Is Mastodon a new Twitter?

As alternative to Twitter, many users have recently been switching to a platform called Mastodon. Our author has investigated, why, at a technical level, this platform is different from the existing social media platforms.

Mastodon is a free-in-all-senses network, a Twitter analog where everyone can high up their server and manage it in their own way [1]. Users are identified by usernames (@username) and the their “home” server, the server they initially subscribed to (@username@instance). This can be compared to the format of an e-mail address. In other words, Mastodon is a free open-source software for a decentralized network offering microblogging services that on the functional part are similar to Twitter, but on its structure, it rather reminds a forum. The common things with Twitter are the possibility to mention other users (by referring to their @username@instance), sharing of media files, and the opportunity to subscribe to other accounts.

Creating a post in Mastodon is similar also to Twitter post creation as the user still has a limit of 500 characters for the text messages, when needed it is possible to attach media and questionnaires. Mastodon posts are called “toots”. Furthermore, on this platform hashtags are also supported.

Examples of the toot creation template and the already created toot:

A decentralized platform

The key feature of Mastodon is that it is a decentralized platform. As the creators explain in the official documentation [2] they follow the principle of federation, which means that instead of a single central service that all people use, there are multiple services, that any number of people can use.

An example to understand Mastodon’s inner processes is email server’s analog. If you have an email account on, you can send and receive emails to and from users of and However, you do not instantly have an account on any of those services.

Similarly, creating an account on one particular server doesn’t create an account for you on every other instance, but you can still communicate with users from other instances.

Types of servers are sorted by category (e.g. general, religion, art, music, journalism, activism, tech, etc.) and/or by language and/or by region. Examples of the possible servers to join are for discussing technology, for discussing games, and for general conversation (a brief note about it is the largest instance). Servers can have their policy or community rules of use determined by the server owner (i.e. admin of a server). If a server is available to join it means that it adopted the Mastodon Server Covenant [3], meaning that they pledge to actively moderate against hate speech, to take daily backups, to have at least one emergency admin, and to provide at least 3 months advance notice in case of a shutdown. But before joining a particular server, the rules of it will be clarified and shown.

Example of the possible rules that can be determined by server’s admins:

Privacy policy

Under each post, you’ll see three icons: a camera, a globe or a padlock, and the letters “CW”. CW stands for Content Warning. It covers your post with text (which you can choose from). It resembles a link to Read More. You might use CWs for: politics; common phobias, like blood; long posts that might otherwise fill up people’s timelines. In general, the best judgment is to think “is there a reason someone might not want to see this?” [1].

To choose privacy settings, a person needs to click the globe or padlock.

Four types of privacy modes can be used:

  1. Public – everyone can see the post.
  2. Unlisted – the same as the public, but not available on Local/Federated timelines.
  3. Followers-Only means only your followers can see the toot.
  4. Private means that only the people that you mentioned can see the post.

What to start with?

If you decided to create your own node (server) in Mastodon it means that you can control everything that happens in that (your part) of this network, but if other users that joined your server don’t agree with the policy that is led by you, they can create another node (server) and join it, leaving your community. In the end, all the nodes are united in one common network, therefore users can communicate with each other. One important thing to mention is that no matter which server the user is using or following, he or she can still communicate with users from other servers or platforms that follow the ActivityPub protocol. The ActivityPub protocol is a decentralized social networking protocol based upon the [ActivityStreams] 2.0 data format. It provides a client-to-server API for creating, updating, and deleting content, as well as a federated server-to-server API for delivering notifications and content [4].

In general, users should not be worried about the content shown to them as there is no advertisement, and you will see only the content shared by people that particular users subscribed to. As a result, there is a subnetwork consisting of a person, his/her relatives, friends, and acquaintances for example, where all these connections also create particular nodes.






Creative Commons Licence

AUTHOR: Solomiia Tymoshchuk

Solomiia Tymoshchuk is master student in Computer Science and an assistant at the Applied Machine Intelligence research group at the BFH School of Engineering & Computer Science.

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