Where does Mastodon fit with social media policies?
Posted On 6 December 2022
Mastodon is an odd beast. This has been discussed a lot from the user’s point of view, but not so much from the organizational point of view. Specifically, should organizations provide users with branded/hosted instances, and what kind of policies apply for this new breed of social media?
(Note: I’m going to use “Mastodon” here, but this really applies to any kind of federated social media over ActivityPub or similar where users are identified in the “@firstname.lastname@example.org” format.)
Most people think of Mastodon as a Twitter replacement, but organizations don’t provide users with Twitter accounts. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to state on their Twitter profile that their opinions are their own. Organizations do provide people with email@example.com accounts for email, but (generally) email isn’t “social media” and not meant to be posted publicly.
Users do (sometimes) get accounts on blogs, but usually there’s some gatekeeping of what gets posted and doesn’t have the immediacy or free-form nature of the microblog format.
It is expected that Mastodon instances have a moderation policy, and if the instance is stood up by an organization that only gives accounts to members, that seems to create some additional liability for the organization in terms of what the members say and do on that instance.
Open source projects and Mastodon
Right now I expect a lot of open source projects are considering standing up Mastodon for their contributors, like they already do with email. For most projects, I’d advise against this.
Unless strictly limited to posting about project activities, there’s a pretty good chance that (eventually) a contributor’s posts are going to cause some controversy inside and outside the project that distracts from the project’s purpose.
Let’s say @firstname.lastname@example.org decides to post the inflammatory and obviously wrong opinion that Chicago-style pizza is superior to St. Louis-style pizza. Because j.random is well-known outside Project, they’re followed on Mastodon instances around the world. Now that post is being boosted and discussed all over, and because it’s on the project.tld instance, the project is also being dragged down for failing to moderate its members appropriately.
There might be some projects where there’s a strong argument for strongly associated social media and its members. But, generally, seems like more of a liability to projects than a boon. Members who want a Mastodon presence can easily establish one on other existing servers. For now, most projects ought to avoid the headache and hold off on becoming Mastodon providers in their own right for individuals.
On the other hand, projects should be thinking about an official instance for project communications. While Twitter’s verification system was (and is) problematic, but establishing an official presence among all the possible Mastodon instances is going to be tricky. More thoughts on that another day.
Curious what other folks are thinking around this topic. How’s your open source project handling The Fediverse?