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What is Mastodon and why is everyone talking about it?

A social network called Mastodon is gaining ex-Twitter users. Why?
November 8, 2019
mastodon social network

A number of former Twitter users — especially in India — are switching over to Mastodon. Why? And what is Mastodon anyway? Here’s everything you need to know about the social network, and why many people are dumping Twitter for Mastodon.

What is Mastodon?

First launched in 2016, Mastodon is a relatively new social network created by 26-year-old German coder Eugen Rochko. It is a microblogging service that offers many of the same features as Twitter.

Mastodon currently boasts over 2.2 million users, according to its official website. While it is growing in popularity, that number is still well below Twitter’s current daily user number of 126 million.

What makes it different than Twitter?

mastadon screenshot 1

On the surface, Mastodon looks and acts much like Twitter. Users can post messages (usually called “toots”) up to 500 characters in length. You can also post images and videos on your account. Just like Twitter, you can like and repost messages from other users. 

The biggest difference between the two services is that Mastodon is an open-source service. In this case, that means there’s not a central company or group that’s running the social network. This allows users to run their own servers, which will have their own codes of conduct and other custom rules. 

Other features for individual users include more ways to block offensive content. That includes posting messages with a “content warning” label. It hides the message until users make the choice of clicking the “show more” button. You can also choose to make individual messages visible to just your followers.

How can I access Mastodon?

Tusky an app for Mastodon

In part because of its open-source roots, there are not any official Mastodon apps for Android and iOS. However, there are a number of third-party apps that allow you to check out your Mastodon accounts. One of the more popular apps is Tusky, which can be downloaded from the Google Play Store.

There are PC desktop and web-based clients as well. You can check them out on the service’s official website.

Why has it become so popular in India?

mastodon screenshot 2 1

Mastodon has recently seen a big boost in users from India, which reportedly has as many as 30 million Twitter users. According to BBC, the surge in new users started shortly after a well-known Indian Supreme Court lawyer, Sanjay Hegde, was suspended from using Twitter two times. Both times, the suspensions were due to posts that Twitter flagged as having offensive content. However, both posts were centered around protesting hate speech. Hegde then announced he was going to be posting more on Mastodon, and other Twitter users in India claimed they would do the same. Hegde has also filed a formal notice against Twitter, according to Telegraph India.

For its part, an official post from Twitter India claims the service does “not take action based upon any ideology or political viewpoint.” However, BBC reports many Indian Twitter users have complained the service does little to police against threats against women or minorities. They see Mastodon, with its decentralized moderation tools, as an alternative.

Will Mastodon become truly competitive to Twitter?

Even with this surge in users over in India, it’s unlikely Twitter has anything to worry about in terms of losing a large number of users to Mastodon. The lack of official apps, plus its more complicated server structure, makes it harder to use. However, it’s clear that Twitter users all over the world have concerns about the way it handles user bans for content. That could eventually cause the service to make some changes for the better. In that respect, it’s likely Mastodon could serve as a template for Twitter to make those changes.