Tag: Twitter (page 1 of 3)

Of all lies, art is the least untrue

Nyan cat

The world doesn’t particularly need my opinions on NFTs (‘non-fungible tokens’) as there’s plenty of opinions to go round in other newsletters, podcasts, and blog posts.

After doing a bunch of reading, though, I think that the main use case for NFTs will be ticket sales. That is to say, when there is a limited supply of something with intrinsic value, and both the original buyer and seller want to ensure authenticity.

The rest is speculation and gambling, as far as I’m concerned, with a side serving of ecological destruction. I’m also a bit concerned about the enforcement of copyright everywhere on the web it might lead to…


Twitter’s Dorsey auctions first ever tweet as digital memorabilia — “The post, sent from Dorsey’s account in March of 2006, received offers on Friday that went as high as $88,888.88 within minutes of the Twitter co-founder tweeting a link to the listing on ‘Valuables by Cent’ – a tweets marketplace.”

NFTs, explained — “Non-fungible” more or less means that it’s unique and can’t be replaced with something else. For example, a bitcoin is fungible — trade one for another bitcoin, and you’ll have exactly the same thing. A one-of-a-kind trading card, however, is non-fungible. If you traded it for a different card, you’d have something completely different. You gave up a Squirtle, and got a 1909 T206 Honus Wagner, which StadiumTalk calls “the Mona Lisa of baseball cards.” (I’ll take their word for it.)”

NFTs are a dangerous trap — “The more time and passion that creators devote to chasing the NFT, the more time they’ll spend trying to create the appearance of scarcity and hustling people to believe that the tokens will go up in value. They’ll become promoters of digital tokens more than they are creators. Because that’s the only reason that someone is likely to buy one–like a stock, they hope it will go up in value. Unlike some stocks, it doesn’t pay dividends or come with any other rights. And unlike actual works of art, NFTs aren’t usually aesthetically beautiful on their own, they simply represent something that is.”

Cryptodamages: Monetary value estimates of the air pollution and human health impacts of cryptocurrency mining — “Results indicate that in 2018, each $1 of Bitcoin value created was responsible for $0.49 in health and climate damages in the US and $0.37 in China. The similar value in China relative to the US occurs despite the extremely large disparity between the value of a statistical life estimate for the US relative to that of China. Further, with each cryptocurrency, the rising electricity requirements to produce a single coin can lead to an almost inevitable cliff of negative net social benefits, absent perpetual price increases.”

HERE IS THE ARTICLE YOU CAN SEND TO PEOPLE WHEN THEY SAY “BUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES WITH CRYPTOART WILL BE SOLVED SOON, RIGHT?” — “Much like the world of blue chip, some NFTs may be bought and sold simply as artworks, intended for personal collections and acquired for aesthetic, conceptual, or personal reasons. However, every single one is made from the outset to be liquidated- an asset first, artwork second. They are images attached to dollar figures, not the other way around.”


Quotation-as-title by Gustave Flaubert. Image of Nyan Cat, a 2011 meme, which sold as an NFT for ~$600,000 recently.

Taste ripens at the expense of happiness

Oranges growing on a tree

🧐 Habits, Data, and Things That Go Bump in the Night: Microsoft for Education ⁠— “Microsoft’s ubiquity, however, is sometimes mistaken for banality. Because it is everywhere, because we have all used it forever, we assume we can trust it.”

I haven’t voluntarily used something made by Microsoft (as opposed to acquired by it) for… about 20 years?


You Can Set Screen-Time Rules That Don’t Ruin Your Kids’ Lives — “Bear in mind that the limits you set need not be a specific number of minutes. Try to think of other, more natural ways of breaking up their activities. Maybe your kids play one game before tackling homework. Also, consider granting them one day per weekend with fewer restrictions on screen-time socializing. Giving them more autonomy over their weekends helps approximate the fun and flexibility of their pre-COVID world, and lets them unwind and hang out more with their friends.”

This has been really hard to managed as a parent, and it’s easy to think that you’re always doing it wrong.


💬 Why do we keep on telling others what to do? — “Usually starting a conversation out with telling people what you feel they are doing wrong is going to make it a negative conversation all in all, and I tend to believe that it’s better to follow “the campfire rule”, try to make all people taking part in a conversation end up a bit better off than what they were when they started the conversation, and telling people what to do or what not to are going straight against this.”

