It’s time to leave Facebook for Mastodon

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

Evil bourgeois capitalist pig-birds of a feather flock together

With the recent not-surprising-at-all revelation that Facebook leaked data from millions of accounts to fascists, a lot of people have been rattled into searching for alternative social media platforms.

Of course, as a leftist, I was not surprised at all to learn that an international megacorporation was willing to sell my data to the highest bidder (or any bidder at all, really).

Hell, my day job is in digital marketing so I’ve spent the last decade trafficking in your info and guiding you to click on things. I’ve been well aware, since the early days, just how creepily easy it is to access and leverage your most intimate information via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other corporate social manipula… er, I mean, social media platforms.

Facebook Has Always Sucked

I’ve never been comfortable in the slightest with Facebook. I don’t like the way capitalist entities have complete control over the most important communication systems in human history. I don’t like the way the government has backdoors into these corporate platforms and I don’t like the hazy, shady ways these companies buy and sell and program our data, our identities, and our behavior.

Facebook has employed some of the most intelligent people on the planet to steer our thoughts, to influence our decisions, to make us spend more time online and more money on things we don’t need. There is no defense for this company and, really, there’s no great excuse for using the platform except for the fact that everyone else is using the platform.

Three Things that Bind Me

My Dirty Desktop

This is what my desktop looks like when it’s relatively tidy…

For me, personally, there are three major reasons I haven’t ditched Facebook:

  1. It’s my job to use Facebook. I have to use Facebook for my clients and to promote my personal content.
  2. I have a lot of memories on Facebook. I’m talking about nearly a decade and a half of photographs and updates that tell the story of my entire adult life. As a bit of a digital hoarder, it really bothers me to think of losing all of this data.
  3. I live abroad. If it weren’t for Facebook there are a lot of really good friends I would quite simply lose touch with.

Point 1 might just have me chained to Facebook for life, but there are solutions to points 2 and 3. It turns out it’s not really that difficult to export your Facebook data through Facebook itself. As for keeping in touch with your friends? All we have to do is migrate en masse to another social media platform! Then we can all stay budz!

Sounds easier said than done, right?

How do you eat an elephant?

Google, Facebook, Twitter logos

Pick your poison?

The answer, of course, is one bite at a time. The first step to launching our Social Media Exodus is finding our Holy Land. So the first and most important question is, where the hell are we going to go?

First, let’s eliminate some obvious choices like Twitter, LinkedIn, and SnapChat.

Set aside the surface-level flaws: that Twitter is filled with Nazis and robots, that SnapChat is configured with special technology that renders my 34 year old brain incapable of figuring out how the hell it works, and that LinkedIn is just a weird bland bourgie moonscape for people to pat each other on the back and throw job applications into digital black holes. What’s worse is that all of these platforms are also owned and operated by giant corporations that are going to pack up and sell off your data at the first whiff of click-cash.

So what about non-profit alternatives?

Ello and Goodbye

Ello Logo

I really wanted to like you, Ello. I really did.

I had high hopes a few years ago when Ello came out. It was started up by a Public Benefit Corproation that promised to be good stewards of our data. It was built with a lot of technology that would make privacy more robust.

There was a lot of buzz about Ello when it first came out and I got pretty excited. I tried to be an early adopter and planned to move there along with a few of my friends to start a little colony, but we just could not buy into it. The user experience was just god-awful! I could barely even figure out how to add any friends. It was clear that this would not be the Facebook killer we wanted it to be. Today Ello brands itself as a content creator network and has some neat little features but it’s still not super fun to use and it’s definitely not something that’s going to be winning any popularity contests any time soon.

Perhaps Ello’s failure was a good thing, however, because a new platform has since emerged that seems to be a perfect destination for our mass exeunt from Facebook.

Enter Mastodon

Mastodon is a federated social network. That means there is no one single entity that is in complete control of Mastodon. Instead, Mastodon is composed of a large number of “instances,” which are basically just servers, that are all linked together. The basic idea is you join one instance and you can subscribe to people on your instance and to people in other instances. This develops into a large network of different communities all linked together into a huge distributed network of social connections.

This gives you a lot of freedom over your data and over your communities. You can join a community that lines up with your worldview with a moderation team that will screen out the kind of content you really don’t want to see. For instance, there are several anarchist, communist, feminist, and other such leftist instances which block Nazis and other such trolls from users.

The best thing about Mastodon, in my opinion, is the user experience. It’s set up by default like a really great version of Tweetdeck, and the community is actually real-time and not filtered with corporate ad-based algorithms that you get on Twitter and Facebook. This leads to genuine and organic interactions with other actual human beings.

Within a minute or two of my first Toot (that’s what they call a post) I was having a bit of a chat with some folks. It was refreshing and made the internet feel like a homey, personal space in a way I haven’t experienced in years and years. It felt kind of like logging into an IRC #channel circa 1997, which is a really cool and good thing.

Still a Bit Wooly

Mastodon User Interface

Dat UX, though!

Mastodon is not perfect. In fact, its biggest weaknesses come from its core strength. The federated nature of Mastodon means that you are very much at the mercy of the moderators of whichever instance you choose.

To begin with, setting up and running an instance costs money, because you have to have a web server to host it on. It’s entirely possible that you might choose a small and obscure instance and the mod team might run out of funds or get distracted or, yaknow, die or whatever. Then your account will get nuked along with the rest of the accounts on that instance.

On the other hand, the mod team may make decisions you disagree with and ban other popular instances, effectively wiping out swathes of followers from being able to access your content. It makes it a little nerve-racking choosing an instance. Here’s a blog that goes into this issue in much more detail (and with a lot more dour pessimism).

Fortunately, it seems like these issues are being addressed and I am confident that they will be addressed moving forward. There is already a limited redirect feature and I believe that as long as the community survives long and strong enough, these issues can and will be dealt with.

Be there in an Instance

Mastodon Instances Chart

Mastodon.social has more than twice the user base of the second most popular instance

So, how do you choose an instance? Well, my first rule of thumb would be to find an instance that aligns with your worldview, at least to a minimal extent. There are some instances that are all about “free speech” and would allow you to share any wretched memes you can scrape from the bottom of 4chan, and then there are other instances that are more specifically leftist in nature which you might end up preferring if you want to interact with some like-minded folks right off the bat and avoid alt-right trolls and the like.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed you can even use this handy instances selection tool if you want to go off the beaten track a bit.

All that being said, for the time being I would suggest that you join the biggest and most vanilla instance made by the core dev team at mastodon.social. This goes counter to the idea of building a federated network but I personally have confidence that they will eventually sort out the portability of identities and accounts and after that we can all get more loosey goosey about the instances we select. In the meantime I prefer the robustness and crowd-size that comes with going stock.

Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Facebook”

Just try not to get dysentery along the way!

So, that’s pretty much it! Time to start hitchin’ up the cyberwagons and moseyin’ on down the ol’ Mastodon Trail. You can follow me at @[email protected] — hope to see ya there soon!

Happy Tootin’, comrades!

Ready to migrate to Mastodon? Click here to join the most popular instance!

IMPORTANT UPDATE:
I’ve spent some time with Mastodon and learned a lot of important and valuable lessons for getting started. Please check my quick-start guide here to make sure you enjoy your first steps into the Mastodon Federation! Click here to go to the guide.

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