How Mastodon Might Have Hit The Mark, But Still Has The Same Troubles.

Mastodon is a decentralized, federated, social networking platform/infrastructure, which is open source and taking the Web’s more geeky corners by storm.

Resembling Tweetdeck, the UI makes it easy to navigate. Users can join an instance (a server setup by someone running the Mastodon software) or spin-up their own (a bit tricky). Either way there is more than 500,000 users on the service.

Is Mastodon a Twitter killer? Absolutely NOT. Is it a good place to be? For the most part — yes. What’s nice about Mastodon is that each instance can federate with other instances, but can exclude those who the admin chooses not to, for whatever reason.

There are a bit of great articles out there. The Verge did a great, basic, write-up on the service. So I’m going to stop trying to explain the nuts and bolts. Instead let’s talk about the issues I see emerging, which Twitter has struggled with since the beginning.

The Problem With Harassment

Twitter has dealt with the trolls (et al.) for a while now and struggling. Because it’s a closed network, effected users need to deal with a corporate hierarchy to get issues resolved. Enter Mastodon.

The idea of a federated network is not new. GNUSocial, another Twitter-esque, open source software platform interoperates with Mastodon so that users on both platforms can connect.

This connection, between Mastodon and GNUSocial, along with individual instance owners on both platforms having to police their communities, there have been some issues.

What it boils down to is that minorities (of Gender, Race, Ethnicity, etc) are facing harassment. Due to the federated-nature of the service harassment can come from different instances and often do.

Many harassers, bully under the pretense of Free Speech, which is flawed. Harassment isn’t free speech, it’s bullying. Plain and simple.

The benefits of the Mastodon network are also its pitfalls. Because there is no central governing body and each instance is essentially a fiefdom, policing is up to the individual instance owners, who can choose to deal with it any way they feel like.

The Community Reacts

One thing I’m liking about Mastodon, I can’t speak for GNUSocial, is that there are, albeit some, controls to block instances and people. The fact that the service, infrastructure, etc. is less than a year old, means that there’s a lot of refinement that needs to be done. The head coder, who goes by the screen name Gargron, is active and, along with a team of contributors, pushing updates often.

These issues are not being ignored. Instead, it is heartening, to see discussion among community members, instance administrators and others, talking and dealing with the issues the burgeoning community is facing.

Will there be a solution to the trolls and harassers out there? No. But there is potential for effective combating of the underbelly of the service.

What do you think? Are you on Mastodon? Have you gotten harassed? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

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About Seth Goldstein 26 Articles
Seth is an independent journalist based in Bucks County, PA. He has written for newspapers across the state. He is also the Web Editor for Raging Chicken Press. You can email him directly at Also check out his "non-regularly scheduled" audio show "Seth Goldstein Reporting" on Anchor.FM

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