With the more-reported-than-so-far-happening death of Twitter, Mastodon has emerged as the destination of choice for those seeking a Twitter-like experience. There have been many tweets and articles describing how Mastodon is different to Twitter, but in a nutshell…
…shared data protocol.
Sorry, I waffled on for a bit there, didn’t I? I don’t blame you if you zoned out. The key point is that Twitter is one big thing, Mastodon is lots of small things joined together.
In some ways, having one big thing is bad. Some idiot could buy it and run it into the ground, for example. With the lots-of-small-things model the same idiot could pay around twenty bucks a month to run his own small-thing, and do what he liked with it, making a saving of $43,999,999,980.00 in the process. Except he couldn’t. For the small things to work in a way that emulates the one-big-thing all the small-things have to agree to talk to each other and Mastodon has an explicit “Be nice” spirit, which seems to place it one Kerplunk! stick away from descending into a purity-spiral so deep that it might bore a hole to the centre of the Earth.
For example, lots of people have been gleefully sharing this conversation with Eugen Rochko, the founder of Mastodon, as a great example of how the platform will be better than Twitter, seemingly without pausing to ask themselves, “Who’s deciding who is a Nazi?”
The lots-of-little-things model means everything is in the hands of lots-of-little-moderators. If one of moderators on the little-thing your account is attached to decides you’re a Nazi – perhaps for saying that women are real – then that can be it; your whole account, all your posts, all your follows and followers, gone. And your ban might not even be for saying anything. Maybe you just posted some links to news stories that suggest you’re guilty of wrongthink, or retweet someone who’s saying the wrong thing, or just have already upset enough people that they badger your local moderators to not even give you a chance, as was the case with Telegraph journalist, Suzanne Moore.
The lots-of-little-things model means its lots-of-little-moderators are all weak links, even ones not swigging the gender ideology Kool-aid, likely to be easily swayed by mass reporting, or hearsay about who’s too dangerous to let on to Mastodon.
Nor is there a loophole in getting a few people together and setting up your own little-thing. When a group of gender-critical people tried that in in 2019, with Spinster, the moderators of other little-things were pressured into not talking to it, which has a special Mastodon name that’s too boring to repeat. In other words, you’re free to moderate your own little-thing, so long as you don’t mind only talking to other people who use that little-thing and having nothing to do with the lots-of-little-things-joined-up-to-look-like-a-big-thing thing.
All of this happens with no oversight and no recourse. The moderators are the lords of their own little-things, and can ban users and silence other little-things on their whim. The one-big-thing’s moderation system was arcane, heavily skewed towards the tech-bro mentality, and was a complete black-box, but at least there was a box.
By now a load of Mastodon fans have skipped to the comments section, to tell me that this is all a feature, not a bug, and that they like it this way. I’ve even seen a few people say that the Mastodon experience reminds them of the web forums of the 90s and early 2000s, and say that as if it’s a good thing.
We seem to have collectively forgotten what horrible, insular, clique-driven, boys’ clubs they were. Women were welcome, of course, so long as they were gamer chicks, or biker chicks, or nerd chicks, or cool chicks, who’d laugh off (or oblige) the ubiquitous ‘TOGTFO’ comments, and be the kind of chick who wouldn’t complain she’d just been called ‘chick’ five times in quick succession. And so many of those forums were convinced they were “nice” places, because they were run on ‘Just be nice’ rules, where the people enforcing the rules decided what was nice.
Mastodon, though, really seems to go the extra mile in adding a layer of earnest humourlessness on to the top. There’s a “We’re all mad here, us,” energy to the humour that does slip through, followed by a reminder that some neurodivergent people can’t immediately recognise humour, so all jokes should have embedded humour tags, so as not to exclude them, and should link to an essay explaining the joke.
What the last few years on Twitter have taught me is that for the men’s-rights movement that hides behind the trans colours to succeed it needs people not to talk about it. It needs women with strong voices silenced. It needs po-faced acceptance of the absurdities it insists are truths. In Mastodon it seems to have found its perfect partner.
I think Musk is an idiot, but with Twitter on life-support, I find myself hoping that he’ll back away from his huge, unforced errors, and let it recover. The alternative is [Account Suspended].