Tag Archives: social media

Here Comes Everybody

So literally the day after blogging about being off Twitter and #WhyIStayOnMastodon, a big crowd of Australian left twitter, including most of my mutuals, showed up in the Fediverse. So much for my plan to ease off the compulsive Mastodon checking.

This isn’t the first wave of birdsite refugees to hit Mastodon and it won’t be the last, although there are signs that we’ve reached some sort of threshold where the new arrivals start finding enough to talk about that they stick around. But I thought I should post a few things about what I’ve noticed about the place, and how it is, and isn’t, like Twitter.

It’s not just Mastodon. There are different types of software in the federated social media sphere which can federating with one another using the OStatus and ActivityPub protocols, one of which was developed for GNU Social, which came first. There’s also Pleroma, which is younger than Mastodon. And there’s drama.

There’s also drama within Mastodon, most interestingly about how the project is governed. This is normal and healthy, and how free software should work.

There’s no one Fediverse. This has always been true of Twitter, which is what phrases like “X Twitter” imply: different slices of the thing have their own cultures. It’s even more true in the fediverse, where each instance has its own moderation policy, and (sometimes) its own topical focus and (more rarely) custom software modifications, as in oulipo.social, which rejects all posts containing the letter ‘e’, or its anti-instance, dolphin.town. Mastodon’s culture of strong local moderation and content warnings — and its reputation as a safe haven for furries, people of colour and queer and trans folk who were fed up with Twitter’s miserable efforts at countering abuse — can give the impression that it’s trying to be one big earnest safe space: as can the anti-Nazi policies which most instances, particularly the ones in EU jurisdictions, are happy to enforce. But some instances are, or have been, a lot more 4chan-like. Any fediverse server is free to block federation from any other, and in late 2017 and early 2018 there seemed to be some kind of instance block war going on, although I wasn’t paying too much attention to it. I think it reached some sort of equilibrium, but a mass influx of shitposters from political Twitter is just the sort of thing which could fire things up again. Conflict of this sort is inherent in the federated model, and there’s no telling what will happen if things are really snowballing.

Actually, content warnings are good. If I were asked to sum up the difference in ethos between Mastodon and other services I’ve used, I’d say that it tries to give you the most explicit control about what you let people see, on the most granular level. That’s why the privacy settings for individual posts can seem over-the-top, but actually make sense, and it’s why content warnings are a really good way to communicate to your readers what a post contains or is trying to do. Spoiler alert: it’s about letting people not read your post if it’s not relevant to them or would harm them, or give them spoilers. And when used properly, they can add the crucial dimension of timing to a good shitpost. (Apparently, Pleroma calls them ‘subjects’, so I guess someone was triggered by the term ‘content warning’).

Irony still works here. As do the usual range of shitposting strategies. (People were trying to get ‘pooptooting’ happening, but it never took off.) I’ve seem people say things like “will there be weird Mastodon like there was weird Twitter”, as if the whole lifecycle of the platform will recapitulate itself, but social media is Heraclitus’ river where the water is made of terrible memes and references to 90s culture, and you can’t step into it twice, nor would you necessarily want to. But Mastodon has been evolving its own vocabulary of in-jokes, because it’s full of clowns like you and me.

Earnestness works too. It still feels like it’s at the stage where you can make connections with people about shared interests, and the communities haven’t gotten too hidebound. It’s still absurdly friendly, if you’re used to Twitter. It can also be really long-winded and obsessive.

It has its problems. It’s still got too many straight white blokes who work with computers on it, and if anything, the recent Twitter influx seems to be making that worse. I don’t know what we can do about that other than to follow, pay attention to and boost other voices as much as possible.

Oh, and retweets are boosts now, which is what they always were. I’ve always thought that the best Twitter filter would be to block everyone who has a ‘RT ≠ endorsement’ disclaimer in their bio, and Mastodon has made it explicit: if you spread something around, you’re helping it, whether you like it or not.

If you give it a go, my primary Mastodon account is @mikelynch@icosahedron.website

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Various compulsions

I’ve taken Twitter breaks before, from a week to a month in length, because it messes with my head: it’s like I have a little cloud of arguments and jokes following me around, and I’m always distracted, either by anger or by the ever-present urge to turn a situation or a stray thought into a sentence which can get me some dopamine. My current break is the longest I’ve had, and I did it for a slightly different reason.

Once I’ve started checking Twitter in a given twenty-four hour period, I can’t let go of it. I’ll keep checking it at short intervals, unless interrupted by something which forces me to focus my attention elsewhere, like driving or eating. This year, my compulsive urge to check it became dramatically worse, and I tried to stay off it until after 5pm. This seemed to be going OK, until I noticed that every afternoon at 4:30 or so I’d get a massive knot in my stomach. It was the first time I’d ever had Twitter make me anxious before I’d even read it, so I decided to give it a rest for a while, and then the while turned into a couple of months.

I still miss it and one of the things on my to-do list is to prune my follow list back to under a hundred people, or maybe just start a new account and follow back anyone who cares enough to follow me, but neither of these things is very high up my to-do list. Which is annoying: over the years Twitter has provided me with a form of social connection which has been really important to me, and I’m not very good at making connections in more traditional ways, so it’s left me feeling a bit isolated.

What’s also annoying is that the compulsiveness itself hasn’t gone away, it seems to have displaced itself into other behaviours which honestly aren’t much better than Twitter:

Hatereading rationalist blogs. I’ve been unhealthily fascinated with places like LessWrong since I first found out about them, and a few months ago I actually added Slate Star Codex to my RSS reader. These people write so much that following what’s going on at all requires way more effort than it would be worth even if they were any good. But they’re not. I still want someone to do a “Serial” style podcast about a group of American psychiatric outpatients who slowly discover that their doctor is running an incredibly earnest and verbose blog in which he tries to reverse-engineer every form of human activity in order to solve the world and prevent a harmful AI from eating our brains.

Compulsively checking the output of my Twitter bots. Yes, I know that this is a bit sad, but I’m sure I can’t be the only botteur who does it.

Trying to keep up with the Trump megathreads on Metafilter, which is like trying to keep up with a screaming mob. Even if you agree with them, it’s not advisable.

Checking Mastodon. This seems healthier than Twitter, or, at least, it doesn’t wind me up as much. But it’s less worthwhile as a source of social connection. It might improve: I remember a while in 2009 or so when Twitter seemed a bit pointless, and then for some reason, some threshold in my corner of the social graph was passed and it seemed to take off. Mastodon, or my slice of it, has better politics but too many people complaining about how software and computers are terrible and we should burn them down and start again.

Reading Wikipedia articles. I was one of those kids who read an entire encyclopaedia (the World Book) just because it was comforting and full of facts, although I got an aversion to several letters because their volumes contained articles which were not comforting at all: D for Disease, H for Heart (disease). Looking up obscure topics in astrophysics or biology and reading through thousands of words of the output of the internet’s Bouvards and Pécuchets is not something of which I’m proud, but it’s better, again, than reading Scott Alexander.

I’ve started using a site blocker to keep me off the worst of these places altogether and restrict my access to the less bad ones. I’m hoping to get some compulsive behaviours going which are constructive, like posting things here, and drawing again, and writing more stories.

Antisocial August

I’m spending August off Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, with a few exceptions – I’ll still be posting deepdreams stuff to last-visible-dog, and I might start a new series on @FSVO.

And I’ll probably show off about the City to Surf next weekend.

If you need to get in touch, there’s email, or comment here – I’ll still be blogging.