In the week since Elon Musk took over Twitter, the number of people signing up for a small social network called Mastodon has surged.
You may not have heard of Mastodon, which has been around since 2016, but now it’s growing rapidly. Some are fleeing Twitter for it or at least seeking out a second place to post their thoughts online as the much more well-known social network faces layoffs, controversial product changes, an expected shift in its approach to content moderation and a jump in hateful rhetoric.
There may be no clear alternative to Twitter, a uniquely influential platform that is fast-moving, text-heavy, conversational and news-oriented. But Mastodon scratches a certain itch. The service has a similar look to Twitter, with a timeline of short updates sorted chronologically rather than algorithmically. It lets users join a slew of different servers run by various groups and individuals, rather than one central platform controlled by a single company like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.
Unlike larger social networks, Mastodon is both free to use and free of ads. It’s developed by a nonprofit run by Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko, and is supported via crowdfunding.
Rochko said in an interview Thursday that Mastodon gained 230,000 users since October 27, when Musk took control of Twitter. It now has 655,000 active users each month, he said. Twitter reported in July that it had nearly 238 million daily active monetizable users.
“It is not as large as Twitter, obviously, but it is the biggest that this network has ever been,” said Rochko, who originally created Mastodon as more of a project than a consumer product (and, yes, its name was inspired by the heavy metal band Mastodon).
Mastodon’s new sign-ups include some Twitter users with big followings, such as actor and comedian Kathy Griffin, who joined in early November, and journalist Molly Jong-Fast, who joined in late October.
Sarah T. Roberts, an associate professor at UCLA and faculty director of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, started using Mastodon in earnest on October 30, just after Musk took over Twitter. (She had created another account years ago, she said, but didn’t really get into it until recently because of the popularity of Twitter among people in academia.)
Roberts, who worked at Twitter as a staff researcher earlier this year while taking a leave from UCLA, said she was inspired to start using Mastodon due to concerns about how Twitter’s content moderation may change under Musk’s control. She suspects some newcomers are simply sick of social media companies that capture lots of user data and are driven by advertising.
And she pointed out that Twitter users may migrate to Mastodon in particular because its user experience is pretty similar to Twitter’s. A lot of Mastodon’s features and layout (particularly in its iOS app) will look and feel familiar to current Twitter…
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