"there is always birdsong
breaking the quiet
letting us know
it's safe to rise again
– Tyler Pennock (via Vicki Ziegler)

Broken trust: goodbye Twitter, hello Mastodon!

I spent 15 years cultivating friendships and professional relationships on the social networking site formerly known as Twitter.

I had three accounts: a personal one, one for my film The Illusionists and another for my blog No Country for Young Women. Even though my follower count was modest (25,000 in total across the three), it was composed of highly influential people.

I loved how Twitter democratized access to interesting individuals and organizations that could then become part of your orbit: filmmakers, actors, journalists, activists, writers, politicians, social entrepreneurs and numerous non-profits were part of my "Twitter tribe".

My verified badge gave me visibility and credibility. I had articles written about me and my work in mainstream media. I was invited to exclusive conferences. I got really cool filming assignments because of my visibility on Twitter. I was even invited to show my film The Illusionists at Twitter's San Francisco headquarters, for a private screening to its employees. But more important of all: the causes I deeply cared about - gender equality and representation - were supported on there.

I felt seen, heard and valued on Twitter.

All that spectacularly imploded on October 28, 2022. That's the day Elon Musk officially took ownership of Twitter and began dismantling it from the inside. I watched in horror as many of my friends who were Twitter employees were abruptly fired. The platform took a sharp downward turn, into a toxic, moderation-free cesspool and my communities abandoned it.

I spent most of 2023 in a quiet state of shock. I couldn't believe that my favorite online hangout - which I had frequented daily for 14 years - was suddenly taken over by folks who enjoy bullying women and activists of my ilk. I felt like I lost my voice. And my visibility.

I said to myself: I will never again invest a single minute of my time in a private, closed-off social network that could end up like Twitter.

And guess what? There are already wonderful open alternatives to it. And I'm making it my mission to recruit friends to join me there.

Why do I so easily recall the day Elon Musk became the owner of Twitter? Because that's the day I signed up for the microblogging site Mastodon. I see the date every time I click on my profile page. It says "joined October 28, 2022."

The Future is Federated

Since the beginning of the year, whenever I'd meet a friend I had not seen in a while, our conversation would often end up in the same place.

Friend: "What are you up to?"
Me: "This year I'm going all in on the Fediverse. Starting with Mastodon."

Long silence. Puzzled look by my friend - looking at me as if I had been speaking a foreign language.

Me: “Do you know what I’m talking about? Have you ever heard of Mastodon? Or the Fediverse?"
Friend: "No. What are they?


And so I would launch into a very convoluted explanation about what they are. The conversation - happening offline, with nothing to show - would eventually lose steam… and we would then move to another topic.

Thing is: I strongly believe the future of the internet and of social media is away from the walled gardens and the closed silos of for-profit networks like X, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.

Now is the time to take back our power, fully own our data and our followers, and engage in conversations with other people over common interests - without fear of our posts being exploited for advertising purposes or to train AI models.

Are you tired of algorithmic feeds that show you posts by people you don’t even follow? Or that show you an ad every three posts? Do you long for the early days of social networking sites and their chronological feeds? Do you want the freedom to take your followers with you, in case a network you use takes a turn for the worse?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the Fediverse and Mastodon are for you.

This is the first issue of a new blog/newsletter called “The Future is Federated” that has a few simple goals:

  • to introduce “regular people” to the Fediverse, starting with Mastodon
  • to provide guidance about how to sign up for and use various services
  • to curate collections of interesting accounts to follow

To sign up for future blogs from The Future is Federated, I recommend you manage your subscription preferences when you log into my Ghost blog (if you're already a subscriber to one of my newsletters. Otherwise subscribe here and make sure "The Future Is Federated" is turned on):

My future posts about the Fediverse will be collected on a special page: The Future is Federated.

The Fediverse: A Galaxy of “Ethical” Social Networks

So what is the Fediverse? It’s basically a galaxy of social networking services that can communicate with each other using a common protocol.

