It’s hard to not see anything deeply problematic with the centralisation of social media platforms, namely Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in 2022. Especially if you’re politically interested, there is a good chance you’re fully aware of their negative impacts on individual mental health and the democratic functioning of society, or you’re critical of how by using them you forsake an insanely huge portion of your privacy – and yet, just like me, you find yourself scrolling through their feeds everyday.
In this blog post, I will not call upon you to shut yourself off and radically close down your accounts at once. If you want to do that, please go ahead, I’ll cheer you on! But if, like me, you have many friends, acquaintances, and connections that make you dependent on those centralised social media platforms, I want to show you a soft path that is open for us as society to go. This path can lead us towards (slowly) regaining a bit more of digital sovereignty as individuals – and towards fixing the damage surveillance-capitalist platforms have inflicted upon society while retaining some of the benefits their innovations have brought us.
quick repetition: why twitter isn’t great
Skip this paragraph if you don’t need an explanation. It’s just here for completeness.
Twitter is great. You can, without much time investment, keep up with what your friends and what the world is up to all in one place. You can even interact with what’s going on in the world without much work. But unfortunately, Twitter is also insanely powerful. And by Twitter I mean the company, its employees, its decision-makers, its bosses. Its algorithms scraping your data and metadata. It knows when you’re awake at night and when you’re procrastinating during the day, what you like in life, who your friends are. Whom you share tweets with you think are funny and what GIFs you send your childhood friend. It tries to keep your attention for as long as possible to maximise its profits and wants to prevent you from actually doing anything but being on Twitter. On the other hand, if you do something that Twitter doesn’t like, you can be cut off. Just as much as it can put you at the top of the algorithm, Twitter can kick you out of your account at any time.
how to use twitter without using twitter
Now, there used to be a time when you could either be on Twitter or not have access to the benefits of a whole world of free microblogging at all. But in the past few years, that’s changed.
Thanks to a handful of programmers and a larger community of people enthusiastic about open source, since around 2015-2016 multiple projects have continuously developed which tackled this one problematic I’ve sketched above: How can we design and organise social media so that it’s independent from the control of a monopolistic entity? How can we build digital social networks that as a philosophy serve the interests of their users (connection, exchange, learning) instead of their operators (monetary gain)?
Their solutions: Instead of building one single website, they’ve built a language – a protocol. It’s a language one computer can speak to another computer! The beauty of it is: No one owns the language. No one has control over who can speak it or not. No one can force you to watch advertisements every time you want to speak the language. You can speak the language to whomever you want to, and you can equally decide to not speak the language to someone. And no one controls and archives every time anyone speaks or listens to the language.
More specifically: The projects and platforms that have been developed around this language, this protocol, have gotten the nickname Fediverse.
how the fediverse works
To make it quick: Many smart people have written good and comprehensive explanations of what the Fediverse is. I’ll try to give the most important things to you in a couple of bullet points:
- The Fediverse knows different variations of social network languages – you can imagine them a bit like dialects.
- The most popular variation (“dialect”) is Mastodon, which is most similar to Twitter.
- Buuuuuuut: There’s not one single Mastodon website, but thousands of Mastodon websites!
- They all speak to each other and whatever website you’re on, your experience will be the same and you can connect with anyone who is on any Mastodon website in exactly the same way.
- If you want to, you can even run your own Mastodon or a Mastodon for your friends, and you don’t need a degree in computer science to do it!
- A different variation (“dialect”) in the Fediverse is PixelFed, which looks and feels a lot like Instagram. Just without all the advertisements!
- With any Mastodon account, you can also connect with and speak to a PixelFed account – and vice versa! So even if it’s different dialects, the language underneath is still the same 🙂
I’ve been around the Fediverse for a long time now. I’ve switched servers multiple times – but you can find me with the username @firstname.lastname@example.org since April 2017. Long enough that I can wholeheartedly recommend the Fediverse and say that I know what I’m talking about. And that I can say that it’s a more enjoyable experience to interact with people or institutions there than to interact with people or institutions on Twitter in every conceivable way.
how to get started
Now it’s up to you: If you’d like to try it out, read on! A lot of smart and much more knowledgeable people than me have already written a plenitude of blog posts and articles. I’ll link some – feel free to just dive in!
- fedi.tips – this site was new to me but I really like it!
- There’s also: An Increasingly Less-Brief Guide to Mastodon
- Want to get an account? If you’re reading my blog, that means you might feel at home here:
- Or you could pick one you like from this list!
- Don’t know whom to follow? You could
- look at whom I’m following to get some inspiration,
- explore EU Voice to discover official EU institution accounts,
- browse through the fedipolitik list for political actors from Germany,
- look at the @FediFollows@mastodon.online account and follow it to regularly get hand-curated recommendations!
- On the Fediverse in general (in increasing complexity):
- Distributed social media – Mastodon & Fediverse Explained (video – 3 years old but still relevant)
- What is the Fediverse?
Have fun, enjoy, and send me a toot soon! 😉
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