Posted on 2024-01-04

Read Time: 4 minutes | 654 words

Active Choice in Federation

Mastodon is an odd place when you try to imagine it as a social media platform. It isn’t a social media platform. It is a whole bunch of platforms (some of which don’t even run Mastodon). My point here is not to go in to a discussion on Mastodon vs. ActivityPub, though. My point is that people, and I think sometimes even very savvy people, still conflate Mastodon with a social media platform. They should stop that.

The other thing about Mastodon (and really a whole lot of modern activism) is there is always a new enemy which is usually an iteration of the old enemy. This new enemy is now a new existential threat that must be fought at every turn and you are either all in or you are a tool of the enemy. In this case, it is Threads. Threads is a social media platform run by everyone’s second or third most hated CEO (depending on the day) Mark “I swear I am not a monster. Okay maybe I am a bit of a monster.” Zuckerberg. What is Threads doing? It is using ActivityPub.

That Threads is using ActivityPub isn’t the core problem, though. There are a ton of awful instances using ActivityPub and most Mastodon admins defederate from them. That is to say, they block them from sharing content or harassing their users. The awful sites go to their corner and the rest of the world goes about their business. The problem with Threads is that up until the massive growth spurt spawned by the collapse of Twitter, Mastodon had evolved as a sort of hive mind. While there was and continues to be way too much drama at the admin level (that is for another post), most of the admins had a sort of common ground from which they could federate and defederate. In that sense, Mastodon operated as a unified platform when it was never a unified platform.

As more people and servers connected, the hive mind that imagined a fediverse collapsed. This is the crux of what Leonora Tindall argued in her post, # The Fediverse is Already Dead from early last year. She lays out the argument and the solution incredibly well. It is just a shame that people don’t listen or don’t process.

I would argue the Fediverse was a always a bad idea and was always a doomed idea much in the same way that I have argued that treating centralized social media sites as anything more than an advertising platform was disastrous. Tindall is right, though. There is a way a forward. It requires changing how we think about federation. Instead of seeing federation as a default, admins should actively and consciously decide to federate.

Yes, I know this limits accessibility and reach. That is kind of the point. Maybe, and stay with me here, maybe the reach is the problem. Maybe allowing people to connect, hurt, and harass at-risk communities in the name of access was never a good idea. Don’t start with the global reach, start with the local server. Start by building your community. Then, if you want to share, federate in a controlled manner. Pick others who you can connect with - reach out and communicate and decide if federation is a good idea. Tindall calls this new structure a Social Archipelago. I think that works, but I again want to push the idea of keeping those connections limited.

At the moment, I follow less than 250 people on Mastodon. There are people I follow and that follow me that I would love to engage with, but I miss their posts even with 250 people. If there is one thing I have learned about the value of community it is that a community that is involved and active with one another is far superior to a community that is chatting to a wall. Build the former, forget the latter.

Author: Geoffrey Gimse

Tags: #fediverse  #mastodon  #internet_culture 

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