Can Elon Musk get people off Twitter?



BERLIN: With Twitter chaos since the world’s richest person took control of it last week, Mastodon, the open, decentralized alternative from privacy-obsessed Germany, has seen an influx of new users.

“Flying is free,” the Tesla magnate wrote on Twitter. Elon Musk When he completed his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter. But many free speech advocates resented the prospect of someone taking over the world’s “town square” and began looking for other options.

For the most part, Mastodon looks like Twitter, with hashtags, political rocking back and forth, and technological banter jostling for space with images of cats.

But while Twitter and Facebook are controlled by a single authority – a company – Mastodon is installed on thousands of computer servers, run largely by volunteer administrators who join their systems together in a union.

People exchange posts and links with others on their own server – or “instance” of Mastodon – and, just as easily, with users on other servers across the growing network.

The fruit of six years of work by Eugen Rushko, a young German programmer, Mastodon was born from a desire to create a public sphere beyond the control of a single entity. This work is beginning to bear fruit.

“We reached 1028,362 monthly active users across the network today,” Rochko – Mastodon’s version of the tweet – said Monday. “that’s cool.”

This is still small compared to its established competitors. Twitter reported 238 million daily active users who saw an ad as of the second quarter of 2022. Facebook said it had 1.98 billion daily active users as of the third quarter.


But the jump in Mastodon users within days is still amazing.

“I gained more new followers on Mastodon in the past week than in the previous five years,” Ethan Zuckerman, a social media expert at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, wrote last week.

Before Musk completed the Twitter acquisition on October 27, Mastodon’s growth rate was 60-80 new users per hour, according to a widely cited Mastodon user account. It showed 3,568 new registrations in one hour on Monday morning.

Rochko Mastodon started in 2017, when rumors swirled that PayPal founder and Musk ally Peter Thiel wanted to buy Twitter.

“A right-wing billionaire will buy a de facto public facility that is not public,” Rochko told Reuters earlier this year. “It’s really important to have this global communications platform where you can see what’s going on in the world and chat with your friends. Why is one company controlling that?”

Teeth and protrusions

There’s no shortage of other social networks ready to welcome any mass exodus from Twitter, from Bytedance’s Tiktok to Discord, a popular chat app now beyond its original audience of gamers.

Advocates of Mastodon say that its decentralized approach makes it fundamentally different: Instead of going to a centrally-provided Twitter service, each user can choose their own service provider, or even run their own Mastodon instance, much like users can send an email from Gmail or an owner Work- Provide an account or run their own email server.

No single company or person can impose their will on the entire system or shut it down completely. Advocates say that if an extremist voice emerged with their own server, it would be easy enough for other servers to sever ties with him, leaving him to talk to his shrinking pool of followers and users.

The federal approach has downsides: it’s hard to find people to follow in the chaotic crawl of Mastodon and then into the neatly organized town square that Twitter or Facebook can offer.

But his growing group of supporters says the advantages of its engineering outweigh them.

Rochko, who runs his Mastodon on a small, crowd-funded budget with a modest grant from the European Commission, has found a particularly receptive audience among privacy-conscious European regulators.

Germany’s data protection commissioner is campaigning to get government agencies to shut down their Facebook pages, because, he says, there is no way to host a page there that would comply with European privacy laws.

Authorities should move to the Mastodon model of the federal government, he says. The European Commission also maintains a server for EU bodies to extract from.

“No exclusive information should be sent over a legally questionable platform,” Data Commissioner Ulrich Kelber said earlier this year.

While Mastodon is busier than ever, it still has a few big names from politics and showbiz that have made Twitter an addictive website for journalists in particular. Few know comedian Jan Boehmermann – Germany’s answer to John Oliver – outside his country, but more names arrive daily.

For Roshko, the project’s only full-time employee, who programmes at his home in a small town in eastern Germany at a modest monthly salary of 2,400 euros ($2,394.96), the work continues.

“Would you believe me if I told you I was so tired?” Vote on Sunday.

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