The glaring challenge for Mastodon

My time as moderator here has convinced me thusly: Mastodon will never achieve any sort of real success at replacing the Twitters or Facebooks of the world, for two reasons: 1) the same reason Twitter can’t get rid of Nazis, and 2) Elon Musk (or well, folks like him.)

There are too many people who genuinely don’t care about what they post or what others think. Nazis post on Twitter because the odds that their words will ever have consequences are slim to none, but the very nature of twitter allows them to respond to prominent, significant members of society and borrow some of their whuffie to have their irrelevance amplified. This is doubly true for those who respond with garbage bacause that amplification will create irrelevant (to them) conflict and strife. They get to make the ants scurry, and it’s fun, and has zero cost or consequence for them.

Discourse started out with a lot of features that operate from the position that fostering good-faith conversations (and providing the tools to do so) will result in more good conversation. But this is one of the oldest Discourse instances that exist, and it’s become increasingly clear that the issues this forum (and others like it) face are people who aren’t interested in discussion at all, they’re interested in upsetting people for fun, because they can walk away whenever, and people cannot ignore others on the internet. So, they have a neverending stream of free energy from both good-natured folks who are trying to have a genuine conversation with people that don’t care, and from people who are fed up, tired of fighting on every front, but still can’t stop feeding the energy leeches when they appear.

When you distribute authority for a discussion network to, basically, anyone who wants to run an instance, you make it nearly impossible to get rid of these people. There are an ever-increasing number of places they can choose to call home in Mastodon, and they don’t care if their account (or instance) is banned, they’ll just go to another location that can reach the same people and keep peddling shit, or, find a new source of energy to leech from. Decentalization makes this worse, not better.

But the second reason is that as long as there are people who believe that “free speech as defined by the law” is reasonable, they are giving the group of people in reason #1 a voice. Groups will consolidate (or already have) around evolving ideas of “permitted” speech and will eventually end up with a heavily moderated environment that has a cap on how large it can grow due to moderator cost and effort (Hello, BBS!), or, run into the same problems Twitter has and realize the only way to grow big is to accept that the people in reason #1 are going to be on your network.

So you end up with little mastodon groups that never get enough critical mass to matter, or open mastodon groups that quickly become too much of a cesspool to matter, or, another Twiter that fails everyone by trying to please everyone.

There’s no doubt that mastodon gives everyone the opportunity to move to the community they want and to move on when they want to move on, but make no mistake, those same strengths will prevent it ever being anything more than it is today, unless where it ends up looks an awful lot like Twitter.

Until someone figures out a way to finance a heavily moderated, principled and speech-restricted community that we can all adopt, communities larger than this BBS will always, eventually, turn to shit.


I remain unconvinced Twitter actually wants to get rid of their Nazis.
Engagement is everything, good or bad doesn’t matter there.

At least if somebody says something horrible here somebody else can’t dig it up and repost it, “did you miss it, DID YOU MISS IT, LOOK WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT YOU!!”

Which, unfortunately, is done on Twitter by people with good AND bad intentions…

However, it’s an online space, we have the choice to leave the asshats to play with themselves; Nazis in the real world you have to stand up to wherever you find them.


I’m not sure i’m convinced; nevertheless, I appreciate that you made the effort of typing a thoughtful response. Thanks.

If you make the case that ActivityPub will be a failure because of its inability to filter out nazis, can’t you make the same case for the entire web?

Maybe you’re right that the federation will end up fragmented and never have critical mass. Is that a bad thing? There’s a middle ground to explore, between full centralization and silos, and at least with an open protocol there’s an opportunity to try it out at various scales.

I don’t particularly care to see ActivityPub take off, but I am very worried about the privacy overreach of Twitter, FB, and the ad-tracking business in general. Any potential nail in their coffin looks good to take.


Timeline-centric social media = ego-centric social media. That’s half the problem.


I think the reason is far more simple: most people on Twitter don’t, actually, care all that much about the Nazis or Elon Musk or whatever. Not necessarily because they like what the Nazis or Elon Musk post or whatever, simply because they either don’t encounter them, or don’t encounter them enough to be particularly bothered by them. Because, well, not everyone uses Twitter the same way, and while a lot of people (maily Americans I guess?) seem to use it to have discussions about sociopolitical issues and current affairs and whatnot, a lot of other people… don’t.

Me, I’ve been on Twitter for ages. I mainly follow Japanese artists (mangaka, illustrators), a few scientists, and a handful of creators from Youtube/etc. The only time I ever see Nazi crap on my timeline is when the latter group posts their own reactions to them. The overwhelming majority of my timeline is 80% Japanese and is made up of cool artwork, (self-)promotion, fannish things, earthquake warnings and “hey is everyone OK?” every now and then, cool science facts and some hot takes, and a bit of angry/hurt reactions to the likes of JKR, Elon Musk, now the anti-abortion fuckery, etc. On Twitter you can create your own bubble as well as anywhere else, and if your bubble is set up not to include a constant stream of upsetting ultraconservative/white supremacist stuff then it’s just not going to be particularly visible. In which case why move elsewhere?

Also, this is those things where people want to make fetch happen even though if it was to happen it would’ve happened ages ago. Mastodon has been around for ages and yet it never became a real alternative to Twitter or Facebook or anything. A successful user migration is not one that happens like “that’s it, I’m leaving to Mastodon!!” but a more organic thing where people follow other people who create content that is interesting to them. See: TikTok.


