Software Development

In the wake of Twitter’s upheaval, are Very Online Philadelphians heading to Mastodon?

Philly's Mastodon instance Jawns.Club has seen enough uptick in new members to warrant a server update.
If you’ve been on Twitter in the last few weeks, or have paid attention to the news cycle, you probably know the platform is having … a time.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk purchased the platform for $44 billion at the end of October after a months-long saga. Since, Musk has been suggesting changes to its functionality, introducing policies like a subscription fee, and messed with the site’s verification badges, prompting a flood of fake accounts impersonating public figures and brands.

Since his initial bid to buy the company earlier this year, Twitter users have expressed concern for changes coming to the platform. And on Nov. 4, Musk began laying off thousands of the company’s approximately 7,500 employees, including many engineers responsible for keeping the platform running. Among the layoffs reportedly include the team dedicated to human rights, the accessibility team that worked on Twitter’s experience for people with disabilities, and the team working to reduce bias and harm. Staff responsible for information security, privacy, and trust and safety have also resigned.

In the wake of the changes, a reported million internet users have made a move to 2016-founded social platform Mastodon. The platform was built on the premise of creating independently run small communities called “instances” where members can talk to each other, rather than reading an endless stream of content in the form of a timeline. Posts are called “toots,” and they can be up to 500 characters long. Rather than retweeting, you “boost” posts.

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In 2018, Indy Hall’s Alex Hillman created Jawns.Club on Mastodon, where Philadelphians still converge to discuss local topics.

“I was frustrated with the latest moves that Twitter has been making: from their unwillingness to effectively address abuse and ban bad actors, to killing the remaining third party apps, I don’t trust it anymore,” Hillman said then.

Four years later, Hillman is still going strong on the platform with fellow moderator Nelson Pavlosky. Hillman said in an email last week that he hasn’t been active the entire time, and after that seed of doubt about Twitter in 2018, most people “went back” to Twitter. Upkeep has been nominal, including a few hundred dollars in server fees, and Pavlosky has taken on a lot of responsibility in the infrastructure, Hillman said.

“We’d see a small bump anytime something bad would happen on Twitter, but like most social platforms, people gravitate to where their friends are,” Hillman said. “Myself included.”

Starting the Mastodon instance was an experiment more than anything else, he said, which still feels like the case in 2022. Hillman said he’s not convinced anything will “replace” Twitter. Mastodon doesn’t work just like Twitter does, though it does look similar. But he appreciates the “local,” almost neighborhood-like timeline that lets him see posts from everyone on their server. It’s more curated, Hillman said.

Since the Twitter purchase, Hillman said Jawns.Club has gotten its biggest influx of new members and activity since it launched in 2018, now with almost 700 members total — about 150 of which joined this past weekend alone. And folks are eager to keep the community going: When Pavlosky posted that the growth of members was going to cost him a bit more each year to run the server — around $300 — he quickly got more than enough donations and headroom for further upgrades that could be needed, Hillman said.

Has the purpose of the group changed in the last few weeks since the Twitter timeline has started falling apart?

“Maybe  — hopefully — this is more of a chance for people to evaluate what they want and what they get out of social media,” Hillman said. “I see my role with jawns.club like any other community space that I lead — nobody can force this things to stick, the best I can do is observe and listen and within the bounds of what I can control, try to make it a good experience for everyone that shows up.”

Not every Twitter user is jumping ship, and it’ll likely take more time to figure out what the alternative platforms can offer. Do you have feelings about the Twitter situation, and if you’ll stick around there? Or just have a really good meme about the situation you want us to see? Let us know: philly@technical.ly.

Do you have feelings about the Twitter situation, and if you’ll stick around there? Let us know: philly@technical.ly.

Companies: Twitter
People: Alex Hillman
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