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Illustration: Toby Morris
Illustration: Toby Morris

InternetNovember 7, 2022

Why is everyone leaving Twitter for Mastodon?

Illustration: Toby Morris
Illustration: Toby Morris

What is Mastodon, and why does it represent both the past and future of social media? Ben Gracewood explains.

The last ten years have been unusually stable for social media platforms, but what happened this weekend is another sign that we’re in a new period of upheaval kicked off by TikTok but truly set alight by Elon Musk’s ridiculous, sink-toting YOLO-takeover of Twitter.

We’ve already been hate-using Facebook and Twitter for the best part of five years, promising ourselves that this is the last time we’ll allow Facebook to leak all our data. Or that we’ll definitely absolutely pinky-promise cancel Twitter if Trump gets re-elected. Truly. Cross my heart.

Saturday morning watching Twitter firing Twitter on Twitter had people starting to look for alternatives – again. A desire to troll the uber-troll by opting out of his genius plan to sell worthless blue icons for $8 a month fuelled the drive.

We get why people are bailing from Twitter, but why Mastodon?

For those of us tragically online during the 2000s it was a whirlwind of choice. Every few months a new service popped up. Myspace, Bebo. Tumblr, Flickr, Jaiku, Facebook, Orkut, Twitter, Reddit, FriendFeed… each time you’d have to secure your username, find your friends, and post embarrassing faux-pas until you learned the correct lingo.

Mastodon feels like 2007. It’s rough around the edges, but does the job. It doesn’t work the same as Twitter. There’s no algorithm and no slick social media marketing teams targeting you. It’s a little harder to find your friends and nothing quite does what you think it will do. And I’m convinced that’s why everyone is loving it.

Screen capture of a Mastodon post containing" Do you remember back in the day when you made friends with someone you had to ask for their telephone number? It's like that."
Do you remember back in the day when you made friends with someone you had to ask for their telephone number? It’s like that.

Everyone? Really?

Perhaps just New Zealand’s Twitter bubble – which can’t be entirely dismissed, having single-handedly pushed Wordle out to the world. As of Sunday afternoon, New Zealand’s busiest Mastodon “server” (we’ll get to that tiresome detail in a moment),, ranks as the fourth most active in the world, having grown from 500 to 3,700 users in the last week.

We’re also hearing reports that Irish Twitter users are having a craic at Mastodon too.

Globally, Mastodon added 200,000 users over the week, with a definite increase in the rate of new users after Elon’s ridiculous weekend:

A graph showing increasing users on Mastodon
Regular Mastodon user growth quadrupled over the last few days.

OK but what actually is Mastodon?

It’s like Twitter, but anyone can run their own server. When you join Mastodon, you join a single server, but you can see and share with everyone. Servers “federate” using the ActivityPub protocol with other oh god please make it stop this is so nerdy and boring. 

Irrelevant technical intricacies aside, what you need to know is that each server can choose how they want to run, have their own admins, and decide which other servers they want to interact with. For example,’s page shows they have limited and blocked a range of other servers including those associated with Gab and Kiwifarms, and will boot any users that act up. You can also switch servers anytime in the future and the system will make sure people can still follow your posts.

Who pays for Mastodon?

Mastodon servers are often free to use, and are run by volunteers like’s admin Daniel Mason and moderator Grace, who says “it’s been really cool to see lots of people who were a bit hesitant or worried this was some difficult techie thing go ‘Hey, I can do this!’ and then start helping each other out.”

There’s a growing network of tools for funding Mastodon hosts and similar projects, including OpenCollective, which the providers are using to fund their work. Doing finance in the open is a genuinely interesting switch from the default ad-funded model that none of us explicitly agreed to in the first place.

Another local server is taking a different approach. Cloud Island have gone with a model requiring payment up front so they can ensure they keep running, and which the server owner Aurynn Shaw says has “worked out really well, in terms of creating a really nice, close-knit community”.

I hear that Mastodon is really insecure though?

This is just tech nerds gatekeeping. Of course you should think about who runs your server and what they can do with your data, but the same has been true of email since inception. Are you more concerned about Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk having full control over all of your social media data; or a couple of kiwis running your Mastodon server?

Is Mastodon the new Twitter?

Mastodon feels like the old Twitter. Without celebrities and slick profiles controlled by social media departments, it brings back that feeling of a proper Third Place, ticking the boxes as a playful, neutral place where conversation is the main activity. It’s more human-scale, and a reminder that maybe allowing everyone to say anything on a single platform isn’t the right solution.

Mastodon is the way the web was and probably always should be: infinitely distributed but deeply connected. Maybe next weekend we’ll all be back on Twitter, but at least for one glorious weekend we could see another viable option.

Keep going!