Mastodon, inspired by GNU social, together with Pleroma, form the most popular components of what we know as the “Fediverse” today. All of them are, in essence, federated, free software Twitter clones, interoperable with each other via the ActivityPub protocol.
In many respects, the Fediverse is a liberating force for good. Its federated design distributes governance and costs across many independent entities, something I view as a very strong design choice. Its moderation tools also do a pretty good job of keeping neo-nazis out of your feeds and providing a comfortable space to express yourself in, especially if your form of expression is maligned by society. Large groups of Fediverse members have found in it a home for self-expression which is denied to them elsewhere on the basis of their sexuality, gender expression, politics, or other characteristics. It’s also essentially entirely free from commercial propaganda.
But it’s still just a Twitter clone, and many of the social and psychological ills which come with that are present in the Fediverse. It’s a feed of other people’s random thoughts, often unfiltered, presented to you without value judgement — even when a value judgement may be wise. Features like boosting and liking posts, chasing after follower counts and mini-influencers, these rig up dopamine reinforcement like any other social network does. The increased character limit does not really help; most posts are pretty short and no one wants to read an essay aggressively word-wrapped in a narrow column.
The Fediverse is an environment optimized for flame wars. Arguments in this medium are held under these constraints, in public, with the peanut gallery of followers from either side stepping in and out to reinforce their position and flame the opponents. Progress is measured in gains of ideological territory and in the rising and falling swells of participants dotting their comments throughout huge threads. You are not just arguing your position, but performing it to your audience, and to your opponent’s audience.
Social networks are not good for you. The Fediverse brought out the worst in me, and it can bring out the worst in you, too. The behaviors it encourages are plainly defined as harassment, a behavior which is not unique to any ideological condition. People get hurt on the Fediverse. Keep that in mind. Consider taking a look in the mirror and asking yourself if your relationship with the platform is healthy for you and for the people around you.