Some evolving weekend notes, links and quotes on forays into the Fediverse, prompted by waves of account creation following Twitter’s recent acquisition. Gathering links on this are.na board and this zotero library. A list of STS accounts can be found here. If you have suggestions for things to add you can get in touch via email, @email@example.com or @firstname.lastname@example.org. Last updated: 2022-11-19.
- Aside from questions of whether to leave Twitter, there are good reasons to take the fediverse seriously.
- One can join the fediverse without (yet) leaving Twitter (though you may consider downloading data and cleaning up).
- The fediverse includes but is not limited to the microblogging service Mastadon (see here for some examples of other services)
- For new media / internet studies / STS scholars there are many interesting things to study beyond issues of scale and prospects of imminently serving as viable replacements or full-scale platform “alternatives”.
- While user numbers are currently much smaller, and societal uptake currently much more limited (e.g. institutions, media organisations, NGOs, etc), there is a lot to learn and explore with social media practices and cultures, interface/infrastructure configuration, collective arrangements for care and repair.
- While new media scholars have studied the “platformisation of the web”, and charted the political economic form of the platform, encounters with fediverse highlight how platforms are materially organised through and depend on software and interface components which can be organised differently (deplatformisation?).
- Also a case for new media / internet studies researchers not only studying social media, but also shaping it, and taking part in what could be viewed as “infrastructural experimentation”.
- Some open questions:
- How might researchers and research groups play a role in supporting and informing development of open source and non-profit infrastructure development?
- How might approaches from science and technology studies, new media studies, digital culture be relevant for life in the fediverse?
- What can researchers learn from the fediverse - that could support rethinking/reassembling infrastructures of scholarly communications?
- What might non-commercially-oriented non-virality centric algorithmic tuning look like (e.g. for feeds or account discovery)?
- With mastodon facilitating connections based on instances, account followings and hashtags, how might these spaces foster “interactions that go beyond homophily” (as Wendy Chun puts it)?
To leave or not to leave?
- Prospect of Twitter becoming what Musk describes as “free-for-all hellscape”. Early reports of mass layoffs of key staff and return of banned accounts.
- Important not to idealise pre-Musk Twitter (defaults are already hostile for many marginalised communities who have found ways to gather there).
- Aspirations to be a “common digital town square” - read against longer histories of claims that web and social media are not “public spheres”.
- Leaving Twitter can be read against longer background of social media account deletion, movement, detoxing (e.g. Tero Karppi’s disconnect, Zeena Feldman’s ongoing research on digital detox/resisting digital culture). Tech break-up tips from Janet Vertesi.
- Joining new services often described in terms of movement (cf “portability”) – e.g. with hashtag #TwitterMigration. Many have commented on how it is problematic to talk of Twitter “migration” (or even “refugees”).
- Starting afresh on other social media services can be exhausting, stressful and uncertain (“will we find each other again?”).
- Who can afford to leave? What does leaving mean? Not just individual choice, but entrenched collective practices – including how social media is embedded in many different kinds of social, political, economic, professional and everyday settings.
- Some portray leaving as running away from problems, risking social and political homogenisation, and underestimating the role of users in making the platform what it is and shaping its culture.
- As Deen Freelon writes, Mastodon “just isn’t a global network pulling together folks from all corners” and Twitter’s “serendipity”, “clever memes”, “cross-cutting insights from distant fields” are partly as it is ” a beast of capitalism”.
- Regardless of whether or not you are “leaving”, you can request and download your Twitter data here. There are many ways to delete previous tweets such as semiphemeral, an “antifascist service” which also has an open-source self-hosted version available.
- Exploring services such as Mastodon can be pluralising / diversifying media practices, not just departure. As Chris Anderson writes, on level of platform this may be “very small and globally inconsequential”, but nevertheless meaningful.
What is social media?
- Social media platforms/sites/services are not a background condition - but material participant in networked sociality. As Noortje Marres and Carolin Gerlitz ask: “What makes social media social?” Particular ways of scripting and materialising relations between “users”, posts, digital objects, interfaces, servers, algorithms, data flows, etc.
- Services like Mastodon are not just Twitter “alternatives” or “replacements”: they often have different aims, values, setups, use cultures.
- Twitter users joining Mastodon surfaces arrangements through which posts are encountered. Both are “microblogging services”. Previous histories of free/open-source microblogging services over past decades such as identi.ca (which I blogged about a long time ago when I was working at the Open Knowledge Foundation).
- Lots of posts from newcomers joining fediverse surfacing the many little differences, unfamiliarities and specificities in its setup (which some call “healthier design”). For example:
- expectations for content warnings and image captions;
- no full text search across instances (hashtags as connective tissue between instances);
- posts being “unlisted” by default (and norm for public threads to have only first post public and the rest unlisted so they don’t clutter streams);
- norms against self-promotion;
- expectation of thoughtfulness about social context and relevance (by selecting visibility, thinking about those on thread, the instance and the broader fediverse);
- more limited role of metrics (cf Ben Grosser’s demetricator).
- From posts from longer-term fediverse users, there is a sense of bemusement and scepticism about some of the assumptions and practices that newcomers from the “birdsite” may bring with them. Judging by some recent posts, these cultures of carefulness and consideration may strike newcomers as unwieldy (“too complicated and too earnest”)– but there is also a sense of hopefulness about other arrangements and longer term possibilities.
“I feel lucky to have landed here as one of my big curiousities and passions is what public or decolonial software looks like, how it is resourced and maintained, and how it would serve us differently.” (@email@example.com)
Links / resources
- A futuristic Mastodon introduction for 2021
- Mastodon primer
- fediverse.party - about fediverse
- https://instances.social/ - “I will ask you a few questions about your needs, then I will show you instances that best suit these.”
Finding your friends?
- https://fedifinder.glitch.me/ - “Extract the fediverse handles of your Twitter followings and import them on Mastodon to follow them all at once.”
- https://twitodon.com/ - “Find your Twitter friends on Mastodon”
Making new friends?
- https://github.com/nathanlesage/academics-on-mastodon - list of curated lists of academic accounts by field, including instructions for bulk following accounts. I’ve started one for science and technology studies. There is also talk of an Association of Internet Researchers instance.
- https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/mastodon-simplified-federation/ - “Simplifies following or interacting with other users on remote Mastodon instances in the Fediverse”
- https://moa.party/ - “Link your Mastodon account to Twitter” (note: many instances discourage cross-posting from Twitter to Mastodon…)
- https://crossposter.masto.donte.com.br/ - “This service allows you to connect a Mastodon account and a Twitter account and enable cross-posting between them” (note: many instances discourage cross-posting from Twitter to Mastodon…)