Schestowitz versus The Mastodon

I notice that Roy Schestowitz has ragequit Mastodon. I usually like Roy's posts (the ones related to technology anyway) and in the long history of the fediverse there was even a Schestowitz bot on one of the GNU Social instances long before he showed up in person or Mastodon existed.

Mastodon isn't a single thing but a set of servers, typically called "instances", which use the OStatus/ActivityPub protocol to federate social posts between them. The way that works and the addresses of users in the federation is similar to email. Each server has an administrator and they can exercise decisions about users on their system at their own discretion. Policies vary between servers depending upon the particular beliefs of the admin, and in the past there was a general consensus that advertising, spamming and bigotry should be kept out of the system. This made the fediverse distinctly different from Twitter, where the most vile behavior was often defended or given an official stamp of approval.


However, this does not mean that the fediverse - of which Mastodon is one of a number of different compatible software types - is a zone of tranquility in which cute bunnies nibble their way across a serene landscape. There is quite often drama, but it's not so bad as on Twitter because you can just block the relevant users or an entire instance if it's populated under the supervision of a hostile admin. The ability to block griefers and start your own instances is a feature rather than a bug, and it's something which Twitter is unlikely to ever be able to compete with.

"the network/federation maintains some sort of blacklists for arbitrarily silencing particular instances/people. So even if I self-hosted my toots, I would be visible/active but blacklisted"

This has indeed been a problem, and it first arose at the end of 2016 when Mastodon was first beginning to gain some popularity. Dubious blocklists appeared on Github and were quickly adopted by new instances without any forethought, investigation or plausible justification. This mirrored the much earlier pattern of spam blocklists for email, which were often based upon very little evidence of any kind.

I think these very overbroad blocklists are self-defeating. Instances which implement them tend to become insular and are more likely to evolve into toxic hellscapes of infighting and bikeshedding. Sanity cannot prevail in solitary confinement.

"While it’s great that it is federated to some extent, the nodes are basically fiefdoms controlled by a local sysop who turfs people out if they don’t both agree 100%."

It depends very much upon the admin. If the admin is a zealot with zero tollerance for anything other than a narrow range of ideas then they will behave like that. Other admins may have a bigger tollerance margin. The fediverse isn't a homogeneous space and so you can find a range of policies being pursued.

"Thus balkanization of ideas and populations continues"

It does, but the interesting feature of the fediverse is that it allows you to be in your own community while also not being completely disconnected from others. It's an intermediate condition between fully separate servers with no federation and a centralized system like Twitter where everyone is forced into a single virtual space where they inevitably then clash with each other.

On the shadowbanning issue I don't know if Mastodon has any feature to do that, since it doesn't have an algorithmic timeline as far as I'm aware. But I could be wrong about that since I'm not running a Mastodon instance and don't know what settings are available to the admin.

"So a bunch of oddballs run the instances"

On that count I plead guilty. But the oddballness of the independent internet, as opposed to stultifying monotony of the mainstream, has always been an attractive element to me. The fringes are where the creative and interesting people are. The non-conformers, revolutionaries and refuseniks. It's where new ideas originate.

So instead of just being a whinging pom, here's some advice for Roy.

  • The main reason you're getting into trouble is volume. If I follow you in the fediverse I don't want my timeline to turn into the Schestowitz show and drown out all other voices
  • Separate your content into different themes on different accounts with smaller number of posts per day
  • Prefer quality over quantity. Invest more time in editorializing particular stories, providing context
  • Consider running your own instance if you can, then you can't be kicked or shadowbanned