Mastodon Poised to Eclipse Twitter

What is Mastodon and why should you care? Learn what Mastodon is, if it’s safe, how to join, pick a server, find friends and more.

If you’ve kept up with technology news and social media current events, you’ve likely seen that as of Oct. 27, Elon Musk officially owns Twitter — a $44 billion purchase.

Musk has been a loud critic of Twitter rules aimed at suppressing hate speech, harassment and misinformation, citing that they hinder free speech. People concerned about potential changes under Musk’s leadership have begun jumping ship to alternative social media platforms, namely Mastodon.

Since Oct. 27, Mastodon has gained nearly 500,000 new users, doubling its user base. What is Mastodon and how do you use it?

What Is Mastodon?

Mastodon is a decentralized, open-source social media platform founded by German software developer Eugen Rochko in 2016. Mastodon is free to use, has no ads and presents posts in chronological order rather than using an algorithm to predict best-matched content. The site describes itself as a federated network.

Related Article: Deciding on the Best Social Media Platforms for Customer Connection

What Does It Mean That Mastodon Is Open-Source?

Mastodon is an open-source social work, meaning anyone can download Mastodon software, modify it and install it on their own server for free. The developer of the platform does not own the copyright.

However, open source does not mean that someone can create a platform with Mastodon’s source code and pass it off as their own.

In 2021, former president Donald Trump attempted to do just this with his social media platform Truth Social. The fledgling social media platform claimed the site as proprietary property, with all source code and software owned by licensed to them.

Mastodon sent a formal letter to Truth Social’s chief legal officer requesting that the source could be made publicly available and released a public statement about the incident.

How Does Mastodon Differ From Twitter?

Mastodon visually resembles Twitter. You sign up, create posts (called “toots”) and browse friends’ content. However, there are some significant differences. The biggest difference is that Twitter is a single social platform. People sign up and only share content on Twitter.

Mastodon is a federated platform — a collection of social networks or servers linked together but owned by different people, groups or organizations. Because Mastodon is part of the fediverse, a Mastodon account will grant you access to other decentralized social networks.

When Mastodon users sign up, they must pick a server to join, referred to as an instance. These Mastodon instances are individual communities, each with its own culture and rules.

Mastodon can’t make users or server creators do anything. They can’t moderate content or create rules for what posts stay up or get taken down. Instead, server creators dictate how users interact with one another.

Other key differences between Mastodon and Twitter include:

  • Mastodon has no ad 
  • Mastodon has fewer active users (1.03 million as of Nov. 7 for Mastodon vs. 238 million as of Q2, 2022 for Twitter)
  • Mastodon has no universal verification system
  • Mastodon users get 500 characters per post instead of 280
  • Mastodon can be sluggish due to the influx of new users
  • Mastodon presents posts in chronological order rather than based on an algorithm
  • Mastodon and its two owned servers are largely crowdfunded
  • Mastodon does not support direct messages, only public posts that include @username

Related Article: Will the Musk Takeover Rescue or Wreck Twitter Marketing?

Is Mastodon Safe to Use?

User safety on Mastodon depends entirely on the instance you decide to join and their rules for content and harassment. The social media site does allow users to add content warnings to posts. These warnings can alert others to nudity, depictions of violence, spoilers and comments about sensitive topics, such as politics or religion. What each instance considers a sensitive topic will vary.

Generally, Mastodon is no less safe than any other website, and users should always exercise caution when it comes to sharing personal information. 

How Do You Join Mastodon?

To join Mastodon, navigate to the Mastodon website at Then, click the button that says “create account.” 

Mastodon homepage where users can sign up for an account

Those who prefer a mobile experience can download the Mastodon app from the Apple App Store or Google Play and follow the same process.

Next, you’ll be directed to a page listing Mastodon servers — or instances — from which to choose. Some instances will allow you to create an account immediately while others will require you to apply or get invited.

The Mastodon instance list, which currently sits at 4,000 servers, includes communities for:

  • Ravers
  • Animators
  • Technologists
  • Math lovers
  • Music enthusiasts
  • New Zealanders
  • Activists and campaigners
  • And much more

You can filter this instance list by region, topic, legal structure (private individual vs. public organization), sign-up speed and language. Don’t worry if you don’t know which server to join — you can always interact with people who use other Mastodon servers or switch to a new one.

Once you’ve chosen a server, you’ll need to create a username and password and supply your email address. You may also have to agree to terms and conditions specific to your chosen server.

The instance, for example, requires users to agree to terms such as no hate speech and no sharing of intentionally false or misleading information.

Your chosen server will be home to your account, profile and feeds. Your profile’s address will be @[your username]@[your server name]

After signing up, you’ll receive an email with a link to activate your account. If you do not see the email in your inbox after 1–2 minutes, check your spam folder. To activate your account, click the “verify email address” button in the email.

An email from Mastodon requesting email address verification

Once you verify your email, you can sign into your Mastodon account and begin using it.

How to Choose a Mastodon Server

Mastodon has thousands of servers to choose from, and new users may struggle to decide which is best for them. Keep in mind: You are not locked into the first server you choose. You can always switch at a later date.

The Mastodon website has some helpful resources for finding a Mastodon instance or specific Mastodon server that aligns with your interests. Ask friends who use Mastodon which servers they recommend. You can also try a random one and see if it meets your wants and expectations.

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