The reason Facebook and Twitter have the influence they do is because that’s where you go to find people. If you define “success” as a genuine alternative to those platforms, then yes, critical mass is required.

The various Mastodon federations may “succeed” if you define other measures of success. I have no doubt it will be useful to many people. But If the goal is to displace the Twitters and Facebooks of the world, then a real contender needs to come along, and I sincerely believe you do not get there through decentralization.


Well, because the Nazis are still there. Next door is better than in your house but the neighbourhood is now fucked and real soon you’re going to wish you’d moved earlier.


Again: just because they’re extremely active on American Twitter doesn’t mean it’s the same for everyone. Japanese Twitter, for example, has way fewer of them, simply because there they move in other circles. In my own country Twitter is not particularly relevant as a service, most Nazis hang out on Facebook. And so on.

Also, if the mere presence of Nazis is cause for moving then why Mastodon, of all places? It’s not like there are no Nazis there (and uh, going by the little time I spent on various Mastodon instances, there’s a lot of really unsavory things happening there, even aside of Nazis; and they happen even more openly than on Twitter, let’s just say I deleted my account very fast not to be associated with it even accidentally).

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Scouring all Nazis from the web is an unrealistic goal as long as Nazis exist within human society, but some online platforms have a far higher Nazi-to-non-Nazi ratio than others.

Online, as in life, any place where Nazis feel safe and welcome to gather en masse is probably a shithole that the world would be better off without.


Why? I’ll just refer you to the comment by @Brainspore above. Your little corner of it may be safe for now but they will ruin it.
Meanwhile, while you continue using a service chock-full of them, whether you see them or not, more of them will join because it becomes accepted even if you personally hate them just as much as nearly everybody does around here.

Never. Normalise. Fascists.


First, congrats to all (past and present) at bOING, and thank you.
This is really quite an achievement!

Second, thanks for compactly stating things.

I am old enough to remember (and have used!) Usenet, dial-up bbs (and helped run one), and perhaps most meaningful to me, worked and posted in a time where bad faith actors, bots, click-bait, and other greed- and hate-economy actors simply were not part of the territory.

I have been chewing on the long-term viability of Mastodon (and etc.) and the necessary condition, I agree, is paid moderators and rules back by consequences.

Do you need us to pitch in?


OK. I wasn’t talking about normalizing fascists, but you don’t seem to understand what I’m talking about, I don’t want to get dogpiled again for something I didn’t say, and it’s past midnight here, so this is where I bow out.

(Anyone thinking I’m trying to normalize fascists or whatever is welcome to check out my comment history, also where I live and what’s going on in that place.)


I’m not saying you are - I’m saying that’s what will happen because that’s what they’re like.

We’re good, promise :pray:


Our Leaders and community already do, and I sincerely appreciate the flags and actions they take to help make this place as civil a community as it is. Thankfully, we do not have delusions of taking on Twitter, so the size we are is just fine IMHO. :slight_smile:


Is the size of BBS actually restricted or is it just self-regulating auto-magically?

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I think it is a function of exposure of Boing Boing to the wider world, balanced by the fact that to participate in conversation here, you have to be prepared to actually converse. People are going to answer you, and challenge your viewpoints and opinions. That’s not usually how wider, throw-away social media works, and so the number of people prepared to engage in that sort of (wonderful!) effort is much smaller than those prepared to fire off a throwaway retweet or share with some one-liner on it.


Just out of curiosity, about how many instances of Discourse are there in all?


It’s very easy to set up, so I imagine there are many of them - a lot of random new forums that I see pop up are using discourse. @codinghorror probably has a real answer though

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“being online did not make most people more aggressive or hostile; rather, it allowed a small number of aggressive people to attack a much larger set of victims

So the tooling and moderation aspects – removing the worst, small number of very aggressive people – are critical. On top of that, the whole “are we inadvertently training people to be polite racists/sexists/bigots” angle is something you have to watch out for as well.

(The version check stats say there are currently around 34k instances of Discourse out there.)


Yeah, that article is kind of full of bothsiderism. People asking that others respect their pronouns or that we stop shooting Black boys for no reason are NOT the same as shitty fascists looking to, you know, murder people they don’t like. I fully reject his argument that “both sides” are to blame.

The far right has been weaponizing online spaces since the late 90s at least. And they’ve been actively recruiting online for that long. That is not the fault of the left, but it is the fault people who are free speech maximalists and believe that it’s just fine for people to advocate for murdering others, because they believe there should be no limits on speech.

Moderation is the key, as @orenwolf shows here pretty often. The reason why this place hasn’t been over run by right wingers calling for our blood is because of moderation. The system helps, but the system ONLY works if everyone agrees on the rules, and there is someone who is fairly implementing those rules against bad faith actors.

Technology only gets us so far in solving our problems. We need to ditch the idea that technological progress will inevitably lead to a more progressive society. That is clearly wrong - as the past couple of decades has shown us. THAT is why we need the humanities, not to make our lives more interesting because we have good art, but because the humanities actually deal with the human condition in a way that isn’t just tangential to machines or technology. The humanities center the human experience and helps us to better understand each other and ourselves. But we have an educational system that is so obsessed with jobs and STEM, that we are underfunding and dismissing any other way of thinking about the world.