Why Users Flocked To Mastodon After Elon Musk’s Twitter Takeover

With Twitter in disarray since the world’s richest man took control of it last week, Mastodon, another privacy-focused, open-source site from Germany, has seen a flood of new users.

“The bird is free,” tweeted Tesla mogul Elon Musk when he completed his $44 billion (approx. Rs. 3,37,465 crore) purchase on Twitter. But many advocates of free speech reacted with dismay at the prospect of the world’s “city scene” being dominated by one person and began to look for other options.

For the most part, Mastodon looks like Twitter, with hashtags, back-and-forth posts and tech banter jostling for space with cat pictures.

But while Twitter and Facebook are controlled by one authority – the company – Mastodon is installed on thousands of computer servers, mainly run by volunteer managers who join their programs together in a consortium.

People exchange posts and links with others on their server—or Mastodon “instance”—and, almost as easily, with users on other servers throughout the growing network.

The fruit of six years of work by Eugen Rochko, a young German organizer, Mastodon was born out of his desire to create a public space that was beyond the scope of a single organization. That work is starting to bear fruit.

“We reached 1,028,362 monthly active users on the network today,” said Rochko – Mastodon’s version of Twitter – on Monday. “That’s very good.”

That is still small compared to its existing competitors. Twitter reported 238 million active users saw the ad as of the second quarter of 2022. Facebook said it had 1.98 billion active users as of the third quarter.

But the jump in Mastodon users in a few days is still surprising.

“I got more new followers on Mastodon last week than I have in five years,” wrote Ethan Zuckerman, a communications expert at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst last week.

Before Musk completed the acquisition of Twitter on October 27, Mastodon’s growth averaged 60-80 new users per hour, according to a widely cited account of Mastodon users. It showed 3,568 new registrations in one hour on Monday morning.

Rochko started Mastodon in 2017, when rumors circulated that PayPal founder and Musk ally Peter Thiel wanted to buy Twitter.

“A right-wing billionaire would buy a public utility that is not in the public domain,” Rochko told Reuters earlier this year. “It’s really important to have this global social network where you can learn what’s going on in the world and chat with your friends. Why is that controlled by one company?”

tots and situations

There is no shortage of other social networks that are ready to accept any Twitter output, from Bytedance’s Tiktok to Discord, a chat app that is now very popular beyond its original players.

Advocates of Mastodon say that its decentralized approach makes it very different: instead of going to the service provided by the Twitter center, every user can choose his own providers, or create his own instance of Mastodon, just as users can send e-mail from Gmail or employer-i provided account or use their own email server.

No single company or individual can impose their will on the entire system or shut down everything. If an extremist voice appears on its own server, advocates say, it would be easy enough for other servers to cut ties with it, leaving it to speak to its dwindling group of followers and users.

The integrated approach has its downsides: it’s harder to find people to follow in the frenzy of Mastodon than in the well-ordered town square that Twitter or Facebook can provide.

But its growing group of supporters say they are won over by the beauty of its buildings.

Rochko, whose Mastodon foundation operates on a crowd-funded budget combined with a small grant from the European Commission, has found a particularly receptive audience among privacy-conscious European regulators.

Germany’s data protection commissioner is running a campaign to get government agencies to shut down their Facebook pages, because, he says, there is no way to host a page there that complies with European privacy laws.

Authorities should move to the Mastodon federal government, he says. The European Commission also maintains a server for EU organizations to work on.

“No special information should be sent through a legally questionable platform,” said data commissioner Ulrich Kelber earlier this year.

Although Mastodon is busier than ever, it still has a few big names from politics and showbiz that have made Twitter an addictive online home for journalists in particular. Few know the comedian Jan Boehmermann – Germany’s answer to John Oliver – outside his country, but many names come up every day.

For Rochko, the only full-time employee of the project, who comes down to his home in a small town in eastern Germany for his EUR 2,400 (roughly Rs. 1,96,800) monthly salary, the work continues.

“Would you believe me if I told you that I’m very tired?” he admitted on Sunday.

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