federated social networking

like it or not, social networks are part of the Internet's evolution to serve our non-topical communication needs, focusing on people more than content, unlike newsgroups and forums. alas, while myspace and facebook and twitter took off, they have proven to eventually fail (in myspace's case) or become too big to care for their users. facebook and twitter regularly take it upon themselves to curate content in an effort to appease their advertisers, and perhaps secondarily to appease the political opinions of their own staff members. personally, I've never been a huge player in the social networking game, but twitter did catch my eye a while ago for being a place for me to discover people, follow content that is interesting to me, and of course, participate in discussions with a bit of shitposting here and there. a few years back, in 2015, I have noticed the effect of the above issues I mentioned, with accounts I follow gradually being picked off by twitter's moderation team, until finally in 2016 I simply retweeted someone's post and received an account termination for it. twitter goes far and hard for its advertisers, and because my retweet directly affected the reputation of such a business partner (well, I can only guess they were partnered if it came to this extreme), the platform didn't mind at all to sacrifice me and a few others to ensure their reputation. I will not go into additional detail with my incident specifically, because it is no longer terribly relevant, but just note that there's a reason for accounts to pop out of existence all the time on twitter, and it isn't always because people are spamming others' mentions or sharing illegal pictures.

if that's enough convincing for you that we need a better social networking platform to offset twitter, instagram, and the like; good news, because there exists a microblogging-style social network that goes beyond just one domain, just one company, just one set of policies. meet the fediverse: the result of years of collaboration to provide an open protocol and several software implementations, to solve the issues inherent in conventional social platforms. I've personally been hosting an instance (at anime.website) for a bit over a year now, and I can confidently say it is a suitable twitter replacement for me. my timeline doesn't feel empty, I see many interesting and unadulterated discussions because people feel welcome to exchange their personal beliefs, and I myself don't have to worry about being deplatformed or holding my content hostage to a corporation who doesn't give a shit about me.

as good as the fediverse is, many misconceptions have floated around, especially since the introduction of the Mastodon implementation of fediverse software. while I don't particularly like Mastodon itself (it's resource-heavy and hard to install, according to many people, and it restricts users' freedom to configure instances to their personal liking), this has no bearing on my opinion toward the project lead himself, Eugen Rochko. his motives have been clear for a long time that his goal isn't necessarily to promote a free (as in freedom) social experience, but instead to offset other platforms that he claims harbours nazis. what this means to the rest of us, is that he (on behalf of Mastodon) spreads his idealised view of what the fediverse should be, which in turn confuses many new people trying out the platform for themselves. essentially, he has taken something that was not his original idea, slapped his name on it, and tries to retroactively mould the fediverse to his liking. this fact alone should not deter anyone from using the fediverse, but it should serve to prepare you for the inevitable drama that incurs from this.

I have my own idealisation of the platform, but I know that not everyone shares my opinions. since I have a history on twitter, some of the features introduced in fediverse software make little sense to me. for example, I am a vocal opponent of the federated timeline which essentially serves as a dumping ground for all posts an instance receives, whether or not you directly follow those users. many claim it's an important discovery mechanism, but given my time on twitter, it's apparent to me that full-text search, potentially a tagging system, and other discovery methods such as retweeting (repeating or boosting in fediverse nomenclature) are just as effective to find accounts that may interest me. from experience, I have seen the federated timeline cause more issues by attracting spam and trolls to my comments; which have a far less likely chance of happening had I only kept my exposure to my followers and to any participants in my threads.

I also hold a controversial belief that per-post privacy settings are beneficial to the network. the way they are currently implemented leaves a lot to be desired, but I have made my twitter account private out of necessity before, and I understand the desire to limit a profile's exposure and allow a curated list of people who can view my content. the per-post privacy adds flexibility to twitter's feature, making it so I can make some or none of my posts completely private. I mention this because it's another topic you may see discussed soon after involving yourself in the fediverse.

with all that said, I encourage you to try the fediverse out for yourself if you can't get the twitter impulse out of you, or if you just want to see what the buzz is about. plenty of people, plenty of interests, plenty of beliefs, all talking to one another on a robust platform, a platform not controlled by any one party. like E-mail, if you disagree with how one server operates itself, you can easily pack up and move to another server. nobody can ban you from the fediverse (but this is not an invitation for you to test anyone's patience). intelligent discussion, shitposting, image sharing, news, politics, personal issues – the firehose of content, the lack of curation has been a big reason for me to stick around, because it's always something new every day.

if you're keen to try it but don't know where to start out, I have taken the time to write a page dedicated to the fediverse, complete with a table of instances that gladly take in new users and are transparent about their own moderation and federation policies. sadly, mainly due to how Mastodon gained its popularity, we see a lot of instance blocklists akin to the account blocklists on twitter, which serve to prevent federation between instances that disagree with one another's policies. while I admit, this is a useful tool to be able to separate oneself from spam instances, for example; it has become a much-abused feature, effectively censoring a lot of legitimate users and content, and making the fediverse more difficult to understand for new users. indeed, this is enough of a barrier to entry that many people leave simply for all the drama and controversy these decisions foster.

I'd also like to share my personal code of etiquette, a set of standards I hold myself to and expect from others who interact with me, simply because it makes the most sense to me from my experiences with microblogging. I model anime.website's rules after my own standards while still giving people the freedom to be wrong. ;)

I believe that microblogging (and in extension, the fediverse) should predominantly be a pull medium rather than a push one, meaning I should be able to control what I see by following and unfollowing people. thus, many issues should be solvable simply by unfollowing anyone with whom I no longer want to interact. should outliers exist, muting and blocking are suitable to get persistent people out of my mentions. this pull what I want mentality contributes to my opinion that the federated timeline is unnecessary. but, others (for example on anime.website) find the federated timeline useful, but I treat it as an unmoderated, uncurated feed, so if users have any issues with what they see on the federated timeline, I will simply tell them to steer clear of it to avoid further issues.

the above attitude allows people to talk about what they want, and it allows others to expose themselves to that content voluntarily. this eliminates a need for most moderation and allows my rules to be succinct: I do not allow spam or illegal content, or anything that could jeopardise the service for the rest of my users and myself. users may join my instance even if I disagree with them; I simply will not follow their content. this makes my life much easier as I can be a user first and a moderator second.

while trigger warnings (dubbed content warnings by the Mastodon crowd) have been introduced into the fediverse, I personally only see them as a hinderance and an antifeature. again, on twitter I have never had a problem as long as I follow the right people. I understand that I may not agree with all content presented to me, but I'd like to think I'm able to ignore what I don't like. content warnings operate far too much on trust; I have to entrust that everyone will share my idea of objectionable content, and that is simply an unrealistic goal. and while some people find such warnings useful, they impact those who see them as a distraction, as out of place, as an additional step to click through someone's content. while much software (including Pleroma) allows these warnings to be expanded by default, and people are working on new potential solutions to the issue, I believe it will always be an imperfect addition in fediverse software.

and lastly, should you decide you want to follow me on the fediverse once you've made your own account and gotten comfortable, be aware that I post about a lot of things and publish all types of images and media. if you find anything objectionable to the point you think less of me, I ask that you simply do not follow me, rather than trying to suggest that I change what I say. I made my own instance to get away from being told what I can and cannot say; I understand my actions and words have consequences but chances are I won't be receptive to any content policing.