Post-therapy, I’m much better at focusing on changing myself than trying to change others. I’d recommend therapy, but that might be construed as an implicit instruction…


🙌 Twitter Considers Subscription Fee for Tweetdeck, Unique Content — “To explore potential options outside ad sales, a number of Twitter teams are researching subscription offerings, including one using the code name “Rogue One,” according to people familiar with the effort. At least one idea being considered is related to “tipping,” or the ability for users to pay the people they follow for exclusive content, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are internal. Other possible ways to generate recurring revenue include charging for the use of services like Tweetdeck or advanced user features like “undo send” or profile-customization options.”

This is fantastic news. It would destroy Twitter as it currently stands, but that’s fine as it’s much worse than it was a decade ago.


🔒 Do lockdowns work? — “It’s absurd thinking, but the sceptics have finally found an argument that cannot be categorically disproved. Lockdowns have a scientific rational: you can’t transmit a virus to people you don’t meet. Contrary to what Toby says in his article, they also have historic precedents: during the Spanish Flu, cities such as Philadelphia closed shops, churches, schools, bars and restaurants by law (they also made face masks mandatory). And now we have numerous natural experiments from around the world showing that infection rates fall when lockdowns are introduced.”

There will always be idiots who try and use their influence and eloquence to ensure they’re heard. Thankfully, there are people like this who can dismantle their arguments brick-by-brick.


Quotation-as-title by Jules Renard. Image. by Elena Mozhvilo.

There are many things we despise in order that we may not have to despise ourselves

Chart showing Internet 1.0 ("Technology"), Internet 2.0 ("Economics") and Internet 3.0 (Politics). A u-shaped line indicates 1.0 and 3.0 as 'decentralised' and 2.0 as 'centralised'. Via Stratechery.

🇺🇸 Well, that was expected — “I’ve recorded this here since it feels like the chronology of events and the smaller details are already evaporating, and this helps me wrap my head around a tiny fraction of it. If you happen to read this, don’t take this at face value (nor anything else on the web for that matter). Do your own research and correct me if you think any of the timestamps are wrong.”

📺 Fox News and the real insurrection — “After Democrats said they planned to impeach Trump again, Fox opinionators echoed the risible Republican talking point that such a move would be provocative; after Twitter banned Trump, they pivoted to bash Big Tech. Yesterday morning, Jeanine Pirro compared Amazon’s decision to boot Parler, an app popular among right-wing extremists, from its web-hosting services to Kristallnacht—the night, in 1938, when Nazis in Germany killed around one hundred Jewish people and arrested tens of thousands more”

Lost Passwords Lock Millionaires Out of Their Bitcoin Fortunes — “Of the existing 18.5 million Bitcoin, around 20 percent — currently worth around $140 billion — appear to be in lost or otherwise stranded wallets, according to the cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis. Wallet Recovery Services, a business that helps find lost digital keys, said it had gotten 70 requests a day from people who wanted help recovering their riches, three times the number of a month ago.”

🕸️ Pirated Academic Database Sci-Hub Is Now on the ‘Uncensorable Web’ — “As evidenced by Sci-Hub’s own problems, the decentralized web is being built out of fears of deplatforming. As the internet’s access points are increasingly centralized in the hands of a few actors, certain applications – most recently, Twitter-alternative Parler – have faced censorship at the hands of web server providers, app stores and DNS certificate authorities.”

🏛️ Internet 3.0 and the Beginning of (Tech) History — Here technology itself will return to the forefront: if the priority for an increasing number of citizens, companies, and countries is to escape centralization, then the answer will not be competing centralized entities, but rather a return to open protocols.  This is the only way to match and perhaps surpass the R&D advantages enjoyed by centralized tech companies; open technologies can be worked on collectively, and forked individually, gaining both the benefits of scale and inevitability of sovereignty and self-determination.


Quotation-as-title by Vauvenargues. Image from bottom-linked post.

