On Leaving Mastodon
So, happy new year! I hope 2022 comes with lots of good things for you. I’m excited to see what this new year brings my way! This post, though, is rather about something I left behind in 2021: Mastodon. My exit from the platform was a bit rushed, I didn’t wanna talk about it before some weeks had passed… mainly because I wanted to keep my emotions in check. I really want to talk about this, though; there is a lot to unravel here.
If you haven’t been into Mastodon and don’t know what my “role” was there, I’ll give you some context. Mastodon is a microblogging platform… like Twitter. Unlike Twitter, Mastodon is open source, federated, and decentralized. This means that everyone can spin up a server (an “instance”), with their own TOS, and have it automatically talk to all other servers in the Mastodon network.
I don’t remember the literal post I made, but I remember stating that I was leaving because I had realized that Mastodon was hurting my mental health. It was getting me lots of anxiety. I remember not getting into details, but now I will.
The anxiety came from my popularity. I know I was a special kind of user there. I didn’t have like lots of followers, but I did have lots of engagement. And hey, I won’t be falsely modest here… I know I’m attractive in both an intellectual and a physical sense. Both things combined attracts people. And… OK… being very politically incorrect here… It’s super attractive in a space mostly dominated by introvert men. Not shaming anyone here, but it’s a truth of life.
I had lots of interesting conversations on there, that I can’t deny. The content of the instance I was on was actually quite interesting: FOSS “oriented,” yet not exclusively, as people also talked about their lives and experiences… like I did. Yet my big issue was that I had this weird feeling people were somehow expecting my next post.
I don’t know if that was my own mind playing tricks or if it was like that. The end result is the same, no matter which one it is. I got hooked to the attention I got from that place. I found myself going down a very dangerously slippery slope that had me checking Mastodon way too late into the night.
I also got very angry at some stuff too, but more on that later. For now, let’s say that that anger also was part of the feedback I was craving from it.
Something clicked in me around mid-December. Look, I don’t usually speak about this but I’m a recovered alcoholic. Suddenly I realized that I was on the same wheel I was when I was getting drunk. You know that you’re not addicted to a particular substance… you’ve got a personality or character traits that make you an addict. Of course a Mastodon addiction doesn’t destroy your liver as my alcohol addiction almost did in 2017, but it was turning into one.
Thank God I recognized the symptoms in an early stage… You somehow learn to recognize them. That’s why I publicly stated I was going cold turkey.
For a girl like me, who’s faced lots of insecurity about herself, lots of self-doubt, image issues… social media is especially dangerous. I’ve become, as I said, a very attractive girl and I’m learning to cope with that, also offline. Let’s say there’s an intoxicating effect that I should’ve learned in my teens and that I’m only learning now on my 30s because… Well, you should know by now, from reading my blog. Not going there here; otherwise this will become too dense of a post.
Paradoxically, Instagram isn’t as dangerous to me because there I’m mostly around people I know in real life, even if I haven’t seen them in some time due to “current events.” Even so, the interactions are somehow “checked?” It’s a weird sensation, but it’s like knowing most of the people there makes me automatically be less of a compulsive poster and consumer.
We tend to forget that technology is just that technology. And that some piece of software being FOSS is just… a matter of licensing, to be honest. Mastodon is just social media, with all of its wonders and all of its terrible things. My experience with it (and also other “fediverse spaces”) has been as anxiety-inducing as many other proprietary social media… but in the case of Mastodon there is one technological aspect that makes it worse than your run of the mill proprietary social platforms.
Death to the Chronological Timeline
You didn’t see this one coming, did you?
I remember a time in which Facebook, Twitter, Google+,1 and Instagram had chronological timelines. It was a horrible experience. It was super easy to miss a close friend’s post; if you were running a business you had to play around publication times to hit the precise spot in which the most amount of your followers were online; you were sort of bound to your local timezone, so following people overseas forced you to look for their profile to see if they had posted anything…
The change to the algorithmic timeline came in stages. Of course we will never know what actual reasons these companies actually made the change for, but I do remember the first break in the chronological timeline was that Facebook and Twitter started showing you posts “you might’ve missed” from people you interacted more with. From there, step by step, we got the opposite extreme now: an overly curated, echo chamber-type of timeline where, especially on Instagram, you’re getting lots of “suggested posts” in the mix, from people you never had even heard of.
But there is a benefit in a non-chronological timeline. It makes you less dependent on when you get on the app. I have lots of friends who rely on social media for their businesses and the fact they can just post (almost) whenever they want has made their lives and businesses way more manageable.
I had gotten to the point where I was delaying uploading blog posts because I had to wait until the evening so that my Mastodon followers overseas could catch a glimpse of my posts. It was the late 2000s, early 2010s all over again.
