I am an academic who did not switch to Mastodon, and this is why

For some time now, I have observed my academic colleagues adding a Mastodon account link to their X profiles. After mass media coverage around X’s owner and how he operates X, I have also considered whether I should find a new place for my infrequent tweets. After some research and reflection, I decided to stay on X.

I am not a big social media user. I am not a big fan of Elon Musk, neither. I created my Twitter account many years ago and have used it sporadically to post research-related stuff I am involved in. I am not an X/Twitter influencer, so to speak. But I believe it still matters where I am in the social media universe when I want to post something. I have seen my colleagues and many progressives and activists start using Mastodon, and the numbers of new users have been pointing upward for the fediverse for a while now.

Therefore, I decided to do some research. I created an account on Mastodon and other fediverse servers and observed and tried to understand their concept. I decided to stay on X even if all the journalists in all major tech outlets seemed to recommend otherwise (just search for “how to delete your X or Twitter account”). I thought I would share here on my blog why I did not move to fediverse. Here are some of my reasons:

  • Fediverse is not accountable. Most fediverse instances are small servers run by volunteers who are not accountable to anyone except themselves. One good thing about X (and other big tech) is that there is some accountability. I don’t think the White House would bother to comment if a fediverse server admin started posting antisemitic stuff on their server. By using a Mastodon server, I take on the job of holding the server owner accountable. I don’t have time for that.
  • Fediverse is politically divided. Servers seem to be set up by people who could not find a fediverse instance that accommodated their specific ideology. This can amplify polarization and political division. I couldn’t find a Mastodon server that seemed to houses opposing political views (see my next point). Mastodon is a collection of forums. It is not a global city hall as X aspires to be.
  • I did not like the “politically correct” tone in many mastodon servers I tried. For my taste, too many posts were labeled as “sensitive.” People were agreeing too often and being too nice to each other. Fediverse reminded me of Pleasantville. I don’t say we should go and bully each other online, and I hope X gets rid of bullying wherever it exists on the platform. But I think it is equally sad if we are afraid of saying what we mean for fear of hurting someone. We will inevitably meet people from all over the world when we interact with people online. Therefore, we need to be prepared to meet other viewpoints. That was the whole idea of the internet.
  • For me, being on social media is about connecting with as many people as possible, i.e., the famous network effect. If my network had moved to fediverse, I would have moved immediately (I repeat, I am not an influencer). I think this network effect is also a consideration for my network, especially those who are real influences with many followers on X. Despite adding links to their fediverse profiles, in this way demonstrating some kind of protest against X, most of my network stayed on X at the end.

I am sounding simplistic and judging fediverse too harshly. But I don’t want to imply that everything is perfect on X, Facebook, or other commercial social media. The problems of misinformation, bullying, addiction, etc., are real and empirically documented. Mastodon has many nice features that I wish existed on X. Still, I don’t believe the answer to our big problems with social media lies in the approach that fediverse has taken. Fediverse reminds me of the bulletin boards we used in the 80s, with the Pleasentville effect turned on. If fediverse scales to the same size as X or Facebook, the problems we face on these commercial platforms will also appear there. Fediverse’s solution is to build well-guarded walls around small communities and let individuals with their privately held views guard those walls. For me, fediverse represents a step backward and a declaration of failure against big tech and the problems they create.