Follow us on Mastodon

Follow us on Mastodon

Since Elon Musk bought Twitter, there has been an exodus of “Twitter executives on the front lines of protecting safety, security, speech, and accessibility. Some were fired, others resigned.” Most of the employees tasked with enforcing and designing these policies have been fired or quit as well. For these reasons, we at anthrodendum no longer feel comfortable promoting Twitter as a way to follow or engage with our account. I personally have already deactivated my Twitter account and moved to Mastodon, and we are considering doing the same for the blog as well. While our Twitter account is still active (for now), we strongly encourage everyone to follow us on Mastodon at: @anthrodendum@zirk.us.

For more information about what Mastodon is and why we are supporting it, and how to get started using it, read on…

Picking an Instance

It is not uncommon to see people get a bit frustrated when they first log on to Mastodon. I see people posting things like: “Mastodon needs to do X if it wants to attract new users like me!” But there is no “Mastodon” in the way that there is a Twitter or a Facebook. It is a bit like yelling at “email” because you get frustrated with using Microsoft Outlook. Mastodon isn’t a corporation, but is run by volunteers. And, like email, it is decentralized. Just as you can create an email account with your university, Google, or thousands of other email servers, you can create a Mastodon account on thousands of different “instances” (as Mastodon servers are called). Each instance has its own rules, but can talk to all the other instances, just as you can email someone with a Hotmail account even if you are on Gmail.

I advise most people not to worry too much about any of this because you can always migrate your account from one instance to another if you decide you want to change later on. Done correctly, all your contacts from the old instance will automatically be forwarded to the new one. I currently recommend our instance at zirk.us as being well run and home to many academics and creative types. Just sign up there, and you are ready to start using Mastodon! Skip ahead if you just want to know how to find people after you get started. But I do feel I need to say a bit more about instances, because it isn’t strictly true that it doesn’t matter which one you join, and I need to explain why.

More About Instances

And just as Gmail has been known to shut down people’s accounts if they are seen as violating the terms of service, or even blocking entire email servers if they are known to send a lot of SPAM, each Mastodon instance has the power to do the same. But here is where the email analogy breaks down a bit. If it was just like email than deciding which instance to sign up with wouldn’t matter much — and for most people it won’t. However, there are different ways to view your Mastodon timeline. One of these is to only view posts from people in your instance. This can make an instance feel like an IRC chatroom or Discord Server, and some people like to join instances specifically to chat with strangers who share their interests. I personally don’t use Mastodon in this way, so for me this feature is irrelevant. Instead, I use it more like Twitter, connecting with people by using hashtags to find people posting about topics I care about.

Another ways in which choosing an instance might matter has to do with the server rules. Each server has its own rules, and it isn’t impossible to imagine a server where you could find your account suspended for posting movie spoilers without a content warning! I recommend taking a few seconds to read the rules of your instance before signing up. Some instances might just have too many users and too few volunteers to moderate content properly, while others might be very aggressive. Some instances are also very aggressive about blocking other instances they feel aren’t doing a good job moderating users, and this can be a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about their policies.

Also, technically some instances might be running on better hardware and do a better job of keeping the software up-to-date than others. I recommend finding an instance that is running version 4 of the software, since there are a number of new features that make the overall experience much better, such as allowing you to edit posts, follow hashtags, and a better multilingual experience.

If you want to shop around for your own you can look at the list of instances at Join Mastodon or use this tool at Mastodon instances. You can also ask friends who have joined how they like their own instance. Every instance has an “about” page where you can find out more information before joining. Here is the one for our instance.

Finding People

Once you’ve gotten over the tricky part of picking an instance, the next hurdle is finding people. You won’t be able to just migrate your entire Twitter network over, although you can use this tool to find all people you follow on Twitter who have posted their Mastodon handle to their account. In my case I was able to find a few hundred people, including many of my favorite accounts. Then, for academics there are a number of spreadsheets people have created to allow people to find each other. You can scan these documents for people you know, or import the entire list all at once. Someone has created a meta-list of all of these documents as well as other information about finding academics on Mastodon. Finally, remember that Mastodon doesn’t have an algorithm telling you what to see. That means that everyone has to use hashtags much more liberally to surface and find relevant content. When you join write a post tagged with #introduction and #anthropology to help people find you. In the latest version of the software you can follow hashtags just like you follow people.

Welcome to the Fediverse

Skip ahead for a list of resources to help you get started on Mastodon. First, however, I wanted to talk a bit about the underlying technology and philosophy, because I think that is important.

If Mastodon isn’t just one corporation, but a decentralized network of servers running the same software, all of this is actually just a small part of something much larger: the fediverse: “an expanding ecosystem of interconnected social media sites and services that let people interact with each other no matter which one of these sites and services they have an account with.” All of these services run on ActivityPub, which is an open protocol that allows all these services to talk to each other. Besides Mastodon which is a Twitter clone, there are also clones of Instagram, Reddit, Discord, YouTube, Goodreads, etc. And all of these can “talk” to each other.

Why is this important? It harkens back to the original idea for the internet, one we’ve moved away from as all our online activity has gotten concentrated in the hands of a few small corporate entities who see us as a commodity to be sold to advertisers. It allows us to take back control of privacy, of our timeline, and the freedom to build communities where we feel comfortable.

Of course, “there is nothing magical about federated worlds. If a federated social media is better than the centralized incumbents, it will be because people made a conscious choice to make it better – not because of any technological determinism. Open, decentralized systems offer new choices towards a better online world, but it’s up to us to make those choices.” Still, the fact that millions of new users are moving to the fediverse means that there is a real opportunity to make this work. It won’t be easy, but there is hope.

Additional resources

Here are some guides for getting started on Mastodon. Take a moment to read them as the norms and expectations there are not the same as on Twitter, and you should treat it a bit like visiting a foreign country for the first time.

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