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Phil Dearson

The fediverse - social media vs social contract

published18 days ago
2 min read

“The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied... chains us all, irrevocably."
Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Before starting, I want to clarify something: social is a behaviour, not a media channel.

There, isn’t that better? OK, let’s move on.

The most popular social technologies on the planet are owned by corporations. Our data is harvested and sold to advertisers so that we can continue to enjoy their services for “free”. We’re then relentlessly marketed to, wherever we go online. The owners can change the terms of service at any time without our permission.

It’s not a great deal but we’ve become used to it. Complacent, even. Life within the Walled Garden “will do” for most people. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Enter the fediverse. Well, it’s been around since about 2008, so it’s not exactly new. It is, however, seeing a huge surge in interest since Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.

What is the fediverse?

Technically, the fediverse is a group of web publishing systems linked together via the ActivityPub, Diaspora and OStatus protocols. It’s a collection of thousands of independent social media servers that communicate with each other seamlessly, operating like a single social network. Decentralised, open source, owned by no one, ad-free and privacy-centric.

If Twitter is like a raging nightclub where the bouncers video you as they follow you home, the fediverse feels more like a set of linked house parties or coffee shops. For want of a better word, the fediverse seems “kind”. It reminds me of the culture of the early internet where everything seemed possible and people’s better natures were on display.

Anyone can create a fediverse server and allow people to sign up. You can use your fediverse ID to follow or chat with people on any server. Think of the fediverse as a phone network. You don’t need a special Vodafone phone to talk to people on the Vodafone network, with a separate O2 phone to talk to their users. Same same.

The fediverse isn’t just composed of Twitter-like services, such as Mastodon. There are “federated services” that are similar to YouTube, GoodReads, Facebook, WordPress, Instagram, podcasting and more.

Social contract

Each Mastodon server creates its own rules and regulations, which are enforced locally and not top-down like corporate social media, making it flexible in responding to the needs of different groups of people. Join a server with the rules you agree with, or host your own.

If a server permits or encourages hate speech, for example, other servers in the network may decide to block it. Long term this means that hateful and abusive people end up talking to fewer people, sidelining themselves. Mastodon does a great job of minimising the feeling of doomscrolling too (where you’re scrolling past post after post containing negative trigger content). The community encourages people to flag their posts with CW (content warning) if they think the content is likely to offend or upset them. Trump, voting, etc. It’s each user’s choice whether they view this content or not.

So there’s a bottom-up filter where people are, yes, kinder and more considerate than you normally see on the corporate networks.

Check it out


Signals

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Until next time.

Phil


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