Here is a short video that (adorably) explains these concepts:

Communicate with Other Networks… AND take your followers with you

Afraid of a chaotic, sociopathic billionaire taking over your favorite social network and destroying it from the inside out - making you lose important connections you built over 15 years? This could never happen on the Fediverse or on Mastodon. Assuming a bad actor takes ownership of your favorite instance, you could simply start a new account on a different instance and take all your followers with you:

Mastodon settings - which allow you to move over your account and keep all your followers

My First Steps in the Fediverse: micro-blogging site Mastodon

The Fediverse service I use daily is Mastodon… so my guide to the Fediverse will mostly focus on this micro-blogging site at the beginning.

How is it superior to X (formerly Twitter) and Meta’s Threads?

Some features that stand out:

  • a chronological feed devoid of algorithmic shenanigans - in short, if you follow an account, you'll see all the account's posts in chronological order
  • no advertising: your feed, with chronological messages of accounts you follow, with ZERO ads peppered in
  • no shadow banning of political content - unlike Threads, which openly hides it (more info on this)
  • no data mining by Mastodon to train AI models (unlike Threads, X, TikTok, Instagram, Reddit and other Big Tech apps)
  • forever free identity verification for everyone with a few lines of code
  • superb apps for your phone: Ivory and IceCubes for iOS, the Mastodon official app and Tusky for Android (I use them daily and can vouch for them)
  • a BRILLIANT platform for desktop called Phanpy that has phenomenal features like “catch-up” and “top links”
  • lists to organize accounts you follow (unlike Threads & Instagram)
  • multiple hashtag support

The Fediverse & Mastodon Have a Marketing Problem

I could write a 10,000 word dissertation about all the fantastic features and the advantages of the Fediverse and Mastodon over popular (and exploitative) for-profit social networking sites.

It's important to immediately address the elephant in the room. You may ask yourself: "if such wonderful social networking tools exist, how come I have not heard of them? And they're not very popular?"

The day Elon Musk became the official owner of Twitter in late October 2022, scores of worried users turned their attention to Mastodon - which, on paper, seemed like a natural successor to Twitter. But a narrative soon took hold: that it was too complex to set up and difficult to use. Why? Because users during the sign-up process were asked to pick an “instance” to post from. Justin Hanagan brilliantly described this issue in his post “An EXTREMELY Simple Guide to Mastodon”.

The aura of technical complexity – pure fiction, if you ask me – stuck. And many people unfortunately stopped posting on Mastodon; they either returned to posting to the dead bird site (that’s how I call X “formerly Twitter”), they stopped using text-based social media apps or they drifted towards Threads in July 2023 - you know, the platform owned by Meta, which is famous for its voracious appetite for personal data to be used for programmatic advertising (and AI training now).

My Wish: a more diverse Fediverse

I could go on and on about all the things I love about the Fediverse.

If you were to ask me about some “negative” aspects of it, only one would come to mind – which is not related to the Fediverse itself, but rather, its demographics.

As much as I love Mastodon and the Fediverse, I am a little bit sad that I don’t have my original online communities on there, namely: womxn, creatives and activists from around the world.

Most of the people I see posting regularly on Mastodon (apologies for the broad generalization) are techies… mostly white and male. There’s nothing wrong with this and I’m enjoying the posts of the community, but I would like it a lot more if it were more diverse: with more womxn, people of color, and with people outside the world of tech. You know, if it reflected the real world.

This is why I’m starting this blog/newsletter The Future is Federated. Next time I’ll have a conversation about the Fediverse or Mastodon with a friend who is not familiar with it, I could say: “I'll send you a link about it. Start there.”

If I piqued your interest with Mastodon, you can sign up for an account here
and you can find me and say hi here: https://mastodon.social/@_elena

Some interesting Mastodon accounts to follow, to quickly populate your feed:

The Next Steps

In the coming days/weeks, I plan on sharing hands-on guides about Mastodon and the Fediverse... and to suggest interesting and diverse accounts across various fields, so that if you are a newbie on here, you can quickly populate your feed.

I wasn't planning to write such a long first post. So if you made it all the way here, thank you! I'm eager to hear your feedback and suggestions – and please share this (especially with people who are not on Mastodon) if this post resonated with you.

Onwards and upwards!


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Watch the teaser of The Illusionists on Vimeo

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Last Update: June 14, 2024