Nothing is repeated, and everything is unparalleled

🤔 We need more than deplatforming — “But as reprehensible as the actions of Donald Trump are, the rampant use of the internet to foment violence and hate, and reinforce white supremacy is about more than any one personality. Donald Trump is certainly not the first politician to exploit the architecture of the internet in this way, and he won’t be the last. We need solutions that don’t start after untold damage has been done.”

💪 Demands and Responsibilities — “If you demand rights for yourself, you have to demand those same rights for others. You have to take on the responsibility of collective action, and you yourself act in a way that benefits the collective. If you want credit, you have to give credit. If you want community, you have to be communal. If you want to be satiated, you have to allow others to be sated. If you want your vote to be respected, you have to respect the votes of others.”

🗯️ Parler Pitched Itself as Twitter Without Rules. Not Anymore, Apple and Google Said. — “Google said in a statement that it had pulled the app because Parler was not enforcing its own moderation policies, despite a recent reminder from Google, and because of continued posts on the app that sought to incite violence.”

🙅 Hello! You’ve Been Referred Here Because You’re Wrong About Section 230 Of The Communications Decency Act — “While this may all feel kind of mean, it’s not meant to be. Unless you’re one of the people who is purposefully saying wrong things about Section 230, like Senator Ted Cruz or Rep. Nancy Pelosi (being wrong about 230 is bipartisan). For them, it’s meant to be mean. For you, let’s just assume you made an honest mistake — perhaps because deliberately wrong people like Ted Cruz and Nancy Pelosi steered you wrong. So let’s correct that.”

🧐 What Wikipedia saw during election week in the U.S., and what we’re doing next — “To help meet this goal, we hope to invest in resources that we can share with international Wikipedia communities that will help mitigate future disinformation risks on the sites. We’re also looking to bring together administrators from different language Wikipedias for a global forum on disinformation. Together, we aim to build more tools to support our volunteer editors, and to combat disinformation.”


Quotation-as-title by the Goncourt Brothers. Image from top-linked post.

There are persons who, when they cease to shock us, cease to interest us

Donald Trump's head on Gladiator's body with text "How Trump sees himself - 'Are you not entertained?'"

It’s difficult not to say “I told you so” when things play out exactly as predicted. Four years ago, when Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the USA, many had ominous forebodings.

Donald Trump’s inaugural address was a declaration of war on everything represented by these choreographed civilities. President Trump – it’s time to begin to get used to those jarringly ill-fitting words – did not conjure a deathless phrase for the day. His words will not lodge in the brain in any of the various uplifting ways that the likes of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy or Reagan once achieved. But the new president’s message could not have been clearer. He came to shatter the veneer of unity and continuity represented by the peaceful handover. And he may have succeeded. In 1933, Roosevelt challenged the world to overcome fear. In 2017, Mr Trump told the world to be very afraid.

The Guardian view on Donald Trump’s inauguration: a declaration of political war (January 2017)

He was all bluster, we were told. That it was rhetoric and would never be followed up with action.

Leaders are judged by their first 100 days in office. Wikipedia has a page outlining what Trump did during his, including things that, looking back from the vantage point of 2021, seem like warning shots: rolling back gun control legislation, stoking fears around voter fraud, cracking down on illegal immigration, freezing federal job hiring (except military), and engaging in tax reform to the benefit of the rich.


As a History teacher, it always struck me as odd that Adolf Hitler, a man born in Austria with brown hair, managed to lead a fascist party that extolled the virtues of being German and having blond hair. These days, I’m equally baffled that some of the richest people in our society — Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg — can pass themselves off as ‘anti-elite’.

Much of their ability to do so is by creating an alternative reality with the aid of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. These replace traditional gatekeepers to information with algorithms tweaked for engagement, attention, and profit.

As we know, whipping up hatred and peddling conspiracy theories puts these algorithms into overdrive, and ensure those who agree with the content see what’s shared. But this approach also reaches those who don’t agree with it, by virtue of people seeking to reject and push back on it. Meanwhile, of course, the platforms rake in $$$ from advertisers.


I get the feeling that there are a great number of people who do not understand the way the world works in 2021. I am probably one of them. In fact, given how much control we’ve given to algorithms in recent years, perhaps no-one truly understands.

One thing for sure, though, is that banning Donald Trump from Facebook and Instagram indefinitely is too little, too late. These platforms, among with others, downplayed his and other ‘alt-right’ hate speech for fear of being penalised.

