Current State of Social Media
Most well-known current-day social media outlets are heavily centralized. The management and curating of content is done centrally in global fashion. The best way to describe this is to consider a service like Facebook or Twitter. When you log in to your mobile app, or through your browser, you are connected to all users of the service. Any public posts you make could theoretically end up on a public timeline for any other user to view. The moderation and curation of the content you see if managed by employees of the service you are using. This means that what is "allowed" or "disallowed" is ultimately decided by the commercial service to which you are subscribed.
Many social media users on the Internet today are looking for alternatives where they are able to voice their opinions without fear of having their accounts disabled or content muted. The most active social offerings available at this time are regular practicing this activity of silencing users based on content or previous activity across the network. The power to give voice to or silence users of the service lies completely within the hands of the management of said services. Are there alternatives to these types of services which are available today? Keep reading and see more below.
Social media services have evolved in this manner over time, and it makes sense at first glance. These are commercial companies offering a service for a fee and they do have the right and authority to determine what content they want to offer on their apps and websites. The issue is that social media has become an avenue for communication, a source for news, and some even go as far as to say social media has become a right for citizens. While this perspective could be debated ad nauseum, it is more important to see an alternative to the current social offerings and how it might resolve some of the current issues with social media.
Take a moment to watch the video before continuing on.
What is Mastodon? How can it help postively change the current state of social media? How does it differ from the services you are using today? I will answer these questions to the best of my ability in the coming paragraphs. I think the video above does a great job of setting the stage, so I will simply try to expand upon the content provided there.
Decentralization is at the core of Mastodon. This provides for the removal of power and authority from one central governing body. No single corporate entity can determine what is and is not appropriate for sharing on the network(s). How does this decentralization happen? It happens through the local community instance. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, you do not join a large network. You simply connect with a smaller community, called an instance. That community is your home on Mastodon. By default, your "local" timeline will only see posts that are made by members of your community.
Communities can be centered around causes, topics, or anything. There are communities devoted to technology, art, cats, and so much more. You can expect, in most cases, that the content you will see on your local timeline will be centered around the main theme of your community. It is important to note that each community has rules that are unique to itself. This means that there is a singlular authority or power within the community. This would be the admin of the instance. However, unlike popular social media outlets, that admin cannot remove you or silence you across the Mastodon federated network. They can only silence you on their instance. You have the ability to move your account to another instance, or start your own instance if you so choose. You can migrate your account data to another instance.
While communities have themes, users can create posts outside of those themes, but they could be moderated locally and asked to stick to a theme. Once again, the moderation of a community is up to the instance owner and his/her moderators. The moderators have zero authority or control across other instances (unless they also have accounts on those instance and have been given moderation privleges). This means that if a user is unduly moderated on one instance, they can find a community where their voice will be heard or they could stand up their own community.
So far, all this talk has revolved around communities on instances. You may be asking, "How do I get my voice out to the world at large?". I mentioned a term in a preceding paragragh that requires some explanation. The term was federation. Federation is the connection of instances across the "fediverse". All of the federated instances across the Internet combine to create this fediverse. Some instances choose not to federate and will remain disconnected smaller communities. Other instances will connect, or federate, and share content as users follow users across other communities. The experience can be different for everyone depending on the app or interface used, so I will explain in more detail.
Depending on the app you are using to connect to Mastodon, you will typically have a few timelines. There is the "local" timeline that has the statuses of users in your local community instance. There is also the "home" timeline, that shows the statuses of accounts you have chosen to follow. In some apps, you will see a "federated" timeline. This timeline is the sum of all publix posts made by users on your instance and users of other instances that are followed by members of your own. As people in your community connect to users in other communities, your server will begin to become more federated, or connected, to the fediverse.
There are many new terms discussed above and this type of service is counterintuitive based on the services we have become accustomed to. Now is a great time to investigate services like Mastodon and see if they are a vaiable alternative to current social media outlets. Geekz hosts our own Mastodon community at https://social.geekzweb.com. I would love for you to join our instance, even if it is simply to get familiar with Mastodon. I hope to see you there soon and I look forward to helping you get aquainted with this service.