Safety net?

Updated: Nov 20, 2019, 09:07 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

Citing differences with Twitter, thousands of Indians have flocked to Mastodon. Three users tell us if it's worthy of the buzz

Mastodon's interface is similar to Twitter but includes separate servers; toots cannot be translated
Mastodon's interface is similar to Twitter but includes separate servers; toots cannot be translated

Early this month, Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hedge found his Twitter account suspended twice in two days over an anti-Nazi image, which the microblogging site identified as "hateful imagery." Left with no choice, he declared that he was moving to Mastodon, a social networking platform set up in 2016. And in solidarity, thousands followed suit with the hashtag #BoycottTwitter.

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Created by a German software developer Eugen Rochko and named after the extinct proboscideans, it is a free and open-source server that appears almost exactly like Twitter — with the usage of the @ sign, and where a tweet is "toot" and a retweet, "boost." But Mastodon uses multiple servers or instances; its flagship instance is called 'mastodon.social', which is open to everyone. Unlike Twitter, it doesn't have an official app but rather various options that support it. For instance, Amaroq on iOS is freely available but Toot! costs Rs 299. Signing up requires you to enter your username, set a password and verify your email address.

Log on to joinmastodon.org/

An ongoing experiment

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Gopal MS, a 46-year-old ad executive, has been documenting the city via photos through his blog Mumbai Paused. He joined Mastodon last week, in light of Hedge's decision and because it seemed like a new avenue to share his work, too. "It doesn't trigger any unwanted emotions, like anger. It feels like the old days of the Internet. Twitter's problem is that even if you don't follow hateful people, their tweets still appear [to you].

GopalGopal MS

Even if you block or mute them, how long can you keep doing it? Plus, your complaints are ignored," he says, admitting that he won't make a complete switch to Mastodon unless there's a mass movement worldwide.

Clearer connections

Reena Pereira-AlmeidaReena Pereira-Almeida

"It's focused on people and organic communities. I can present my thoughts in a more lucid manner; there's no algorithm getting in the way," says Reena Pereira-Almeida, 33, who helms East Indian Memory Co. The Brisbane-based independent researcher has had a personal account on it for a year and hasn't tweeted since she made the move. "Twitter presents me with zero value for investment and I would rather use my work to enrich a platform that I believe in and aligns with my principles and ethics," she adds, saying that the only thing she wished Mastodon had is better following.

No toxicity

Aakash JainAakash Jain

Twitter's repeated ignorance towards hate speech is what got 24-year-old Aakash Jain onboard Mastodon. The thought of being targeted because of his data, evident in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's questioning of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, was terrifying and after reading a journalist's endorsement of this new platform, he signed up. "Here is a network that doesn't collect your data and can't monitor interactions between servers," he informs. Mastodon's only disadvantage, according to Jain, is the absence of an official app. He adds, "There would be a bigger migration if they advertised. For now, it is only word of mouth."

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