Pandora’s Box is open. Those who realise that everything is a construct and theory-laden will control those who don’t. The latter will be reduced to merely wandering around an alternative reality, like protesters in Statuary Hall, waiting to be told what to do next.


Quotation-as-title by F.H. Bradley

You can’t tech your way out of problems the tech didn’t create

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), is a US-based non-profit that exists to defend civil liberties in the digital world. They’ve been around for 30 years, and I support them financially on a monthly basis.

In this article by Corynne McSherry, EFF’s Legal Director, she outlines the futility in attempts by ‘Big Social’ to do content moderation at scale:

[C]ontent moderation is a fundamentally broken system. It is inconsistent and confusing, and as layer upon layer of policy is added to a system that employs both human moderators and automated technologies, it is increasingly error-prone. Even well-meaning efforts to control misinformation inevitably end up silencing a range of dissenting voices and hindering the ability to challenge ingrained systems of oppression.

CORYNNE MCSHERRY, CONTENT MODERATION AND THE U.S. ELECTION: WHAT TO ASK, WHAT TO DEMAND (EFF)

Ultimately, these monolithic social networks have a problem around false positives. It’s in their interests to be over-zealous, as they’re increasingly under the watchful eye of regulators and governments.

We have been watching closely as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, while disclaiming any interest in being “the arbiters of truth,” have all adjusted their policies over the past several months to try arbitrate lies—or at least flag them. And we’re worried, especially when we look abroad. Already this year, an attempt by Facebook to counter election misinformation targeting Tunisia, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, and seven other African countries resulted in the accidental removal of accounts belonging to dozens of Tunisian journalists and activists, some of whom had used the platform during the country’s 2011 revolution. While some of those users’ accounts were restored, others—mostly belonging to artists—were not.

Corynne McSherry, Content Moderation and the U.S. Election: What to Ask, What to Demand (EFF)

McSherry’s analysis is spot-on: it’s the algorithms that are a problem here. Social networks employ these algorithms because of their size and structure, and because of the cost of human-based content moderation. After all, these are companies with shareholders.

Algorithms used by Facebook’s Newsfeed or Twitter’s timeline make decisions about which news items, ads, and user-generated content to promote and which to hide. That kind of curation can play an amplifying role for some types of incendiary content, despite the efforts of platforms like Facebook to tweak their algorithms to “disincentivize” or “downrank” it. Features designed to help people find content they’ll like can too easily funnel them into a rabbit hole of disinformation.

CORYNNE MCSHERRY, CONTENT MODERATION AND THE U.S. ELECTION: WHAT TO ASK, WHAT TO DEMAND (EFF)

She includes useful questions for social networks to answer about content moderation:

  • Is the approach narrowly tailored or a categorical ban?
  • Does it empower users?
  • Is it transparent?
  • Is the policy consistent with human rights principles?

But, ultimately…

You can’t tech your way out of problems the tech didn’t create. And even where content moderation has a role to play, history tells us to be wary. Content moderation at scale is impossible to do perfectly, and nearly impossible to do well, even under the most transparent, sensible, and fair conditions

CORYNNE MCSHERRY, CONTENT MODERATION AND THE U.S. ELECTION: WHAT TO ASK, WHAT TO DEMAND (EFF)

I’m so pleased that I don’t use Facebook products, and that I only use Twitter these days as a place to publish links to my writing.

Instead, I’m much happier on the Fediverse, a place where if you don’t like the content moderation approach of the instance you’re on, you can take your digital knapsack and decide to call another place home. You can find me here (for now!).

When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other

Graphic showing a hospital, face masks, and hand washing

😷 How do pandemics end?

🙆 How I talk to the victims of conspiracy theories

🔒 The Github youtube-dl Takedown Isn’t Just a Problem of American Law

🖥️ The Raspberry Pi 400 – Teardown and Review

🐧 As a former social media analyst, I’m quitting Twitter


Quotation-as-title by Eric Hoffer. Image from top-linked post.

Collaboration is our default operating system

One of the reasons I’m not active on Twitter any more is the endless, pointless arguments between progressives and traditionalists, between those on the left of politics and those on the right, and between those who think that watching reality TV is an acceptable thing to spend your life doing, and those who don’t.

