Chuck Carroll

Is Decentralized Social Media Better?

Published: 2022-11-14
Last Updated: 2022-11-15

I've considered myself "retired" from personal social media for nearly three years now ("personal" because I've picked up a couple digital marketing projects since then to pay the bills). With the recent buyout of Twitter Elon Musk, people have been supposedly leaving the platform for various Mastodon instances without even really understanding what Mastodon is.

Decentralized and federated social media platforms are a hot topic right now. As a digital marketing person and computer geek, Mastodon is something I've been aware for quite some time. I even once considered trying to set up an instance myself (something like ""), and it's been quite entertaining watching it enter the normie-sphere.

Some have argued that it's the cure for the toxic cesspool that social media has become since the more extremist communities can exist separately from one another. You can have instances dedicated technology, art, veganism, liberal politics, conservative politics, and even furry's. Each instance must be owned/maintained by someone.

A lot of users are allegedly "flocking" from Twitter to other platforms like Mastodon without fully understanding how decentralization works and it's effects on moderation. If there's three separate instances of the service, they don't have to agree on what sort of speech is acceptable, moderation policies, privacy policy, etc. If Instance A allows abusive language, Instance B can still ban the use of abusive language and even block all content from Instance A from being visible to their users (this can also be done at the user level as well). All content from Instance A and B will still be visible to Instance C. However, it's important to understand that if Twitter was federated and decentralized, it would not have been possible to ban someone like Alex Jones or Donald Trump. Speaking of, most people probably aren't aware that Trump's "Truth Social" is a fork of Mastodon.

Another benefit of decentralization is that it takes the power away from a single corporate entity from controlling the platform. It doesn't necessarily have to be supported by advertisements which means engagement needn't be maximized by algorithms to keep users on the site for as long as possible. Incentives will ultimately be different.

Due to the very nature of federated social media networks, I think it's obvious that instances, specifically political ones, will simply be echo chambers for those that have certain political identities. Confirmation bias, political polarization, and extremism will likely increase.

One major benefit to these decentralized social websites is that they support RSS - something that the corporate social media websites used to support back in the day. With RSS you can follow an account with your favorite RSS reader without actually having to make an account on the social media website. Corporate social media like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube either crippled the ability to use RSS or stripped it from their service entirely because they want users actually on their website so that they can serve them ads and suggested content. The removal of RSS gives them more power to keep users on their site longer, whereas RSS empowers users and gives them more control of their time. On Mastodon, it's as easy as dropped ".rss" after the profile URL.

I'm largely skeptical that decentralized federated social media platforms will completely replace traditional centralized platforms without a large company supported by ad revenue paying the costs. Centralized platforms are more profitable and the server and upkeep costs need to be paid for somehow. And sadly, we currently exist in a digital world that doesn't like to pay for things which is why advertisements are so prolific on the internet.

Ultimately, social media - even decentralized social media - is not for me. Admittedly platforms like Mastodon, Diaspora, and Friendica are better in a lot of respects, there are still has many of the same inherent issues as traditional platforms and I strongly believe that social media should be avoided entirely.

I also find the word "toot" to be like nails on a chalkboard.

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