I don’t like Twitter all that much. I find that I struggle massively to write in 250-character bites; I simply hate the idea of boiling my thought patterns down to such tiny blocks, and it’s just unpleasant to me. I don’t think reality is so simple that it can be compressed like that.
But the hatred and resentment Twitter gets these days, now that Elon Musk is affecting it, is ridiculous.
Twitter’s problem was that it was popular… and manipulatable. And it was manipulated, and used to manipulate its users. I may not like writing in tiny chunks like Twitter requires, but my fellow humans seem to appreciate reading in tiny chunks like you’d find on Twitter.
And that made it a fine candidate for our upstanding law enforcement agencies (sarcasm intended) to weigh in on what was allowable discourse, so things that might have “undesirable outcomes” could be filtered out at the behest of our government, and voices that said “unpleasant things” could finally be silenced.
Twitter had become an echo chamber.
Echo chambers are bad.
When Elon Musk bought Twitter, in my opinion he not only rocked the boat (a bad thing, and a stupid thing) but he also took steps to right the ship, by removing a lot of the limits that made it an explicit and deliberate echo chamber for a … not a particular view, but I think it’s safe to say that Twitter was canted “Democrat.”
So removing the bans had a natural effect of restoring more “red tribe” voices than “blue tribe” voices, because that’s how math works. If you eliminate 50 voices from one side and five voices from the other, and restore ninety percent of the voices that were banned, you get 45 red tribe voices restored, and four (or five) blue tribe voices – the red tribe gets forty more voices restored, how COULD they be so fascist?
And if you’re of the opinion that this is somehow unfair, that’s fine, you do you, but when I was watching from the fence, that’s the impression I got, and I’ve seen no credible claims that suggest that those numbers weren’t representative. (They are made up, and the ratio may be better or worse. If you want to quibble about details, go for it, but the important claim is “more red tribe voices were quelled than blue tribe voices, so any restoration is going to look more red than blue.”)
Then you have the “but all the fascists!” claims, which are … well… look, I’m Jewish. My family history with fascists is “unpleasant” at best. I’m also a libertarian – not by party, I’m an Independent, but I lean heavily to libertarian ideals, and fascists hold ideals that I very much oppose on political grounds.
The people I see who are acting like fascists are the ones who insist on only their views being propagated, the ones who want state control of public discourse and the engines of the economy. From where I sit, if I’m being perfectly honest, the ones who told Twitter what was allowed in the common forum, and the ones protesting the most about non-approved voices on Twitter, and the ones who insist that everyone obey, obey, obey before they can enter the common forum… those are acting a lot more like fascists than the people being restored on Twitter now.
I’m not suggesting that there aren’t literal Nazis or literal fascists being restored. Honestly, they probably are. I haven’t seen them or encountered them, for some strange reason… I mean, if they were infecting everything like the claims have made it sound, I’d have seen more from them, because I’m a natural target for them.
But I’ve seen nothing from them. I’ve seen a lot of crying about them, but the volume of the protest far outweighs the threat of the subject of those protests.
And finally we get to Mastodon.
I actually am enjoying Mastodon, on the whole; I still resent the 500 character limit on posts (I refuse to call them “toots”) and I understand there’s a way to change that limit, but I don’t know it. (And honestly, I wouldn’t apply it the way I’d like to, because the Mastodon convention is 500, and to go outside the lines overmuch is frowned upon and should be.)
But Mastodon is not better than Twitter in any way except in that you have a possibility of running your own server, should you choose.
That’s it. There’s the benefit. You can control your own data more with Mastodon than you can with Twitter.
You’re not protected from fascists – after all, they can run their own Mastodon instances and join the Fediverse just like you can. You can filter them out, just like you always could on Twitter. But unlike Twitter, there’s no authority that can potentially filter out illegal or threatening speech, because if you own your own voice on Mastodon, they own their own voices on Mastodon, and while they can do nothing about your voice, you can do nothing about their voices besides, you know, not listen.
Which is a feature Twitter offered you all along, and still does.
