A few weeks ago, my Facebook account got hacked and subsequently suspended. I am waiting for a decision from Facebook on whether I can have my account back. They have warned that they have fewer humans available to look, due to COVID-19, which means they may not get to it during the 30-day window. If they don’t, my account will be automatically deleted with no recovery possible. I didn’t have a backup. It sucks, but I’m kinda coming round to the idea that I’m not going to get my Facebook account back. Without access to Facebook, I went back to Twitter a bit more.
A few days ago, Facebook went down for about 6 hours. During that period, I saw someone on Twitter say “Protocols, not Platforms!” The idea resonated with me, but I didn’t really know what it meant.
Yesterday, the phrase was still rolling around in my head, so I decided to look up what it meant. I found this YouTube video:
Distributed social media - Mastodon & Fediverse Explained
Suddenly I was learning about the Fediverse - the Federated Universe. I learned of the existence of Mastodon, Peertube, Friendica and Pixelfed (decentralized alternatives to Twitter, Youtube, Facebook and Instagram). I learned about ActivityPub, the protocol that allows them all to talk to each other. I found out that there multiple instances of all of these, and you can choose which one you want based on their terms and conditions. Or you can start your own! I learned how content moderation works on a local level (moderators manage their own instances) and on a wider level (entire instances can be blocked if their TOCs don’t align). I discovered it’s easy to download all your data from one instance and take it over to another instance at any time.
This all sounded amazing to me. So I tried it out. I created not one, but two Mastodon accounts - one on queer.party and one on mastodon.social. I got them to follow each other. I had them send each other replies and saw them pop up seamlessly in each other’s notifications. I tried out the content warning feature and was impressed.
Next I made an account on Pixelfed. I chose pixelfed.social without giving it much thought, knowing that if I wish to change my mind at any time I can just move across to a different instance. I put up some photos. Then I went to my Mastodon accounts and followed my Pixelfed account. The photos popped up in my stream! I was able to like them, and even repost them!
Finally I made this blog, and of course, followed it with my Mastodon accounts, too! This is wonderful. So much choice, so much flexibility, and so many incredible integration possibilities, thanks to them all using the ActivityPub protocol.
I’m sold. The social media giants have way too much control over us. They choose what’s allowed on their platforms, they decide when to ban people and whether to allow them back again. We all know they cannot be trusted with our data, but we let them get away with it because we think we don’t have a choice.
We do have a choice. It is decentralization. It is freedom. It is protocols over platforms. It is the Fediverse!