I am currently working on a full relaunch of this newsletter. Today’s post was definitely not part of my plans. But with the Musk takeover of Twitter turning the bird app into a hellish nightmare, it felt I could give a hand with this Mastodon crash course.
Mastodon has proven a safe harbor for many of us who fear that the future of Twitter is deeply compromised, and the more people join Mastodon, the better for the health of the future economics discourse!
Mastodon is not (exactly) like Twitter
First things first: Mastodon is not (exactly) like Twitter. It is decentralized. Thinks as Mastodon as email: you need to first choose a server, called an instance, and then create a profile on said instance. For instance, my Mastodon profile is @firstname.lastname@example.org. It means I am @osc on the instance @econtwitter.net.
Email servers can communicate with each other—which means somebody with a gmail.com address can communicate with somebody with an icloud.com address. It is the same with Mastodon: instances can communicate with each other, a process called federation. It means that the instance you choose does not really matter. You will be able to do the same things with people on a different instance than with people on yours: follow, boost their toots (the equivalent of retweeting), use hashtags, etc.
Which instance should I pick?
Once again, it does not really matter. For at least two reasons: first, because you can communicate with people on any instance. Second, because you can migrate your account from one instance to another. Choosing one instance is not a lock-in, it is a reversible decision.
I first created (back in 2018!) an account on @mastodon.social, and I migrated everything to @econtwitter.net earlier today. The whole process only took me a couple of minutes. Migrating an account reimports both the followings and the followers list. Yes, you will not lose any of your followers if you migrate your account to a different instance!
The only drawback of migration is that as of today, you cannot migrate your toots—aka your posts. Not sure if it will be available somewhere in the future but it would definitely be a good addition.
How does it work?
Honestly, it works a lot like Twitter: you follow people, they can follow you, you can use hashtags, and so on. If you are comfortable using Twitter, you will definitely and most likely, quickly and easily, find your way using Mastodon!
And if you are having trouble doing anything, there is a lot of tutorials and resources to help you on the web. Do not hesitate to ask your followers too!
Why can’t I quote-RT a toot—like I would do in Twitter?
Quote RT is when you retweet a tweet with a comment on Twitter. Mastodon does not allow that. Is this a bug? Or a missing feature? Not, it is an intentional design decision made to avoid harassment—most notably, dog piling.
When we think about harassment, we usually think of that one person sending 1000 messages. Dog piling is what happens when 1000 persons send one message. Me and a group of friends having been the target of dog piling in the past on Twitter, I can safely that dog piling is equally toxic—if not even more because it comes from so many different sources at the same time.
Sure, this design decision comes at a cost. But overall, I think it is a reasonable trade off. And you can still copy and paste the URL of the toot you want to “quote-RT” if you want to share one cool toot to your followers!
What about moderation?
Contrary to the Twitters and the Facebooks and the YouTubes, each Mastodon instance is responsible for its moderation. It means two things: each instance can have a different moderation policy, and each instance is responsible for the implementation of said policy. Plus, as instances are usually run in a not-for-profit mindset, it is less likely to have an economic incentive coming into the way of moderation.
If one given instance turns into a cesspool, for instance of hate speech, administrators of other instances can ban it. Such ban basically stops federation; it will prevent accounts on the banned instance from interacting with the accounts of the instance that implemented the ban.
Where do I start?
If you are an economist, you can join @econtwitter.net. This is where many of us already are! You can use my invite by clicking right below (I gain nothing from this invite):
If you do not want to joint @econtwitter.net, you can join literally any instance you want. Here is a (small) list on the official Mastodon website:
Wait! I want to join @econtwitter.net but I already have an account on a different instance?
No worries! You can either use your existing account or migrate your existing account to @econtwitter.net.
Migration is pretty straightforward if you want to go down this road. Please read carefully any notice or warning Mastodon may show you. And be aware that migration will not migrate your already published toots.
- Create your new account on @econtwitter.net
- You need to tell @econtwitter.net that your new account will be at the receiving end of a migration. It is very simple to do so: navigate in the preferences of your account, find the “Moving from a different account” section and click on “Create a new alias” (or here to go directly to the page)
- Go back to your former account—the one you want to migrate away from. In its preferences, find the “Moving to a different account” section and click on “Configure it here.” You will basically tell the instance that your account has moved somewhere else.
- Confirm and boom! It’s done.
Please be aware that it may take a bit of time for your new account to rebuild both your followings and your followers list. It’s perfectly normal, these operations are computing intensive and to distribute load on the server, they may be run in smaller chunks. For me, it took several hours on @econtwitter.net.
You may need to manually reimport the list of the accounts you follow. To do so, navigate to the “Import and export” section in the preferences of your initial account and export the CSV file corresponding to your followings list. In your new account, import this CSV file also in the “Import and export” section. Once again, it may take a bit of time for your Mastodon instance to process this list. If it fails after a day or two, you may want to reach out to one of the administrators of your instance.
I hope you found this Mastodon crash course useful! If it was the case, please share it around you—both on Twitter and on Mastodon. If you have any question, feel free to post them as comments.
Thanks and see you soon both on Mastodon and on my newsletter!