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The Great 2022 Mastodon Migration

My God, you’d think the world was ending. The screaming, yowling, weeping and rolling on the floor in the wake of Twtter’s acquisition by Elon Musk is something to see. I’m interested in Twitter because for me it fills a need: quick announcements, wisecracks, indie book promo, Odd Lots-style links to things I find interesting or useful….so what’s not to like?

One thing, and one thing only: disagreement.

But that’s the viewpoint of the bluechecks, not me or most of my friends. The bluechecks are fleeing Twitter. Where to? Mastodon, mostly. Poor Mastodon. Gazillions of new users are arriving, with so little computer smarts that they can’t figure out how to use the platform. Mastodon has a lot of promise. This is their chance to make the bigtime, instead of lurking in the shadows of all the monumentally larger social networks. I’m very curious to see what they make of it. I wonder if they understand the demands that will be made of them: Forbid disagreement with…anybody I don’t like.

There was a time when disagreement was a learning opportunity. Or most of it, anyway, at least disagreement among reasonably intelligent people. But that was way back in the ’70s. As we slid into the ’80s, disagreement became insult. I avoided disagreeing with people of a certain psychology, knowing that they’d just get bright red and scream at me before I ever had a chance to make a case for my own positions.

The ’80s were the era when, little by little, I stopped going to SF conventions. Why hang out with people who’ll jump down your throat at the slightest hint of disagreement? I missed the social element of conventions, but by 1985 or 86 cons had gotten so toxic I just stopped going.

(These days I go to one con a year: Libertycon, where I know I won’t get screamed at for having ideas at odds with the bluecheck zeitgeist.)

Now, in the Groaning Twenties, disagreement is first-degree murder. Or genocide. Or maybe the heat-death of the universe. Does it bother me? No. It makes me giggle. I’ve been called a racist and a fascist and a few other more peculiar things. Like I said: I giggle. It’s all so silly. I still write subversive hard SF and program in Pascal. I am what I am. You can’t change me by screaming at me.

Why have I gone on at such length about the disagreement phenomenon? Easy: After years of being a staunchly defended echo chamber, Twitter is now trying to become a profit-making enterprise. I used to pay for CompuServe. If Twitter becomes a paid service, I will pay a (reasonable) price for a subscription. I get the impression (and admit I could be wrong; we’ll see) that Twitter will moderate people who use dirty words to denigrate other people…but won’t ban those posting links to peer-reviewed research showing that Ivermectin is an effective broad-spectrum antiviral.

That would be a tectonic change in the social media universe. It’s going to take a few years for Elon Musk to figure out how to do it. But that dude can orbit 52 telecomm satellites in one damfool rocket…I’m not willing to speculate on what he can’t do.

So. Has Twitter changed since the Great Mastodon Migration? A little. In scrolling down through my Twitter posts over the last month or so, I see a few replies have gone missing, doubtless originally posted by people who are now tooting their little hearts out over on Mastodon. With only a few exceptions, the bluechecks have very little to say that isn’t abject fury at people who disagree with them. (And to think I almost majored in journalism, sheesh.)

Musk is laying off thousands of people. The firm can either survive without them or fold. Me, I’m pretty sure the whole damned operation could be run by a thousand or so good, smart, devoted staffers. The trick is to find and motivate such staffers. I suspect Elon Musk can do it.

In the meantime, the bluechecks are fleeing. G’bye, guys! Have fun over on Mastodon! Here on Twitter we’re still having a wonderful time! (I’d say, “glad you’re not here,” but I’m too nice a guy to do that. What else could you expect from a Pascal programmer?)

For Validation, Try Federation

Somebody wrote an obnoxious hate-piece over on The Verge some days back, welcoming Elon Musk to Twitter Hell. The essay is for the most part corrosive nonsense, but the piece does have an insight or two. The primary one is true, and subtle to the point where I doubt most people ever give it much thought: What social networks sell is valildation.

In other words, people gather on social networks to feel good about themselves. The network accomplishes this by censoring any voices that disagree with network members. Remember the days when disagreement was a learning opportunity? I do. Even polite disagreement is now “literal violence,” at least to the cohort desperately lacking self-esteem.

What Musk does to Twitter won’t be known for awhile. I’m guessing that people will no longer be banned for politely questioning conventional wisdom, like posting links to evidence that Ivermectin actually does have strong antiviral properties. Ditto HCQ. Why linking to a peer-reviewed scientific paper should be blanket-bombed as “misinformation” is simple: “Misinformation” now means “anything I or my tribe disagree with.” If Musk can call a halt to that, it will have been worth every nickel of his $44B. What it means, however, is that Twitter will become a network that does not specialize in validating its members by silencing their critics. If those seeking validation flee to another network, that’s a good thing. I generate my own validation. So do most of my friends. I guess not everyone can do that.

The real problem with moderation is that it tends to bias network traffic toward viewpoints the moderators favor. Worse, there’s one body of algorithms to moderate the whole damned network. Unless you’re in the favored cohort, you’re out of luck.

There is something called Mastodon that almost nobody talks about. (More on Mastodon here.) It’s a social network composed of independently hosted social networks, joined loosely through a mechanism called federation. Every instance (which is what they call an individual Mastodon server) can have its own moderation guidelines, and everybody can block anybody they don’t want to hear from. This sounds like the perfect solution: On Mastodon, nobody can hear you disagreeing with them if they don’t want to. Shazam! Validation!

I don’t have time to even join a Mastodon instance, much less host my own. If you’ve had experience there, by all means describe it in the comments. I bring it up here today because of an article I read about Twitter founder Jack Dorsey: He’s creating a new social network to rival Twitter. He’s doing it with federation. It’s called Bluesky, and it just opened registration for beta testers. It uses a protocol developed in-house called the Authenticated Transfer Protocol (ATP.)

I’ve been reading the news about Bluesky for the past few days. There’s not much hard information yet, but it sounds a great deal like a slightly more centralized Mastodon. I could be wrong about that. Again, hard data is scarce. I did notice that nowhere in the articles I’ve read is there any significant mention of moderation. That’s a very sore spot for a greeat many people, primarily those who just want validation, or tribalists who want to limit user perspectives to their own template. One hopes that Dorsey can get past this hunger for censoring The Other, and actually create a space where literally all perspectives can be heard.

We’ll see.