platform operates. Any person or organization can create a server. Similar to subreddits, servers are moderated by volunteers and have their own rules and protocols.
But people are also signing up because, for now, it appears to be a less toxic version of Twitter, which, to be honest, was already a cesspool before Musk bought it.
How do I sign up for a server?
The signup page contains a list of servers that have been approved for Mastodon compliance. But there are many other servers out there. Submissions to be featured on the site are reviewed manually, and there is likely a backlog of approvable servers, so don’t feel like you have to stick to that list.
How do I start posting?
Now that you’ve found the server you want to join, sign up by creating an account through that server’s website. When you click “Apply for Account” or “Create Account” on the featured servers on the website, you will be redirected to that server’s website. Or you can navigate there directly if you know the server name. Follow the instructions on the website to create an account.
If you’re using Mastodon on a desktop, you can filter Timelines in the right sidebar by “Home,” which shows chronological posts from people and hashtags you follow, “Local,” posts from people on your server, and “Federated, ” which shows recent posts from servers your server knows.
In the left sidebar, you’ll see a text box for writing and publishing posts. You can search for people and hashtags to follow just above the text box. But there are several tools that do the following legwork for you. Trunk and fedi.directory have a list of notable people to follow, organized by topic, and Debirdify and Fedifinder will find everyone you follow (or are following, RIP) on Twitter and show you their Mastodon account if they have one.
Is Mastodon safe for all users?
The problem with decentralizing Mastodon is that each server has its own rules, making content moderation subjective to that server’s administrators. Mastodon’s “Server Covenant” says that it only links to servers that have “active moderation against racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia,” but how that is interpreted and moderated ultimately depends on the server.
This means that your experience interacting on the platform will vary depending on the server you choose, as not all have the same codes of conduct. In fact, people of color have reported instances of hate speech on the app.