Elon Musk’s impending takeover of Twitter has ruffled users’ feathers. But what alternatives are there to the “bird app” that tweeters seem to love as much as they hate? 1News takes a look at potential replacements.
By Dan Satherley
Since pioneering the concept of “microblogging” in 2006, Twitter has become the “place of the digital city”, in Musk’s own words. With this great power came great responsibility (otherwise big profits), and not everyone is happy with how the company has handled its outsized influence on media, politics and free speech.
Over the years, a number of rival services have sprung up, giving those wary of what Musk might do with the site plenty of alternatives.
The most obvious alternative to Twitter is Mastodon. On the surface, it looks and functions much the same as Twitter, with “toots” instead of tweets and “favorites” replacing “likes”.
But once you dig deeper into how it works, it becomes clear that it is a “copy”, not a “clone”. Rather than being a single site like Twitter, Mastodon is a federated social network. Much like a real-world federation has member states, Mastodon is divided into separate parts called “instances”. When you join Mastodon, you have to choose an instance where your account resides – many Kiwi Twitter users jumped on it juggernaut.nz for example, while others opted for mastodon.social.
Be open-source, anyone can start a Mastodon instance – and anyone who signs up must abide by the admin rules. In general, anyone can interact with anyone else on a different instance, as long as the administrator allows it. This means that your ability to talk to others on another instance could suddenly be cut off at the whim of the administrator, much like China with its great firewallor your account could be completely wiped out if the admin decides to take his bullet and go home.
But one cool feature of the federated setup is the “local” tab, which is a timeline of everyone’s posts on the same instance as you. The mastodon.nz instance I joined only has a few hundred members so far, many of them Twitter people creating “just in case” accounts, so it’s pretty readable and a good way to find new accounts to follow.
Like a lot of open source software, Mastodon can be a little tricky to use. Registration was not as easy as it could be. I knew I wanted to join a New Zealand instance, but researching the official Mastodon app for ‘NZ’ didn’t bring anything – I quickly figured out that I had to search the whole ‘mastodon.nz’, which isn’t exactly intuitive. Once inside, the first toot I saw was a mastodon.social admin complaining that everyone was signing up incorrectly – go figure.
I jumped to a web browser, only to be told my account didn’t exist – turns out I had to log in using the mastodon.nz URL, not the one that appears at the top of a Google search for “Mastodon”. It’s stuff like this that makes it hard to see Mastodon replacing Twitter as a public microblogging platform – but hey, maybe that’s what Mastodon users want, given the current state of Twitter. Many have commented on how serene their calendar is now, comparing it to the early days of the bird app.
I accepted, only to be abruptly fired back to 2022 when someone on the local feed tweeted their wordle score of the day.
Conservatives and the far right, particularly in the United States, have long argued that Twitter’s content moderation and algorithms are party against them (despite research suggesting otherwise). This has seen a plethora of Twitter clones prey on them under the guise of “free speech”, such as Gab and Parler, whose Nazi issues are so publicized Personally, I wouldn’t join them even under the auspices of research.
spirits, I thought, might be different. Its somewhat pretentious name and slogan “elevating the global conversation” suggest a possible focus on the intellectual; while its promise to pay users for their content (in crypto) seems unique among social networks.
I was wrong. Before I even had a chance to follow anyone, my timeline was full of George Orwell quotes, crypto scams, and Joe Rogan videos. I clicked on the “discovery” tab and the first post he showed me was from Stefan Molyneux, whose white supremacist views saw him launch Twitter and YouTube, and even caught the attention of the Christchurch mosque terrorist, who donated to his podcast. Uh, no thank you.
Other articles were written by fake news peddlers like InfoWars, Pepe the Frog memes and screenshots of Elon Musk tweets. I couldn’t delete my account fast enough.
Being founded by Jimmy Wales – the guy from Wikipedia who is still appear and ask for donations – maybe this was the pseudo-intellectual Twitter clone I was looking for.
It focuses on fighting misinformation and fake news – unlike Twitter, WT.Social makes it easier to report messages as such.
Signing up is easy, especially compared to Mastodon – you can even use your existing Twitter or Facebook account (although that would mean staying on those platforms, which might defeat the purpose).
But I had to laugh when the very next thing that happened was a donation request. Wales is always on, huh? Then I was asked what kind of things I was interested in, with the site automatically signing me up for topics such as “combating misinformation”, “fact-checking project” and “debating club”, and suggesting others like “Human Culture: Progressive Political Cartoons.” . After that, there was another request for money.
Once inside, the begging made sense – WT.Social is clearly run by the smell of a greasy rag. The best way to describe it is, this is what Twitter would have looked like if it had started in 1996. It makes Wikipedia look like the Encyclopedia Britannica, if the latter were hand-illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci and printed on gold leaf.
Wales itself posted recently on Musk takeoverclaiming that WT.Social had seen an “influx of users”.
“I personally think he’s likely to let Donald Trump go back and change the rules there in a way that will massively reinforce trolling and bad behavior under the banner of a misunderstanding of freedom of speech,” Wales wrote.
Another network that some have leaked to is Social.Countera site based on the Mastodon format operated by an anonymous “hacktivist” known only as The Jester.
Counter.Social’s point of difference is that it blocks “entire countries” and has a “zero tolerance stance towards hostile nations, bot accounts, trolls and disinformation networks”.
Bad luck, everyone from Iran, North Korea, Syria, China, Russia and Pakistan.
I don’t know if New Zealand somehow ended up on the naughty list because they also wouldn’t let me join. At the start, there was a message saying that the site was undergoing updates to deal with “an unprecedented influx of unexpected new users”, which is understandable; the next day I tried but was told that “the site owner may have set restrictions preventing you from accessing the site”.
You may have better luck, but whether you want to join a network operated by a mysterious hacker known for staging hoaxes and feuding with Taliban, 4chan and the country of Ecuadorit’s up to you.
If for some reason you’re a Donald Trump fan but don’t want to settle on Parler or Gab, there’s always the former president’s social network, Social truth.
Also based on the Mastodon code, Truth Social bills itself as “America’s ‘Big Tent’ social media platform that encourages open, free, and honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideology.”
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately!), it is not yet available in New Zealand. If you are tech savvy, will not prevent you from registering – but don’t expect much once inside. Business Insider recently described Truth Social as “a conservative ghost town that had been overrun by bots”.
There’s still hope though, with Musk himself noting this week that more people are downloading the Truth Social app now than Twitter, which he says was “because Twitter censored free speech”.
It’s 2022. I don’t need to describe Facebook, do I?
In the interest of completion, I logged on and the first thing I was served was an advertisement, followed by news that my brother has Covid-19…and a screenshot of a tweet from Elon Musk. I’m giving up.