Social media sites start out as places where people can meet and interact online and form communities of like-minded people. These are all noble goals and these sites still do serve those goals. But over time, as these platforms become larger and larger, like Twitter and Facebook became, they grow toxic. It seems like that negative spiral is an inevitable consequence of the relentless logic that arises from their dependence on advertising revenue that leads to a Catch-22. To attract advertisers, they need a large user base and for those users to spend a lot of time on the site. That results in the companies creating algorithms that encourage so-called ‘virality’ where large numbers are drawn to some hot topic. This in turn encourages mean and vicious hot takes because that is what seems to get the attention of many people and so pretty soon it is nasty people who dominate the platform and this alienates advertisers who do not want to be associated with hateful content, and they leave.
Some disgruntled users of Twitter have been looking for another home and one that is getting some attention is another platform called Mastodon. This is a decentralized federated network run by volunteers, quite different to the behemoths of the other social media with their centralized management and operational structure and massive servers that are expensive to run. It is not ad-based and is specifically designed to discourage virality and to encourage small groups of like minded people to engage in more meaningful conversations with one another.
I heard about this site in an interview on On the Media with Clive Thompson, a tech journalist who is one of the volunteers who runs one of the federated units, who explains what it is about. I was quite fascinated.
Although I am not a social media user, if I were to join one, this one looks like it might be congenial.
There could be a culture conflict if many emigres fromTwitter join Mastodon expecting it to be just like Twitter but without the toxicity. Also, it is not clear if Mastodon can absorb a large number of new people and still retain the small-scale atmosphere that is its attraction.
As an aside, Musk has re-instated Donald Trump on Twitter after a majority of his followers voted in a ‘poll’ that he should do so.
Donald Trump’s Twitter account appeared to be back online after a slim majority of votes were cast, in a Twitter poll organised by Elon Musk, in favour of reinstating the former US president, who was banned from the social media service after the 6 January 2021 Capitol riot.
Slightly more than 15 million votes were counted in the poll with 51.8% votes in favour of reinstatement.
“The people have spoken. Trump will be reinstated,” Musk tweeted. During the poll, Musk acknowledged the vote numbers were being affected by automated “bots”, which are not people, and suggested there was a need to “clean up” Twitter polls from being influenced by “bot and trolls armies”.
Such polls are, of course, a joke, especially since even Musk acknowledges the existence of bots, and to say that “The people have spoken” is absurd. It was obvious that Musk wanted to put Trump back on the platform, especially since he now needs users to come back, and was just looking for a way to not take full responsibility for the decision.