Are you “better off” on Mastodon? Well, it depends on whether owning your own voice and data is important to you or not. If you’re on Mastodon and you use one of the “big instances,” well, no, you’re not “better off” at all. You’re just in a different forum. You’re relying on someone else’s data processing power and moderation effort, and they control the voices, and you’re trusting them just like you used to trust Twitter, except chances are strong that your admins are some poor schlubs (like me) who just decided to run the ActivityPub host software.
Sure, they can boot the Nazis and not federate instance data, I guess, if you’re unwilling to filter out or block specific users yourself, but … again, this is no different than Twitter, except there’s no generalized firehose of common data in the first place.
And that firehose is the value of Twitter. With Twitter, you have a chance to say something that everyone reads. (It’s unlikely, but possible.) If you can say something so succinctly and worthwhile, you have the chance to be exposed to everyone.
If you can somehow come up with the “golden rule” that outdoes the actual golden rule, Twitter’s a workable place to disseminate it.
Unlike Mastodon, where your “platinum rule” (yes, I know, such rules have already been offered, although I find them insufficient) goes to only those Mastodon instances that federate your content or to those users who follow you.
Other users can boost your wisdom, of course, which is how the propagation occurs on Mastodon, and you might indeed change the world, but it’s more effort than Twitter requires. If history’s shown us anything, it’s that low-effort wins.
Mastodon’s propagation isn’t “high effort,” but it’s “higher effort” than Twitter, and human psychology and group dynamics make it really difficult for people to boost things neutrally; if I say something that makes the world a better place, unless you agree with me politically or whatever, you’re less likely to boost what I say, regardless of the value of what I offer.
If we’re aligned and you know it, you’re going to say “ooo my tribe has wisdom, let’s boost that” – but if I say I am independent and not interested in being a slave to your tribe’s dynamics (something I said early on in this post, if you read back or remember) then your natural inclination is to refuse to boost whatever I say, because it doesn’t aid your tribe’s perception.
And if what I say helps the “other tribe” too – then you’re likely to try to mute what I say, because defeating the other tribe is more important than anything else. That’s what being part of a limited tribe does to you. It’s comforting, because you get to look at a set of people and say, well, “there’s my people” – but it also means you look at everyone else and say “there are my people’s enemies, because they’re not my people.”
I can say with great intent that I look at humanity as “my people.” There are subsets with which I have greater affinity, to be sure, but I despise the political alignments that define the tribes, and I have friends among Democrats, Republicans, socialists, even a few communists, and probably a few fascists too, although I can’t name any fascists among my friends offhand.
(I’ve tried to figure out which of my friends are fascists; the closest I’ve come are people who would consider themselves socialists and populists, and I just can’t quite decide that they’re actually fascists. The analysis just doesn’t quite work out, and they’d also be highly offended at the consideration. C’est la vie. My conclusion is that actual fascists are really rare and don’t deserve the outsized attention they get.)
So: Mastodon versus Twitter is .. the wrong battle. It’s not “Mastodon versus Twitter.”
It’s “who controls your data,” and choosing Mastodon should mean that you’re setting up your Mastodon identity among a small like-minded group that is self-funded, not joining one of the overwhelmed “big instances.”
Those big instances are no better than Twitter for you, they’re just hammering someone else’s finances and relying on someone else’s effort, and that “someone else” doesn’t owe you anything. (Actually, you should fund your instance if you’re not running your own. Be a mensch. And hopefully my use of Yiddish didn’t offend you. If it did… let me know. Guess why I’d want to know.)
I’m happier on Mastodon than on Twitter, not only because of the 500 character post limit, but because I control my own data on my instance; I’ve posted more on Mastodon than I think I’ve posted on Twitter throughout its entire history. (I have not validated this claim, but I think it’s pretty solid. My “use” of Twitter for years has been limited to WordPress posting blog links to Twitter when I post new blog entries. In fact, I think this blog post will get posted on Twitter automagically as well.)
And to complain about the changes at Twitter? Shoot, no. Long-term, I think they’re better for human discourse than worse; I may not approve of the methodology, as Elon Musk is acting very reactively, but I also suspect he’s doing that to draw lines in the sand for the bots he’s trying to remove. But the changes, overall: I want more, not less. Bring it on, Twitter.
I’ll watch from my Mastodon instance.