Under fire for some of its policies, Twitter is facing an exodus of sorts in India. The social network has been criticised for bias, after senior advocate Sanjay Hegde’s account was suspended from the platform. Twitter has indicated it will not be restoring Hegde’s account, and also put out a statement defending itself. The end result has been that some of the most vociferous voices on Twitter India are calling for a boycott of the platform. What’s more, they are all joining a ‘new’ social network Mastodon.
Why are people in India calling for a boycott of Twitter?
Twitter’s suspension of Sanjay Hegde’s account appears to be the final straw for many users, who have consistently complained about the platform’s bias and its inability to stop abuse. In Hegde’s case, it is alleged that the account was suspended twice. First because his cover image was that iconic photo of August Landmesser not doing the Nazi salute in Hitler’s Germany, while everyone else around him was saluting. The second time was because he retweeted a poem.
Other activists on Twitter have pointed out that while the social network says all public verifications for accounts are closed, it has continued to verify some users on the side. Dalit activists have also pointed out Twitter has not verified accounts for many of them, while it continues to verify accounts for others, pointing to a caste bias.
Twitter has defended itself against these allegations and said all decisions are impartial and apolitical. “Twitter’s commitment to inclusion and diversity is fundamental to who we are and crucial to the effectiveness of our service. Voices from across the spectrum can be seen and heard on Twitter and we are committed to the principles of openness, transparency, and impartiality,” it said in a statement.
The statement though has received criticism from prominent Indian voices who have continued the call for a move to Mastodon. Some users even called for a 24-hour boycott of Twitter.
What is Mastodon?
Indian Twitter users might have just discovered Mastodon, but it was launched back in 2016 by Eugen Rochko and briefly went viral in mid-2017. Mastodon’s design might remind one of Twitter, but this is an open-source and distributed or federated social network.
This means there is no centralised server or entity controlling Mastodon, like with convention social networks. Mastodon’s entire source code is available on Github page as well. Users can even set up and host their own servers.
On Mastodon one posts, or ‘toots’, their thoughts and with a character limit of 500. Just like on Twitter, you can follow someone else provided you know their full Mastodon handle. And yes this is a public platform, so what you post can be seen by others.
You can also like ‘toots’, retoot something, which is basically the equivalent of retweeting. Mastodon also has a chronological timeline, public timelines, GIF video sets and short videos. The network has no ads or no tracking as well and it comes with blocking, muting options as well.
There’s also toots from the Federated Universe, which shows ‘toots’ from those using Mastodon on different servers. Unlike Twitter, where your handle says XYZ@twitter, people on Mastodon can have their handles on different servers which have different user sizes.
Won’t there be harassment on Mastodon also?
Mastodon is decentralised and there are several independently-operated servers, which has its own separate admin. Mastodon also lets users choose between going fully public, private or limiting to only people mentioned, unlike Twitter where all posts are public as a given, unless you have a protected account.
“We only list servers that are committed to active moderation against racism, sexism and transphobia,” notes the website. The admins have to commit to that they will offer active moderation against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, notes the website’s page. Racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia have been highlighted as major problems on Twitter.
Will Mastodon take over Twitter?
Mastodon is an exciting idea, though the user interface is confusing at times. But the idea of an ad-free, non-corporate social network is not new. In 2014, Facebook had found a similar boycott with users switching to another network called Ello. Ello never managed to be the Facebook killer that people hoped it would be.
The idea with distributed social networks is that no one entity controls it. But these have not been very successful. Even when Mastodon first went viral, its various servers had difficulty handling the influx of users. Twitter might be facing some heat right now, but the idea that Mastodon will be able to outlast it is unlikely for now. Twitter has close to 330 million users, while Mastodon has around 2.2 million users.
Unless a major chunk of Twitter’s user base decides to bid adieu to the social network, Mastodon will largely remain an outlier.
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