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My two cents on the so-called Twitter alternative Mastodon

Nov. 18, 2022. I opened the blue bird app as soon as I was done with my morning routine—hoping to get some good pop culture news. What welcomed me, though, was a chaotic trend list, with “Twitter shutdown” on top. I initially thought it was just a random prank created by the chronically online, you know, just to cause unnecessary panic among Twitter users. But as I scrolled through the tag, I saw official publications and verified accounts reporting about it. People were also discussing where to go if the platform actually closes down and tweeting memes to cope with the situation… all while cursing Twitter owner Elon Musk.

It turned out Musk gave an ultimatum to his employees: “Going forward, to build a breakthrough Twitter 2.0 and succeed in an increasingly competitive world, we will need to be extremely hardcore. This will mean working long hours at high intensity.” But with about 42 percent of the Twitter workforce choosing to depart from the company because of what seemed to be an unhealthy work culture, it would likely be challenging to manage and maintain the app. Thus, the shutdown speculations.

A couple of months later, Twitter is (un)surprisingly still in the game; but from what I’ve observed, it’s currently hanging by a thread. The application’s auto-translate function doesn’t seem to work properly these days (I frequently get those “Unable to translate tweet” dialog boxes) and videos either buffer for way too long (it’s not my internet connection that’s the issue this time, I swear) or jump to random frames for no reason. Twitter also recently killed third-party apps, which I honestly think helped a lot in making the platform grow into what it is today. Banning them doesn’t sound like a smart decision.

The rise (?) of Mastodon

If it isn’t obvious enough, Twitter is currently running a shitshow—and emerging alternatives are taking advantage of it. One of the most talked about is Mastodon, a “free and open-source decentralized social network” that runs on interest-based independent servers like Discord, allows users to participate in niche discourses like Reddit or Tumblr, and has a similar interface to Twitter. It sounds like the ideal social media platform on paper but the burning question is: Are its features enough to lure Twitter users into making the switch?

To those who are curious about this so-called Twitter alternative but are too lazy to explore it themselves, I got you. I recently created a Mastodon account to see firsthand how it works—and the first thing that caught my attention was how noob-friendly (non-derogatory) it was. The account sign-up instructions were clear, so it wasn’t too confusing to navigate, especially for first-time users. 

For starters, it let me choose a server based on the online community I wanted to belong in. I was able to pick among regions or topics of interest such as gaming, music, arts, and sports, among others. (I ended up on a news-focused server—but I didn’t have to overthink it as I could easily switch any time anyway.) The site (or app) then directed me to the ground rules page and the account details form after. (Important reminder: If ever you’re making an account, make sure to read the rules carefully before proceeding.)

Upon receiving an email confirmation, I was immediately allowed to follow accounts regardless of their servers and engage in discussions that pique my interest. But considering it hasn’t gotten mainstream traction yet, at least here in the Philippines, there aren’t a lot of local accounts to follow and relevant discourses to participate in at the moment. Even the #Explore tab (where you can see what’s currently trending) is filled with Western content—things I personally wasn’t looking for.. So, if you’re using social media to catch up on local happenings, I recommend sticking to Twitter for now because Mastodon is still quite lacking on that part. 

The future of social media ranting

Now, if your sole purpose is to vent on the daily or rant over hot topics without really caring about who sees it, it might be fun trying out Mastodon. The platform doubles Twitter’s character limit, allowing users to publish 500-character posts-slash-word vomits. (For easier reference, that’s around the number of characters in “All Too Well’s” first two verses and pre-chorus.)

Fair warning: Mastodon isn’t a place for viral moments just yet. As of writing, it has roughly 1.8 million active users—a 30 percent drop from its Dec. 2022 peak of 2.5 million. That means the social network still hasn’t gained a solid global audience, which is arguably one of Twitter’s greatest strengths. So, if you plan on posting things that aim to raise awareness or any stuff that requires a wider audience, Mastodon is far from your best bet.

What I like about Mastodon, though, is its vision of democratizing social media. “I think that the differentiating factor to something like Twitter or Facebook is that on Mastodon, when you host your own server, you can also decide what rules you want to enforce on that server, which allows communities to create safer spaces than they could otherwise have on these large platforms that are interested in serving as many people as possible,” said founder Eugen Rochko in an exclusive interview with Time.

Allowing each server to set its ground rules doesn’t only reinforce the platform’s vision—it can also protect users from possible harassment. Since Mastodon is divided into several “spaces” run by different organizations and individuals, it would be easier to regulate each community and potentially moderate or remove problematic users.

Final verdict

Twitter still plays a pivotal role in the internet landscape, but Mastodon is a promising alternative for those who want a relatively safer and more curated social media experience. If you have zero tolerance for trolls and online abuse, consider trying out this emerging platform. While I’m opting to stay on Twitter for now (yes, despite the toxicity), you best believe I’d keep an eye out for Mastodon and its new developments that might make me want to stay for good.


Read more:

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Social media’s draining my mental health

Please don’t be that toxic hate account on social media


Art by Yel Sayo

Photo: Björk computer meme


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