We’re all by now familiar with the current climate on Twitter – with Musk’s takeover having sparked huge controversy on the site amid mass bannings, firings and parody accounts since his new reign began. Whilst hashtags such as #TwitterMigration and #TwitterExodus are gaining popularity amidst the havoc, another name has popped up in the same mentions and that is: Mastodon.

But what is Mastodon?

Aside from having the cutest mascot alive (we think), Mastodon is, in fact, not that new. Launched in October 2016 by German software developer: Eugen Rochko, it had its 15 minutes of fame in early 2017, before its growth slowed to a crawl. Its creation was spurred by Rochko’s dissatisfaction with Twitter, alongside his concerns over the platform’s centralised control. Starting to sound a bit familiar…

After its lack of growth for many years however, Mastodon is now seeing a huge increase in followers once again following Twitter’s supposed upheaval, more that 70,000 in fact only a day after Musk’s Twitter deal was announced. Now, at the time of writing, Mastodon has reached more than a million active users, with almost half a million new users since 27th October.

On the other side, Twitter is losing its most active users from its 238million-strong user base – this was before Musk had even acquired the platform.

How does Mastodon work?

Mastodon is not a single website or application – rather, to use it, you need to make an account with a provider (or server as they like to call them) that allows you to connect with others across Mastodon.

These servers are grouped together by topic and location and the idea is that they bring users together using “common interest”.

There are currently just over 4000 servers to choose from – some being closed for registration simply because they have reached capacity or prefer to keep their communities smaller. Once you enter your chosen server, the interface looks pretty similar to Twitter with short posts (up to 500 characters by default) called “toots” instead of “tweets.”

For people looking for a seamless transition without losing their online community, there is a “Twitter migration toolkit” for finding your followers and follows on Mastodon.

Why does Mastodon have servers?

The idea behind Mastodon is that no central authority should own and govern one platform in its entirety (unlike with Twitter, where Musk owns and is able to change his mind about how the platform operates at any moment). Having many servers means that Mastodon is decentralised and that what you post is only visible within the server you are a part of. However, depending on other servers’ policies, and if they’re compatible with the one you are a part of, other servers may be able to view your posts too.

This is a big change from Twitter, and many other social media platforms in fact, where what you post can be seen by any and everyone, unless your account is set to private and only viewable by your followers.

All in all, the idea of Mastodon is that you are able to connect with people within an environment that you like and with policies that you prefer personally, with each server having its own rules and regulations, with individual server admins.

Is it safe?

Ironically, the way Mastodon works can ensure greater “freedom of speech,” one of the main concerns users have regarding Twitter’s future, and one of the reasons Musk sited for buying it.

Whilst Twitter shows its content using AI-based algorithms, Mastodon shows posts in chronological order without curation – this may sound like complete chaos however, due to community-based moderation, most servers hold users to a high standard and are easily able to ban or filter anything offensive or dangerous (and more quickly.)

There is proof of community moderation having shown its force in the past on the website, with many users banning the far-right platform Gab on the site without any central direction. It now is no longer a part of Mastodon as a platform.

So, will Mastodon become the “Twitter Alternative?”

It is difficult to say, but important to remember that Mastodon is neither a replacement for Twitter nor a decentralised copy of it. In fact, it is quite different to any other social media platform because of its decentralised nature. So, if you want a like-for-like Twitter replacement, it may be a little frustrating to use at first.

Some may see it as an upgrade to Twitter, some may see it as a pathway to “freedom of speech” on social media, but one thing is for certain, Mastodon is growing at a massive pace and there’s no telling when it might stop.