How to Move to Mastodon

Social media today has gotten totally out of hand. I’m trying to simplify my online presence and focus on one platform. I’m going to try to convince you to join me on Mastodon.

The Social Media Catch-22

As someone who needs to maintain a public profile, I struggle with defining my presence on social media. On one hand, most social media is horrible for privacy (and frankly for society). Twitter/X, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok show you less and less of what you asked to see and more of what someone paid them money to show you. To present you with the “most relevant” ads and sponsored content, these social media companies mercilessly track your web browsing and even what you do in the real world. And to keep you on their site longer to see more ads, they use clever algorithms designed to keep you “engaged”. It’s a vicious cycle.

And yet, these services remain wildly popular. And so, in order to reach more people, I sucked it up and created accounts on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. I may even create accounts on TikTok and Instagram some day, if for no other reason than to plant my flag. However, after years of hemming and hawing, I’ve decided that I want to try to focus my efforts on a more privacy-respecting alternative – and I want to bring you with me.

Why Mastodon

There are actually several interesting options for private social media and online communities, such as Friendica, Diaspora, Lemmy, Pixelfed and more. Many of them are based on a decentralized, open communication standard called ActivityPub, collectively know as The Fediverse. The idea is that these various services can actually interoperate, so you can choose whichever one you’d like. It’s like email – people on Gmail can send mail to people on Outlook or Yahoo or AOL without having to think about it. It just works. But in reality, not all apps in the Fediverse work the same way and interoperability can be flaky. And to make matters worse, there are actually competing open standards that have their own pros and cons, such as Matrix. It’s a bit of a mess. A glorious, decentralized, open and free mess – but nevertheless a mess.

But as of right now – May 31, 2024 – I’m going to focus on one: Mastodon. Basically, it’s a Twitter clone that’s not owned by any one company. It’s a decentralized network of “instances” that work together. Each instance has the same technical capabilities and can interact with any other Mastodon instance, but can also have their own community standards. In fact, the hardest part of moving to Mastodon is choosing which instance to call home. But the beauty of Mastodon is that you can follow or be followed by people “homed” on other instances.

Join Me on Mastodon

So here’s the bottom line: I’d like to encourage you all to join me Mastodon. I have a few reasons…

First, I use social media to disseminate important information. This includes notices about important software updates, malware and phishing campaigns, data breaches, and so on. My podcast only comes out weekly and my blog/newsletter is every two weeks. Many security incidents require a quick response. While I currently post these notices to Mastodon, Twitter and Facebook, for a variety of reasons (some of which I’ve mentioned here) I’m planning to consolidate my most important posting to Mastodon.

Second, Mastodon is a solid service with excellent features and without the addictive engagement algorithms and sponsored content. You only see content from people you follow – the way social media was supposed to be. It’s a real breath of fresh air. If you’re a Twitter, Bluesky or Threads user in particular, you really need to check out Mastodon.

Finally, we need to vote with our feet (virtually). To manifest a better online world, we need to demonstrate our desire for open, privacy-respecting services including our willingness to abandon those that don’t serve us well. If legacy platforms start losing subscribers, they’ll have to adapt to market demands or perish. (If you haven’t yet learned Cory Doctorow’s theory of ensh*tification, you absolutely should: blog or video.)

Getting on Mastodon

It’s free and easy to get on Mastodon. I’ll give you the quick and dirty tutorial, but you can also check out others here or here.

  1. Pick your Mastodon instance. This can be a rabbit hole. This tool can help. But if you want to hit the easy button, choose the mastodon.social instance (sign up here). Here’s the important thing: you can change your instance later and migrate your posts, followers, and just about everything else.
  2. Create your account. Read the rules and accept them.
  3. Set up your profile. I would set up two-factor auth, too.
  4. Follow some people. Search for people to follow. They may be on other Mastodon instances and that’s fine – it will work. You just have to find their handles. If they’re on a different instance, you just add the instance name to the handle – which will be offered automatically when you find them in the search bar. My handle is @FirewallDragons@mastodon.social (or just @FirewallDragons if you’re already on mastodon.social).

That’s it!

You can obviously post stuff, too, but you don’t have to – you can just read other people’s posts. And for the record, on Mastodon posts are called “toots” – the equivalent of tweets on Twitter, or whatever X calls them now.

My plan is to start winding down my posting on Twitter and Facebook. I’ll keep the accounts, but I’ll post a lot less. If you like the videos of the podcast that I post on Facebook, you will still find them on YouTube, at least for now. I’m still trying to find a decent alternative for YouTube. The options I’ve evaluated so far each have downsides that make the choice difficult. Stay tuned.

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