What is Mastodon? How is it different from Facebook or Twitter?


Over the course of the last two decades, there have been numerous social networks which have propped up. However, only a handful of them have been able to survive which includes usual suspects like Facebook and Twitter. There’s a long list of no-defunct platforms like Orkut and Google+.

Facebook is considered to be a seasoned all-around platform — works well for personal as well as business needs. Instagram is another platform that focuses on multimedia which is also part of the Facebook umbrella and is now growing faster than the parent brand. Twitter, on the other hand, is a hot spot for news and thanks to a wide audience that includes celebrities, government officials, journalists, and more, it has developed a niche for itself.

Though, Twitter has been constantly under fire for its moderation policies. Being a hotspot for political debates and discussions surely helps the business, but it also leads you into the uncharted territory of censorship and maintaining a neutral stance. Similarly, in light of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, Facebook has been clobbered by the public and corporations equally.

Moderating content is extremely hard because you know one thing for sure — someone isn’t going to be happy. Every country has its own challenges and discussions vary accordingly. In India, the engagement is usually between the leftists and rightists, each trying to bring down the other.

A lot of Twitter users are unhappy with the way the microblogging site has allegedly censored content, restricted accounts, and failed to act against trolls. While it’s next-to-impossible to prove these claims right now, users aren’t satisfied that one platform could have so much control. Many people believe there is an alternative. Enter Mastodon.

What’s Mastodon?

  • Mastodon is a decentralised social network that is completely open-source and ready for you to download and start using. However, you’ll need advanced servers and web development knowledge for that. Don’t stress though. What it means is, anyone can download the platform, install it, and create a new micro-blogging space independently. Essentially, removing a centralised moderation workflow and instead, handing over the power to the respective server administrators.
  • As an end-user, you simply have to sign up and choose a community or “node” you prefer. If you’re into journalism, @masthead.social would be a good starting point for you. Similarly, a wide array of communities are available and more are sure to join along the way.
  • These nodes or communities are independent, however, connected to the central node of Mastodon called the “Federated” feed. You can see posts, images, videos, links, and everything else being shared on other servers. This ensures that you’re not stuck in one community and can always access other parts of the larger system. This also means you can follow people from other servers and they too can follow you back. That’s why it’s essential to remember your handle (username). Mine is @shivam@masthead.social and you can always access it from other nodes to see my content.
  • Posts are called “toots” on the platform and there are no algorithms to mess up your feed. Everything is in chronological order and most importantly, it’s ad-free. So, you also don’t have to worry about ultra-smart bots and cookies constantly snooping on you.
  • Other than the structuring, everything else is pretty similar to Twitter. Though, you get a 500 character limit instead of just 280. Instead of “Retweet”, Mastodon calls it “Boost” and you can boost other toots, or your own toot as well.
  • To register, you can head over to Mastodon’s primary gateway via a web browser. You’ll also have the option of joining other forums that are segregated based on interests i.e journalism, technology, politics, and more. A mobile app isn’t directly available from the developers but you can rely on third-party clients like Tusky (Android) and Tootle (iOS).

Why is Mastodon trending suddenly?

  • Mastodon’s rising popularity comes after Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hedge’s Twitter account got reported and Twitter proceeded to suspend his account. Users urged Twitter India team to restore the account and even trended hashtags to gain more traction. But, there was no response. And, this proved a long-standing allegation that the platform isn’t transparent in its policies and should be held accountable.
  • Following the incident, many users gave Mastodon a shot, which was launched just a month back. The first wave of users are extremely popular on Twitter and include Shivam Vij, Kavita Krishnan, Vishal Dadlani, Pratik Sinha, and more.
  • Journalists and activists are urging Twitter users to give Mastodon a shot because moderation policies are clearer. On a larger scale, offensive hashtags have often trended on Twitter and the company failed to stop this negative propagation of information.
  • Mastodon has certainly seen a spike in its numbers with the company claiming that 18,800 new users were added on @mastodon.social last week. In comparison, the platform saw about 1,000 new sign-ups per week since starting.

Obviously, there aren’t that many people joining Mastodon when compared to Twitter’s figures. But, this is indeed a warning sign for the platform. It has to sort out its internal policies and be more accountable.

Last year, a social network called “Vero” was trending in India and it claimed to be an advertisement free as well as an algorithm-free alternative to Facebook and Twitter. People joined the platform in hordes, but today, there’s barely any traffic when compared to its peak days.

A new platform which can shake up the big players will be welcomed in this environment. However, it’s too early to start betting on Mastodon simply as its user retention rate is still unknown. And, it’s easier to moderate a platform with thousands of users against tens of millions of them.

On the flip side, Mastodon looks like a promising piece of software that can be used by communities all around the world. It offers maximum flexibility and moderation can be tightly controlled.