This is what the Twitter alternative Mastodon – Economy can do


What to do, some Twitter users are wondering now that it’s clear that the world’s richest person, Elon Musk, will buy the platform. The Tesla founder promises “more freedom of speech” after the takeover, but because that can also mean that hatred and hate speech will increasingly find space there again or that ex-US President Donald Trump can tweet again, many are looking for an alternative.

And so a service called Mastodon is experiencing a surge in popularity. What initially sounds like an antibiotic for breeding bulls is a social network that, at first glance, is quite similar to Twitter. However, the symbol of the network is not a bird, but a mastodon, a primeval proboscis from the mammoth family.

And so Mastodon doesn’t chirp, but actually horns. Instead of 280 characters, there are even 500. If you want, you can add an expiry date to your Tröts, then they will be deleted automatically. Even two timelines are liked with asterisks instead of hearts, but there are also hashtags and trends. A mastodon profile actually looks just like the profiles on Twitter.

The platform was founded in 2016 by the Thuringian software developer Eugen Rochko. In his late 20s, he was a Twitter user himself but frustrated with the limitations placed on programmers. He was also disappointed with the intrusive advertising and data collection on the US network. Therefore, the structure of Mastodon differs fundamentally from Twitter.

There are thousands of little mastodons

Mastodon is a decentralized network. That means there isn’t a single company behind it that wants or needs to make money. In fact, there are thousands of little mastodons that practically come together under one roof. They are called “instances” here and are operated on different servers – by users who need some programming knowledge for this.

These instances exist for all possible interest groups and regional origins; they call themselves, for example,,, or – which sounds like the perfect Twitter synonym – But not only nerds or IT specialists run instances that they finance privately or through donations. There are now also authorities from the EU or data protection officers of the federal and state governments with their own servers. The instances can in turn set up their own rules of conduct and group rules, such as whether content such as “nudity” is allowed or that people want to be polite and avoid personal attacks.

If you want to become a Mastodon member and get started, you first have to decide on an instance. On the website you can get an overview. Mastodon is also available as an app for Android and iOS, but logging in via the small mobile phone screen is a bit more confusing than via the website in the browser. Anyone who appreciates the simplicity of Twitter – both in terms of access and content – will have to get used to it first.

If you have now created your own account, you will see: nothing. Every new user is a blank slate on Mastodon, there are no address lists that are read out to find new contacts. But that also means you have to become active yourself and look for interesting people you want to follow.

Jan Böhmermann is now on the decentralized platform

There are more and more of them, so Mastodon now has more than four million users, and since this week the satirist and moderator Jan Böhmermann has also been there. That was even worth a welcome trumpet for the founder Rochko. However, the number of Böhmermann followers on Mastodon is still manageable: there are 7000, on Twitter 2.5 million.

Mike Kuketz has been on Mastodon since 2018. The freelance IT security consultant, who also works for the Baden-Württemberg state data protection officer, is pleased with the growth that the decentralized platform is currently experiencing. He sees her as an example of “autonomy and freedom” on the Internet. For the 40-year-old computer scientist from Karlsruhe, Mastodon is part of the movement against surveillance capitalism, as operated by Facebook and Twitter with their data-driven business model.

“I think decentralization and the federal principle of Mastodon are very important,” says Kuketz. “There is no manipulation of the timeline by algorithms, there is no commercial pressure, no advertising and no psychologists are employed to ensure that users stay on the platform as long as possible.”

Back to the 1990s when idealism ran high

A Twitter alternative is not enough to be the counter-proposal to surveillance capitalism. Because what about Facebook, Youtube, Instagram? In fact, Mastodon is only part of a larger plan that wants to make the network more independent of the big tech companies again – back to the 1990s, when idealism was great and the market power of Google and Co. was still small or didn’t exist at all.

This construct is called Fediverse. Mike Kuketz explains it like this: “You can think of the Fediverse as a universe with galaxies. In it there are planets and living things on them. For example, one galaxy is Mastodon, another is a Facebook alternative called friendica or the Instagram-like service pixelated. The planets are the entities in Mastodon, and the creatures are the users. And thanks to the decentralized and federal structure, everyone can communicate with each other, there are no platform limits.

The Fediverse has many advantages for Kuketz, but he also sees the disadvantages: “If more users come, then the users you don’t want will also come, the right-wing fringe, the fake news distributors.” But the decentralized organization means that there are completely different ways of dealing with these people. This is because the individual mastodons or instances each have their own administrators and are smaller and therefore clearer. In an instance where many right-wing extremists were active, administrators have already cracked down and blocked them. This means that the members could no longer communicate with people in other instances, but only with each other. In addition, the administrators of the instances have the option of kicking out individual users. A @realDonaldTrump would probably not have a great future on Mastodon.

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