A little known social network, called Mastodon, has been trending in India for the past few days. According to Google Trends data, search interest around the social network saw a sudden spike between 6 November and 8 November.
The movement started after the Twitter account of Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde was blocked by the platform because some of his posts about Nazis got reported. Hegde then announced that he’s going to start posting on Mastodon instead of Twitter and many decided to quit Twitter in solidarity.
That said, the idea behind Mastodon isn’t necessarily to kill Twitter. It’s to hand control of data back to the user and create platforms that will remain forever. "At some point I was like, come on, how many more times do I have to go through this?! We need something that’ll work forever," Eugen Rochko, the German developer who founder Mastodon back in 2016, said in an interview last year. Rochko was explaining how people keep having to switch platforms for various reasons.
Mastodon is a decentralised social networking service, which allows users to create their own private networks. Altnews founder, Pratik Sinha, who has also joined Mastodon, explained that the platform is akin to owning your own Twitter.
“Services like Mastodon have much more important relevance, and people haven’t understood why they should join it," he said. “The idea is to owning and hosting your own data," he added.
What Sinha means is that Mastodon allows users to host smaller Twitter-like platforms, called “Instances", where the creator allows only certain people to join. Sinha said that with reducing costs of owning a server, it’s much easier for people to host their servers.
Essentially, an instance is similar to creating an email accounts on Gmail, Yahoo etc. However, on Gmail, the company itself still monetise your data and use it for advertising. In the case of Mastodon, there’s no overarching entity that can advertise using your data because it doesn’t have a central server system that holds all the data.
The idea behind Mastodon is to let the community make their own rules and adhere to them. In Twitter’s case, the rules for the platform are determined by the company. People are supposed to join Mastodon instances that they like, instead of joining one large social network with everyone else.
In fact, founder Rochko had once stopped admitting new users to the central server so that it doesn’t monopolise on the overall user base. Sinha said that while we aren’t quite there yet, we need to move towards a future where user data isn’t monetised and people can host their own servers instead.
Rochko himself hosts only one server, which you can find under https://mastodon.social. This is the central server behind Mastodon that doesn’t have anything to do with its other instances.
Well known names like musician Vishal Dadlani, journalist Shivam Vij and social activist Kavita Krishnan have moved to Mastodon.
“Morning, all. Glad to find some of you have actually come over from my other pages. Hopefully, more will show up. Thrilled to report, I can't hear the usual incessant social-media drone of words being sharpened in the distance. @Mastodon , you were needed," Dadlani wrote in one of his toots (Mastodon’s name for tweets) on the platform.
“You don't get the point. The point is, we're FINE with trolls migrating to Mastodon. I hope everyone migrates there and leaves Twitter high and dry. But #Mastodon moderators are not Sanghis who will ban us while allowing hate speech handles to flourish," Krishnan tweeted on Twitter.
“There’s been a lot of discussion this week about Twitter's perceived bias in India. To be clear, whether it's the development of policies, product features, or enforcement of our Rules, we are impartial and do not take action based upon any ideology or political viewpoint," Twitter said in a statement.
The movement in India isn’t the first time people have seen Mastodon as a replacement for Twitter either. The social network has been touted to be a Twitter replacement in the West in the last three years, though that hasn’t happened yet. Mastodon claims to have 2.2 million users globally at the moment, which is a really small number compared to Twitter’s 300+ million users.