Interestingly a new report which draws on data from 10,000 people, focus groups, and academic interviews suggests that half of the controversy on Twitter is generated by a small proportion of users:

[The report] states that 12% of voters accounted for 50% of all social-media and Twitter users – and are six times as active on social media as are other sections of the population. The two “tribes” most oriented towards politics, labelled “progressive activists” and “backbone Conservatives”, were least likely to agree with the need for compromise. However, two-thirds of respondents who identify with either the centre, centre-left or centre-right strongly prefer compromise over conflict, by a margin of three to one.

Michael Savage, ‘Culture wars’ are fought by tiny minority – UK study (The Observer)

Interestingly, the report also shows difference between the US and UK, but also to attitudes before and after the pandemic started:

The research also suggested that the Covid-19 crisis had prompted an outburst of social solidarity. In February, 70% of voters agreed that “it’s everyone for themselves”, with 30% agreeing that “we look after each other”. By September, the proportion who opted for “we look after each other” had increased to 54%.

More than half (57%) reported an increased awareness of the living conditions of others, 77% feel that the pandemic has reminded us of our common humanity, and 62% feel they have the ability to change things around them – an increase of 15 points since February.

MICHAEL SAVAGE, ‘CULTURE WARS’ ARE FOUGHT BY TINY MINORITY – UK STUDY (THE OBSERVER)

As I keep on saying, those who believe in unfettered capitalism have to perpetuate a false narrative of competition in all things to justify their position. We have more things in common than differences, and I truly believe the collaboration is our default operating system.

Saturday sailings

I deactivated my Twitter account this week. I’ve done that before, but this time I’m honestly not sure if I’ll reactivate it.

Given that I get a fair few links through Twitter, I wonder if the kind of things I share in these weekly link roundups will change? We shall see, I guess. You can connect with me via the Fediverse: https://mastodon.social/@dajbelshaw


33 Myths of the System (book cover)

33 Myths of the System

Drawing on the entire history of radical thought, while seeking to plumb their common depths, 33 Myths of the System, presents a synthesis of independent criticism, a straightforward exposure of the justifications of the world-system, along with a new way to perceive and understand the unhappy supermind that directs, penetrates and even lives our lives.

Darren Allen

While I didn’t agree with absolutely everything in this free e-book, it’s fair to say it blew my mind. Highly recommended, especially for thoughtful people. One of the best things I’ve read in the last decade in terms of getting me to question… everything.


A catastrophe at Twitter

In any case, Twitter’s response to the incident offered further cause for distress. The company’s initial tweet on the subject said almost nothing, and two hours later it had followed only to say what many users were forced to discover for themselves: that Twitter had disabled the ability of many verified users to tweet or reset their passwords while it worked to resolve the hack’s underlying cause.

The near-silencing of politicians, celebrities, and the national press corps led to much merriment on the service — see this, along with Those good tweets below, for some fun — but the move had other, darker implications. Twitter is, for better and worse, one of the world’s most important communications systems, and among its users are accounts linked to emergency medical services. The National Weather Service in Lincoln, IL, for example, had just tweeted a tornado warning before suddenly going dark. To the extent that anyone was relying on that account for further information about those tornadoes, they were out of luck.

Casey Newton (The INterface)

I didn’t actually deactivate my Twitter account because of the hack — that was actually more to do with the book mentioned above — but as a verified user, this certainly reinforced my decision. Just a reminder that at least one person with nuclear codes uses Twitter as their primary means of communication.


This is Fine: Optimism & Emergency in the P2P Network

Centralised platforms crave data collection and thirst for trust from the communities they seek to exploit. These platforms sell bloated, overpowered hardware that cannot be repaired, vulnerable to drops in consumer spending or spasms in the supply chain. They anxiously eye legislation to compel encryption backdoors, which will further weaken the trust they need so badly. They wobble beneath network disruptions (such as the worldwide slowdowns in March under COVID-19 load surges) that incapacitate cloud-dependent devices. They sleep with one eye open in countries where authoritarian governments compel them or their employees to operate as an informal arm of enforcement. These current trajectories point to the accelerating erosion of centralised platform power.