Again, social media in general comes with lots of problems as a concept… but there has been a convergent evolution in the mainstream platforms which I wouldn’t blindly attribute exclusively to “Let’s make millions of dollars!” The usual suspects are evil corporations, but they’re also filled with engineers trying to solve problems. The chronological timeline, i.e. a fancy RSS feed, was a solution that couldn’t scale up to the modern (over)use of social media.
I know, the algorithmic timeline comes with the horrible cost of data harvesting, privacy annihilation, machine learning, and advertisers being all over the place. I know. That’s why I’m also very aware that FOSS social platforms have their hands tied up on this matter.
Actually, it’s a culture thing. Nothing in FOSS licensing really prevents a FOSS social platform try do the same kind of algorithmic timeline proprietary platforms have. Just release the source code and allow other people use it. But you just know trying to sell that idea to the FOSS community will be a hard one. I actually have an example about this.
There was this guy who started indexing Mastodon public text-only posts across instances. He created a database you could search on via a website. People got really, really mad at him. They called him out as an invader of privacy, some very misguided people even claimed he was violating their copyright,2 it was a mess. The reality is that he didn’t break any instance’s TOS, as he was accessing public toots via ActivityPub’s own API like any other client app would, and he wasn’t definitely violating anyone’s privacy: these were public posts… which are very probably being indexed by search engines and other data harvesting mechanisms out there anyways.
I did tell him over DM that, for politics’ sake, he should’ve asked first because of how sensible people can be with this stuff. The drama went worse because of a terribly stupid move he did out of his good heart some weeks later and finally he ended up shutting down the whole project and I think he’s even abandoned all Fediverse platforms altogether.
All social platforms have their culture. FOSS has its culture that goes beyond the literal words of the licenses. That’s fine and it’s inevitable. We’re humans, we’re designed to live in tribes. So I can totally understand that FOSS social media platforms are very unlikely to adopt certain features that are deemed “too proprietary-like,” even if “proprietary” is just a licensing issue, not a technological one.
And speaking of culture…
Being in the Minority
Content warning: This is probably the very first time I’m getting political on my blog. And the reason I feel free to do so now is precisely because I’m off Mastodon. A total red flag, isn’t it?
Mastodon, or at least what I experienced of it, is very progressive. Fine, I’m a conservative, but hey, I can live with difference in opinions. Also, I think I never went political on it, because I was interested mainly on FOSS and tech stuff, so for the most part I ignored everything that was mildly political.
But there hits a moment in which you get quite tired of all the same talking points repeated over and over and over again, even from people who you’re genuinely interested in.
And the problem is not their beliefs. Look, this site is hosted on sourcehut pages, run by Drew DeVault. His politics and mine are very different. But he defends his ideas on his blog, using as much space as he sees fit to make his point… I actually enjoy reading him, because he makes me evaluate my stance on many topics. On a social media platform like Mastodon you just can’t: you’re forced to go the Twitter route of spitting headlines and maybe writing a thread, which is terrible to write an argument in.
So, in a context where every single day I was fed short headlines of stuff I don’t agree with at all… My impulse was to reply, but then I realized that I was going to be forced to use the same terrible tool to make my point.
It became tiring, as another user I had some acquaintance with announced when he decided to shut down his own Mastodon instance. On the other hand, my own anxiety wanted me to feed from it. Bad, bad, bad stuff in my head. And yeah, I could’ve played the rebel if I had wished to. There’s a lot of power to gain from it, but you need a psychological makeup I personally don’t have. Remember, I wanted to garner attention, but to hook me up to a positive feedback over myself, not to get into online arguments.
My Problem Is Social Media
The problem I got is with social media. FOSS social media could try a bit more to bring something new totally unheard of on proprietary social media. In the end we’re constantly cloning stuff when it comes to this stuff. And we’re also cloning the bad anti-features that can make some people, like me, addicted to it.
I know my responsibility is to take care of myself. My psychological triggers are mine to be worked on, but I also think I’ve got the right to tell the world that there is danger in the Fediverse that is exactly the same you get from the proprietary usual suspects.
Because it’s not a technological or licensing issue… it’s a human issue.
As for my self, I’ll stay clear of any social media platforms except Instagram. Again, I’m very much surprised that one doesn’t give those effects and, as I said, I think it’s got a lot to do with me having real life friends on there… Who knows… I may jump off of it anytime soon too? I wonder what that would be like.
As a final thought of this long post… I want you all stay mentally healthy and sound, especially the younger people who might be reading me. Please, I beg you, if you feel that somehow any kind of piece of technology is controlling some aspect of your life, quit it. I’m serious. Your real life is more important than anything you might think is important online. Trust me, life’s out there, get dirty, share a kiss, go get some coffee… that’s life even if some people want us to believe otherwise.
With lots of love! 💝
Remember that thing? ↩︎
Not going into this rabbit hole here, but whether a post on social media is covered or not by copyright laws depends on what content that post actually consists of. If it’s an image or video, the image or video is copyrighted… if it’s just text, well… not all text is protected by copyright, you know? ↩︎