Mastodon 101 for Journalists

with Lisa Williams
Slides and Additional Resources
This slide deck can always be found at:

I will be distributing a tipsheet along with links to resources after this talk.

What is Mastodon?

  • Mastodon is a decentralized, federated social network.
  • Anyone can set up a Mastodon server.
  • But you can talk to people who are not on your own server.
  • How many people are on Mastodon?

    About 7 million.
    That's tiny compared to Twitter (237 million), YouTube (2.6 billion) or Facebook (2.9 billion).
    Note: Numbers gathered in Nov. 2022.

    There seem to be a lot of alternative social networks out there right now.

    True: right now the most commonly mentioned ones are Post, Cohost, and Hive.

    What is the fediverse?

    The fediverse is more than just Mastodon.
    Mastodon is just one type of software; but there are many others including PeerTube (think federated YouTube) or Pixelfed (think decentralized Flickr or Instagram).

    Regardless of what an individual server is running, they share communication protocols like ActivityPub that let them interact across servers.

    What should I know about setting up an account?

    How should I choose a server?
    searchable list of servers
    Is there a benefit to being on a large server vs. a small server?
    Can I change servers?
    What is defederation?
    Should we set up our own server?
    Can I migrate my Twitter followers/follows?
    There are a few services: debirdify and fedifinder.
    I recommend signing up and exploring, adding people manually for a bit before trying migration services.
    How do I verify my account?

    What should I know about using Mastodon?

    You get 500 characters!
    and on some servers it's even more
    You can EDIT POSTS.
    There's no algorithm, by design (for now)
    There's no full-text search, by design (for now)
    Use image descriptions.
    No, really, use image descriptions.
    I'm really serious, guys, use image descriptions
    Use hashtags (wisely).
    Your home feed, your local feed, your federated feed
    show example
    Post privacy options
  • Public
  • Unlisted
  • Followers only
  • Mentioned people only
  • DMs
  • None of these, including DMs, are truly private. Use an encrypted chat application for privacy.
  • Where can I find journalists on Mastodon?
    Here's one of several lists online.
    Where can I find electeds?
    Here's a partial list of Boston-area electeds to get you started. Here's a list of members of congress that are on Mastodon so far.

    Mastodon culture(s)

    A look at one instance:
    Who do they accept? What are the rules around posting? Which servers has this instance defederated from? Who is the moderation team?
    Use of CWs
    Many people came here because they were not happy with their experience on Twitter. Mastodon is not Twitter.
    Mastodon slang

    the birdsite
    Space Karen
    Where can I find out more about Mastodon?
    Currently writing tipsheet which will be linked here

    What people who are on Mastodon now want you to know

    "I hope to see more Boston news...if folks agree on a hashtag, and use it, that would help!"
    "That [Mastodon] is not another monolithic for profit business and does not work at all like Twitter."
    "sometimes people dont want journos snooping our personal lives & they need to be ok with that. Minorities here get burned by journos and so dont care to speak, scraping data without user consent further breeches that trust
    Like theres a real online paparazzi feelng & most of us old tired weird queers n jews n such would rather not have to be a part of their "journalistic curiousity"
    Idk i think hammering home consent is prob a good key point"
    "A lot of other people will talk about the technical aspects of how to get started and whatnont, but I'm going to take a different bent with this one. The emotional one.
    Something I'd personally want to impart to a roomful of #journalists who are coming into the Fediverse for the first time and being asked to cover it, is to take a second to get your bearings first as a human being.
    Recognize that you may, on a personal level, be feeling a sense grief and loss around the situation that's happening at Twitter because it's both an online community that you were likely a part of and it was a tool that enabled you to connect with the people you needed to talk to to do your job. It's a completely normal reaction to be sad and angry about that.
    I think it's important that journalists take some moments to recognize and reflect that they could bring bias to the table because of their own grief. -
    When I asked "what do you want journalists to know about you and about this platform?" they had a lot to say, and they are still talking. See their responses here.

    Thank you

    Find GBH News on Mastodon

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