What if it's possible to have a social network that's decentralized
rather than controlled by a big tech company? What if you could take
control, own your data, and escape from the surveillance capitalism
hellscape? We'll explore how software like Mastodon, Pleroma, and
others work together to make that happen.
Social media in 2020 is part of nearly everyone's life.
Ask (show of hands) how many people have an account on Twitter, on Facebook
"If you're not paying, you're not the customer, you're the product"
Almost trite nowadays, but still very true.
In an attention economy, these systems feed on eyeballs.
The algorithms behind these systems decide what you see.
these algorithms are designed to maximize engagement.
feedback loop measures what is most effective at engaging, and increases that.
Have you ever gone on a youtube binge to follow the trail of recommendations?
ever noticed how the further you go on that, the more outrageous your
youtube's machine learning systems understand that outrage is "sticky"
clickbait rules everything
recommendation engines don't work in your best interest
it's not what you'd be most interested in or benefit most from
they serve the platform and only care about optimizing platform numbers
but clickbait is only half the story; we also have to talk about data collection
Facebook is all about building up a detailed profile of who you are as
a person; what interests do you have, how do you identify, what do you click?
they sell this data to advertisers (hopefully this isn't news to anyone)
but advertising is essentially an attempt to change the way you think
sometimes that's trying to convince you to choose one brand over another
sometimes that's undermining the foundation of democracy
and everything in between
that control over what you're exposed to impacts how you think and act
no one would spend money on ads if they thought they couldn't
influence peoples behavior
up until a few months ago, facebook had a policy that banned ads which
made false claims. they recently changed this to exempt political ads.
of all the cases where it's important to ban false claims, this is the
most important of all, and they just stopped doing it.
do you think they have your best interest in mind?
social networks don't have to be under the control of tech companies.
we had people socializing on the internet before internet megacorps existed.
and people will keep networking long after Facebook is history.
but the one I want to talk about today is called the Fediverse:
A network of servers running a variety of different software to allow
interoperability and sharing data.
the Fediverse is like the web in a lot of ways:
* defined based on protocols that anyone is free to implement
* anyone can put up a server, no gatekeeping
* no one can say exactly how big it is
* no company controls its development direction
incomplete stats place the number of users at around 4.5 million.
the fediverse attracts people who like decentralization, free software
and tinkering with technology. it also has seen a lot of growth from
people fleeing twitter when they've failed to enforce anti-harassment
policies, particularly lgbt+ folk.
the fediverse existed before Mastodon, but Mastodon put it on the map;
it was the first to have the user interface really nailed.
Pleroma is another newer project that's a little less polished but
much easier to set up and administer.
Mastodon and Pleroma give you a twitter-like experience, but there's
nothing inherent in the Fediverse that says it has to be that way.
other servers include:
... and a bunch more less-established ones
If you want an account, you can find a server and sign up.
How do you decide on a server?
don't just sign up for mastodon.social! (no one goes there; it's too crowded)
some servers are themed
some have different rules; no nazis, anti-harassment policies, etc
can help you pick one
A lot is the same as twitter:
* post, fave, boost, attach images
* polls, lists
* default UI for mastodon can switch to multi-column, can work on mobile
* mobile: tusky is great on android, mast/amaroq for ios?
* pinafore.social is my favorite
* brutaldon is neat (pure HTML, no JS; works in lynx)
* CLI clients
* home vs local timeline vs federated
* content warnings: not always NSFW
* events (wwdc/e3)
* sensitive media (orthogonal to CW)
* privacy settings
* post length limits are determined by server (at least 500)
* find a few people who look interesting and see who they're talking to.
* check out the local timeline, if your server is medium/big
in the long run, which server you pick will matter very little other
unless you land somewhere that's very unstable or has bad moderation
policies. but when you're first getting started, it's easier to build
a follow list on a bigger server, or one that has more overlap with
it took me about six months of logging in every so often, poking
around, and not seeing enough to make it stick before I finally
gathered enough follows to make my usage interesting. (but that was
if you end up picking a server that isn't a great fit, that's OK!
* you can export your posts and follow lists
* you can set up a redirect so your followers will get sent to the new account
this is relatively new! some straggler followers might not get the message
but it's a huge improvement over how it was
ActivityPub is the protocol that ties everything together.
The spec is a little dry and hard to read; this guide is helpful
essentially it defines a vocabulary for actors with inboxes and outboxes
that can publish and subscribe to each other
But the ActivityPub standard is only used to communicate between servers.
Clients almost all use Mastodon's own client/server API; standard
The Masto API is pretty approachable; I built a bot in about 50 lines:
I started my own a few months ago, running Pleroma on a Raspberry Pi.
it works great, as long as you don't try to run postgres on an sd card.
I started playing with my Pleroma instance and noticed that you
couldn't view permalinks without loading up the whole pleroma-fe JS app
this takes like 8 seconds! and it's dumb.
so I put together a patch to generate HTML for it server-side
[basically just say the stuff from my blog post]
* if you need end-to-end encryption, use Signal or Wire
* you have to trust your admin (which should be a lot easier than
* sometimes admins get burned out
* gab, spinster
* usually people who were so bad twitter actually kicked them off
* it takes a lot to get twitter to kick you off for white supremacy
* NAT is THE WORST
* Dynamic DNS is a pain
* be sure to install fail2ban and stuff
* all these problems are problems we already have with social media
* but at least now we have a shot at fixing them