What is Mastodon and how does it work?


On October 28th this year, the social media world was turned on its head. One of the largest social media platforms, Twitter, was bought by billionaire Elon Musk in an incredible $44 billion deal. In the period since, to say it’s been a rocky road would be an understatement. The platform had been largely unchanged in years (with the rise from the 140 character limit to 280 being one of the only notable updates) but within days Musk’s Twitter lost most of its stability. From several U-Turns to public sackings, brands, celebrities, and social commentators have already begun to leave the platform, all of them in search of somewhere new.


Introducing: Mastodon

The Twitter replacement getting the most airtime at the moment is Mastodon. It was created in 2016 by Eugen Rochko, who was dissatisfied with Twitter and wished to create a platform that was decentralised (so it would not be owned by a single body). Instead there are a series of servers, which are all owned by individuals or organisations. These servers link up to form one greater community, but when you initially join the platform, you will be asked to join a specific server.

These will be suggested to you based on your interests and location, but you will be able to change servers if you are dissatisfied. It’s important to note that you do not need an account in order to access the ‘Main Homepage’ titled mastodon.social – as shown below.



How do you find people on Mastodon?

This is certainly more complicated than Twitter, and requires either a user’s specific username (your chosen server becomes part of your username e.g. @example@mastodonapp.uk for a user in the UK general server) or you can find other users posting from within your server. One other great way to find a wider pool of people is through engaging with and following hashtags (which are used in the same way as other platforms). The hashtags work across servers, so can help bring a collective community to Mastodon.


How is Mastodon moderated?

This is a slightly contentious issue, as it is the responsibility of the server owner to carry out the moderation of content, but there are servers without any moderation at all. It is much like Reddit in this way, which can lead to the platform having more toxic areas than others. This means it is important to find the right server to be a part of, as this largely dictates the type of content you will see.


Are their advertisements on Mastodon?

There are no official adverts on Mastodon, as no single body actually owns the platform. This means Mastodon cannot be bought, sold, or officially advertised on. Depending on your server rules you should be able to advertise your own products or services, but this will be treated like any other post you make. In addition to this, the platform is largely free, with only a handful of servers asking for an initial or monthly payment upon joining.


Will Mastodon offer a genuine competitor to Twitter?

It seems unlikely, as its user experience is a far cry from the popular social media platforms much of us are used to. In addition to this, many users on Twitter have spent the best part of a decade building up their following and connections, which is particularly difficult to replicate on Mastodon. However, even if Mastodon won’t compete with Twitter’s place in the social media world, one thing is undeniable: Mastodon does offer an alternative for those determined to leave Elon Musk’s platform.


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