Ever since Elon Musk completed his $45 billion takeover of Twitter last month, there has been a steady stream of users, including a number of journalists, signing up for Mastodon, an open-source alternative.
No one controls Mastodon—or rather, everyone controls their own version of it. There are thousands of servers running the software, and each one chooses which servers it “federates,” or exchanges information with. Don’t like the users who belong to a specific server? Just block them.
Unfortunately for some of the journalists who have joined the service, this mass-blocking (or “defederation”) approach is now being applied to them. A server that caters specifically to journalists was set up recently by Adam Davidson, creator of NPR’s Planet Money podcast. At last count, the server, called journa.host, had about thirteen hundred users, including some prominent journalists (and me). Earlier this week, a user of another network pointed out that about forty-five “instances” are blocking all content from members of journa.host.
Among the reasons given for blocking users from the server are that it is allegedly populated by “click-bait/tabloid journalists” who “can be expected to collect, search through, and misinterpret anything you say with the goal to share this publicly to an as big audience as possible, enabling hate and harassment to any one as long as it gives them clicks [sic].” Others who have blocked the server say that its members are likely to be “surveillance capitalists” or “mainstream propagandists.”
The administrator of an academic server wrote that the journa.host server is “willing to host some extremely scumbag journalist types and we don’t need to be on their radar.” Another said that “reporters mining social media for fodder without the authors’ knowledge or consent is a plague on every other social media platform, and I think [the Mastodon universe] should nip it in the bud.” (For the record, I’m aware that some users might think that what I’m doing with this article also fits that description.)
One journalist who is on Mastodon noted that there is also a cultural difference between the way people often behave on Twitter and expectations on Mastodon. “I’m seeing a clear signal that this is at least in part about norms and conduct,” he said, including “a legacy insistence on sharing your articles, live-posting breaking news, etc.” from journalists more used to Twitter. “That doesn’t fly here.” Despite attempts by Mastodon veterans to educate new users about these differences, he said, many journalists are “stomping around doing the same-old same-old.”
There are approximately seven thousand Mastodon servers at the moment, so the fact that forty-five of them block one server of journalists isn’t really the end of the world. But it remains to be seen whether Mastodon overall will welcome an influx of reporters fleeing Twitter and hoping to re-create what they had there.
Note: An earlier version of this story linked to a website associated with KiwiFarms, an online forum known for harassing other users. That link has been removed. Also, a previous version said there were twelve thousand servers running Mastodon — that number has been updated based on official estimates.Mathew Ingram is CJR’s chief digital writer. Previously, he was a senior writer with Fortune magazine. He has written about the intersection between media and technology since the earliest days of the commercial internet. His writing has been published in the Washington Post and the Financial Times as well as by Reuters and Bloomberg.