The once cozy world of social media has been getting feverish in recent years. In the battle for audience attention, fly-by-night social networks come and go (Clubhouse, anyone?), users run back and forth, and governments, as ever, ponder the introduction of regulations. Who’d have thought, for example, that TikTok would be able to displace such monsters as Facebook and Instagram, and also to be banned fully or partially in a host of countries?
The public skirmishes between, and overall pantomime of the owners of the world’s largest social networks — Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook, Instagram, Threads) and Elon Musk (X, formerly Twitter) — similarly add nothing in terms of stability. And while Threads, despite analysts’ predictions, didn’t bury Twitter, Musk himself is doing a good job of digging the latter’s grave: with every new innovation he comes up with, users jump ship in their droves. Catching up, slowly but surely, is YouTube, which has long since morphed from a mere video hosting service into a social media powerhouse boasting 2.5 billion users a month and used by 95% of teenagers; while taking a breather on the sidelines is LinkedIn, having carved out a business niche all for itself.
Against this backdrop of upheavals, there’s a relatively new… elephant in the room, which more than fills an X-shaped hole. And that is Mastodon (a mastodon, in case you don’t know, was a furry elephant — long extinct). But it turns out Mastodon is no newcomer; it’s still a game-changer…
How Mastodon works
Created in 2016, Mastodon is a microblogging social network similar to X (ex-Twitter), but based on the principles of decentralization. Unlike X, Mastodon consists of multiple independent servers (called “instances”) brought together into a single network and interacting with each other, which offers far greater customization and control. Users can select instances according to their preferences and settings, yet still communicate with members from other instances.
What are Mastodon instances?
Instances are independent servers, each with their own address in the Mastodon network, its own administrator, and its own rules of use. They can be general-purpose, or highly specialized with a unique theme dedicated to specific interests, languages, regions or communities. Users can select the servers they want to register on, while being able to follow accounts registered on other servers and view posts from any account on any server in their timeline.
The first server to run Mastodon was mastodon.social. The instance was created and is maintained by its founder, Eugen “Gargron” Rochko, and is very popular.
How to pick a Mastodon server
There are several criteria when it comes to choosing an instance in Mastodon:
- Community size. Look at the number of registered users on the server. Larger instances are more buzzing with content, but the load on them is higher, and they may run slower.
- Sign-up process. This option is worth considering if you need to get registered quickly. Some instances offer instant registration; others require confirmation from an administrator.
- Server location. Instances may be hosted in different countries and regions. If accessibility and connection speed are important, choose a server closer to where you are.
- Rules and moderation. Each Mastodon instance has its own policies. Before registering on a server, read its rules and make sure they align with your values and expectations. As each server moderates its own content, some may, for example, allow pornography, and even viewing such content can have legal consequences in a number of countries or jurisdictions. Besides local rules, Mastodon has general ones that describe what can and can’t be done on the platform. Violation of these common rules can result in the server being blocked and shut down.
- Topics and interests. If you like a particular topic, or want to join a community of interest, search for relevant thematic servers.
- Administration and support. Check whether the server has active administrators and community support. This may come in handy if you have any problems or questions.
- Server reputation. Find out about an instance’s reputation by reading reviews or asking other Mastodon users.
Already registered? Let’s set up privacy!
Right after registration, head straight to the settings. First of all, turn on two-factor authentication and set the posting privacy level. You can choose one of three options for your account:
- Public — everyone can see your posts.
- Unlisted — everyone can see your posts, but they’re not listed on public timelines.
- Followers-only — only followers can see your posts.
In addition, you can set the privacy level for each individual post:
- Direct (visible only to users mentioned in the post)
Additional privacy settings allow you to show or hide your followers and follows in your profile, as well as show what app you use for posting. We recommend unchecking the latter — your readers really don’t need to know what app or device you use.
On top of that, there are settings for choosing who can find and follow you, and how. For example, you can: enable your public posts to appear in Mastodon search results; make your profile findable in search engines; allow your posts and profile to show up in promos inside Mastodon; and even automatically accept follow requests.
Finally, there are options to configure rules (and exceptions to them) for auto-deleting posts after a set period (from one week to two years) — and for archivists to export and download a complete archive of all their data.
A few final tips
Don’t forget about security either. Although Mastodon may feel like a hobby club, there might be bad actors amid the like-minders. So, as with other social networks, it pays to protect your privacy and guard against phishing and leaks of personal data on all your devices with the help of Kaspersky Premium.