Cade Diehm (The New Design Congress)

This is an incredible article that’s very well presented. I keep talking about the importance of decentralisation, and this article backs that up — but also explains how and why decentralised social networks need to do better.


CRT monitors on shelves

Our remote work future is going to suck

While the upsides to remote work are true, for many people remote work is a poison pill — one where you are given “control” in the name of productivity in exchange for some pretty nasty long-term effects.

In reality, remote work makes you vulnerable to outsourcing, reduces your job to a metric, creates frustrating change-averse bureaucracies, and stifles your career growth. The lack of scrutiny our remote future faces is going to result in frustrated workers and ineffective companies.

Sean Blanda

I’m a proponent of remote work, but I was nodding along to many of the points made in this post. Context is everything, and there’s something to be said about being able to go home to escape work.


CO2 emissions on the web

Your content site probably doesn’t need JavaScript. You probably don’t need a CSS framework. You probably don’t need a custom font. Use responsive images. Extend your HTTP cache lifetimes. Use a static site generator or wp2static.com instead of dynamically generating each page on the fly, despite never changing. Consider ditching that third-party analytics service that you never look at anyway, especially if they also happen to sell ads. Run your website through websitecarbon.com. Choose a green web host.

Danny van Kooten

This week I changed the theme over at my personal blog to one that is much lighter. When I shared what I’d done on Mastodon, someone commented that they didn’t think it would make that much difference. This post was written by someone who popped up to rebut what they said.


Ask a Sane Person: Jia Tolentino on Practicing the Discipline of Hope

INTERVIEW: What has this pandemic confirmed or reinforced about your view of society?

TOLENTINO: That capitalist individualism has turned into a death cult; that the internet is a weak substitute for physical presence; that this country criminally undervalues its most important people and its most important forms of labor; that we’re incentivized through online mechanisms to value the representation of something (like justice) over the thing itself; that most of us hold more unknown potential, more negative capability, than we’re accustomed to accessing; that the material conditions of life in America are constructed and maintained by those best set up to exploit them; and that the way we live is not inevitable at all.  

Christopher Bollen

I have to confess to not knowing who Jia Tolentino was before stumbling across this via the Hurry Slowly newsletter (although I must have read her writing before). This is a fantastic interview, which you should read in its entirety.


Header image by Fab Lentz

The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases

Twitter, the Fediverse, and MoodleNet

In a recent blog post, Twitter made a big deal of the fact that they are testing new conversation settings.

While some people don’t necessarily think this is a good idea, I think it’s a step forward. In fact, I’ve actually already tried out this functionality… on the Fediverse.

The Fediverse (a portmanteau of “federation” and “universe”) is the ensemble of federated (i.e. interconnected) servers that are used for web publishing (i.e. social networking, microblogging, blogging, or websites) and file hosting, but which, while independently hosted, can intercommunicate with each other.

Wikipedia

That’s a mouthful. Let’s get to the details of that in a moment and deal with a concrete example instead. Here is a screenshot showing what Twitter has learned from Mastodon (and other federated social networks) in terms of how to make conversations better.

Composing a ‘toot’ in Mastodon and choosing who can see it

The Fediverse feels like a very different place to Twitter. There’s a reason why you will find the marginalised, the oppressed, and very niche interests here: it’s a safe space. And, despite macho right-leaning posturing, we all need spaces online where we can be ourselves.


Of course ‘federation’ and ‘decentralisation’ aren’t words that most of us tend to use on a day-to-day basis. So it’s important to define terms here so you can see the inherent difference between using something like Twitter and something like Mastodon.

Note: I can pretty much guarantee by 2030 you’ll be using a federated social network of some description. After all, in 2007 people told me Twitter would never catch on, yet a few years later pretty much everyone was using it.)

Taken from docs.joinmastodon.org

Check out the diagram above. On the left, is the representation of a centralised platform. An example of that would be Facebook. You’re either on Facebook, or you’re not on Facebook. I don’t use any of Facebook’s products out of a concern for privacy, civil liberties, and the threat they pose to democracy. As a result, my ethical stance means that anything posted to Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp is inaccessible to me.It’s either have an account on their servers, or you don’t.

