Why I adopted Mastodon

There is this strange phenomenon in India, where you are now expected to justify using a new social network and discontinuing with an older one.

Many Twitter users, unhappy with Twitter, have chosen to create accounts on Mastodon instances. The discontentment with Twitter is hardly a recent thing. The network has been a hotspot for hatemongering, organized trolling, fake news and more for a long time now.

The irritation in India has been long building. Lack of transparency around their allegedly discontinued verification programme, that somehow continues to verify handles with a trivial number of followers and no importance in public interest if they are adjacent to the powerful in the country is one widely cited concern.

There are others – censorship of accounts that question the state, complete inaction on incitement of hatred and violence in some cases when those flagged are supporters of the ruling BJP party, are other leading issues.

The straw that broke the camel’s back and resulted in this current exodus to Mastodon instances was the blocking of Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde’s account. This is a senior advocate, who is highly vocal on issues of human rights, but hardly abusive or a troll. Twitter users spent about a week demanding that his account be restored, and then chose a better place to spend their time.

What is astonishing is the level of accusations and justifications flying. Some examples being people are leaving Twitter because they refused to reinstate an account that violated policies. Or intolerant people are leaving Twitter because they can’t accept views different from others.

I have no idea what entitles anyone to expect an explanation. Here is mine.

In a world where authoritarian governments take unaccountable actions, centralized networks are a risk to free speech. Regardless of whether they serve power or not, any legal company is vulnerable when a state chooses to misuse power.

Federated networking is the need of the hour and the future of social media, as the fight between control of speech and resisting control heats up.

There are those of us who do not want governments and companies to have the power to silence us. As supremacists dominate dialogue in many countries, there are those who have no wish to argue with them and simply need their social spaces free of that toxicity. Federated servers allow such needs to be met.

Grudges over what has happened don’t last long if the utility holds weight. But as people see prominent personalities who speak well under attack and helpless, they wonder about investing their influence on a network that may arbitrarily cut them off. And as governments flex muscles to censor dissent, such instances will increase. Mastodon is seeing this surge in adoption because it addresses the needs of the future.

It remains to be seen how the “Fediverse” deals with the inevitable influx of extremists as well – they follow dissent in order to harass it. If dissent moves to Mastodon instances, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a surge in trolls as well. Individual trolls may be blocked by admins who enforce the “anti-Nazi” policies, but there will always be servers that give them space, moderate less diligently, or entire Mastodon instances put up by right wing fanatics in order to engage on the network. I guess we will see as we go on.

Facebook answered needs Orkut couldn’t meet, Orkut died. No one was required to explain why they no longer use it. Similarly, no one is required to explain why they don’t want to use Twitter and prefer Mastodon for their social needs. Like Orkut sank with a lot of accounts lying unused or with low use, many people aren’t “abandoning” Twitter, they still have Twitter accounts. They are simply moving to a platform that meets their needs better for active networking. This shouldn’t be terribly hard to understand given the number of methods of social networking that have come and gone in the past.

The shock about Mastodon is simply because users are clearly looking to escape centralized authority over them. That wasn’t expected. I guess the ones who would like to see dissent controlled assumed that there would always be someone or the other they could bully into toeing their line. Much harder when an individual can run their own instance for their own account from their own laptop. Not as easy to silence.

That is all.

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