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What is Mastodon, the social network users are leaving Twitter for? Everything you need to know

What is Mastodon, the social network users are leaving Twitter for? Everything you need to know

Verification is free, toots are twice as long as tweets – but you might find it hard to replace your Twitter follower list. Here’s how to use it, find a server to join and navigate the fediverse

Mobile phone with Mastodon app on the screen

Interest in the open source social media platform known as Mastodon has spiked again as users look for an alternative to Twitter, should Elon Musk’s takeover spell the end of that website as we know it.

If you’re fleeing the sinking ship of Twitter for the potential life raft of Mastodon – or wondering whether to – here’s what you need to know.

Welcome to the Fediverse

The first thing to get your head around is that Mastodon is what’s known as a “federated” network, a collection of thousands of social networks run on servers across the world that are linked by the common Mastodon technology, on a platform known as the “Fediverse”.

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You sign up for a specific server, which is run by whoever set it up, usually volunteers doing it out of their own pocket or taking donations through Patreon. They’ll have their own rules and policies on, for example, who can join and how strictly the conversation will be moderated.

You can even start your own server if you want to set the rules yourself. Otherwise, there’s a list of servers which focus on specific locations or topics of interest. The servers on that list have all signed up to the “Mastodon covenant” which promises “active moderation against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia”.

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Whichever Mastodon server(s) you sign up for, however, you can follow users on a different one with no problem.

Oh, and as this is a volunteer-run system, there are no paid-for ads in your feed.

Usernames are different

Once you choose a username and set up your account with an image header and profile picture, you can begin. Unlike Twitter, your username will be @[username]@[the Mastodon instance you signed up to]. So for example, you could be @[email protected] Think of it like an email address – the first part is your chosen identifier, the second part is the organisation that looks after your inbox.

There are apps on iOS and Android which allow you to sign into your Mastodon account(s).

Finding Twitter users is a chore

If you want to track down on Mastodon all the people you follow on Twitter, unfortunately there’s no easy way to do this.

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You could start searching for those you know, or go back to Twitter and see if they have announced their move. Services like Twitodon allow you to log in with both your Twitter and Mastodon accounts and scan to look for users you follow. But it will only be able to find those users who have also used Twitodon.

Once you follow a few people you have found from Twitter, you could go through their lists to find others you might know.

Posting is similar but different

For a start, you may have to get used to your posts being called “toots” rather than “tweets”.

On the plus side, you’ll have almost twice as many characters (500) to write a post, and additional features such as click spoiler warnings for text and images.

You will have more control over who can see your post, from being discoverable across the server, down to only those who you mention in the post – similar to a DM.

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Hashtags work similar to Twitter for trending topics, and you can share someone else’s post with your followers by boosting it – which works the same as retweeting. But there’s no such thing as “quote tooting”.

Verification is easy – and free

There has been much drama on Twitter over Musk’s move to require people to pay for verification, while at the same time not actually verifying they are who they say they are. Mastodon has a verification system that’s available to everyone with their own website.

If you link to a website you control on your profile, then it can recognise you as the owner of that website, which will give followers some justification in trusting you are who you claim to be.

Topics

  • Twitter
  • Social media
  • news
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