On the right of the diagram, you can the representation of a distributed social network. Here, every server has a copy of what is on every other server. This is how bittorrent works, and is great for resilience and ensuring things are fault-tolerant. There are a couple of examples of social networks that use this approach (e.g. Scuttlebutt), but they’re primarily used for situations where users have intermittent internet access.

Then, in the middle is a federated social network. This is what I’m focusing on in this article. It’s kind of how email works; you can email anyone else in the world no matter which email platform they use. GMail users email Outlook users email Fastmail users. Only the data you send and receive with the person you are communicating with resides on each email server; you don’t have a copy of everyone in the whole network’s email!

So, just as with email, federated social networks have an underlying protocol to ensure that messages from one platform can be understood, displayed, and replied to by another. Those making the platform, of course, have to bake that functionality in; Facebook, Twitter, and the like choose not to do so.

What does this mean in practice? Well, let’s take three examples. The first is around 10 years ago when I decided to delete my Facebook account. That means I haven’t had an account there, or been able to access any non-public information on that social network for a decade.

On the other hand, about five years ago, I ditched GMail for Protonmail because I wanted to improve the privacy and security of my personal email account. Leaving GMail didn’t mean giving up having an email account.

Likewise, a couple of years ago, I decided to leave my Mastodon-powered social.coop account as I was getting some hassle. Instead of quitting the social network, as I would have had to do if this had happened on Facebook, I could quickly and easily move my account to mastodon.social. All of my settings were imported, including all of the people I was following!


An aside about moderation. What Twitter is doing with its new functionality is giving its users tools to do some of their own moderation. Other than that, the only moderation possible within the Twitter network is to ‘report’ tweets for spam or abuse. Moderators, acting on a network-wide scale then need to figure out whether the tweet contravened their guidelines. Having reported tweets before, this can take days and is often not resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.

Contrast that with the Fediverse, where people join instances depending on a range of factors including their geographic location, languages spoken, political and religious beliefs, tolerance for profanity, and so on. Fediverse users are accessing the wider network through a server that is moderated by people they trust. If they stop trusting those moderators they can move their account elsewhere, or even host their own server.

This leads to much faster, more local, and more effective moderation. Instance-level blocking is common, as it should be. After all, you have the right to discuss with other people things I find hateful, but it doesn’t mean I have to see them on my timeline.


Post using PixelFed
Post using PixelFed

You may be wondering about what how this looks and feels in practice. The above screenshot is from PixelFed, a federated social network that is a bit like Instagram. The difference, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, is that it’s federated!

Mastodon timeline showing update from PixelFed

Check out the two posts on my Mastodon timeline above.

The top post is an example of someone on Mastodon ‘republishing’ the same thing they’ve posted on Twitter. They’ve literally had to do the manual work of separately uploading the image and entering the text on each social network, and have to maintain two separate accounts.

The bottom post, on the other hand, is my PixelFed post showing up in my Mastodon feed. No extra work was involved here: anyone’s Mastodon account can follow anyone’s PixelFed account, and it’s all down to the magic of open, federated protocols. In this case, ActivityPub.

There are many federated social networks ⁠— many more, in fact, than are listed on the Wikipedia page for Fediverse. One of my favourites is Misskey just because it’s so… Japanese. You can choose whatever suits you, and everything works together.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation said back in 2011 when writing about federated social networks:

The best way for online social networking to become safer, more flexible, and more innovative is to distribute the ability and authority to the world’s users and developers, whose various needs and imaginations can do far more than what any single company could achieve.

Richard Esguerra (EFF)

As many people reading this will be aware, I have skin in this game, a dog in this fight, a horse in this race because of MoodleNet. The difference is that MoodleNet is not only a federated social network, but a decentralised digital commons. Educators join communities to curate collections of openly-licensed resources.

This poses additional design challenges to those faced by existing federated social networks. We’re pretty close now to v1.0 beta and have built upon the fantastic thinking and approaches of other federated social networks. In addition, we’ve added functionality that is specific (at the moment, at least) to MoodleNet, and suits our target audience.

No video above? Try this!

So not so much as a ‘conclusion’ to this particular piece of writing as a screencast video to show you what I mean with MoodleNet, as well as the judicious use of this emoji: 🤔


Quotation-as-title from Carl Jung. Header image by Md. Zahid Hasan Joy