In recent years, Mastodon has become the model of a more social type of social network, promising to keep away the hateful or ugly content that proliferates over larger and more centralized networks. The journalists hailed him as "Twitter without Nazis"And for years, he has generally kept his promise, but last week the Gab social network migrated to Mastodon – and the administrators of Mastodon were forced to face the Nazi problem of the Internet.
The answer has been messy. Many of Mastodon's important servers were already moderate against racism. Gab was thus confronted with a wave of blocking of individual servers. But going further has proved controversial, exposing deep issues within the community. Before the migration, a user had asked Mastodon to add a hard-coded ban to Gab's servers so that all instances would automatically stop it. It was an extreme measure, but a measure that they felt was justified. "Gab inspired the mass shooters and the murders," they wrote. "You do not understand the type of threat that they represent."
Mastodon's founder, Eugen "Gargron" Rochko, estimates meanwhile that a scorched earth campaign against Mastodon at the fork of Gab is not practical. "You have to understand that it's not possible to do anything at the scale of the platform because it's decentralized," he said. The edge. "I do not have control."
This is a difficult problem because it takes advantage of the deepest limits of decentralized projects such as Mastodon. Mastodon comes from the idealistic open source software movement, designed to allow anyone to manage their own social media site. But it has never been planned to support something like Gab. Although Gab does not have an official political affiliation, it is known that right-wing or explicitly fascist users are too extreme for large networks. His approach of moderation without intervention is antithetical to many supporters of Mastodon, whose creator has officially declared that he was "completely opposed to Gab's project and philosophy".
For some parts of Mastodon, Gab's move is an unfortunate by-product of running an open platform. For others, it is an existential threat – or an opportunity to take a moral stance.
Mastodon looks like Twitter at first sight. Users can post 500-character messages called "toots" (a name chosen by a previous funder), rebroadcast or "amplify" messages on their own calendar, and track or send a private message to others users. But instead of a single site run by a company, it's a software platform based on open source code. ActivityPub Protocol. "Mastodon is a way to host a social media website," says Rochko.
Since its launch in 2016, Mastodon users have created thousands of these websites. (An unofficial directory about 2,500 are currently online.) They include general forums like Mastodon.Social of Rochko, as well as communities based on centers of interest like Fosstodon – for enthusiasts of open source software – and Sinblr, for exiles. Tumblr porn creators. Some cases are recent experiences, such as Dolphin.Townwhere messages should only contain the letter "e."
Many instances of Mastodon impose on users a higher level of quality than large social networks. On Gab, users publish an impressive amount of hate content and even protested very limited moderation At the time of writing these lines, the first page of the Gab chronology contains a warning regarding "International Jewry", a series of publications with the hashtags "#eugenism" and "#ethnostate", as well as a Political caricature of four lynched bodies (marked with LGBT pride). Rainbow, to the Star of David, Black Power fist, and a feminist symbol) above the legend "SOON".
Some of Gab's content has crossed the line of criminal activity. The United Kingdom imprisoned two neo-Nazi teenagers in June for display of terrorist propaganda. Florida police were also arrested a user last month for publishing racist threats and owning a firearm as a convicted offender. And in 2018, a man posted an antisemitic message from Gab just before killing 11 members of a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Gab denies that he preserves hate – CEO Andrew Torba says that it just allows any speech that is "legal in the United States" with a few exceptions. He rightly notes that Facebook and Twitter also contain hate speech and threats of violence. Gab is, however, much smaller than these sites and its poor publications are particularly concentrated.
When Gab migrated to Mastodon, this content threatened to spread into the largest platform. Mastodon is organized into a "Fediverse", which means that users of one instance can track and interact with users of another. This helps Mastodon feel like one community, but by default, it could make users of one instance vulnerable to the trolls of another. Fortunately, administrators can also block instances, excluding posts or users on that server.
Until now, this is the default answer to Gab. The official website of Mastodon will only list the instances that follow the Mastodon Covenant Server. The alliance provides for "active moderation against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia" – which virtually cancels any contact with Gab. For Rochko, this seems to be the clearest way forward. "The software that runs Mastodon is released under open source open source software license, which means everyone can use it," he said. "And you know, this offers a lot of advantages, but some disadvantages."
If you are currently joining a major instance of Mastodon, chances are you will not be logged in to Gab. "All the directors I know, with whom I communicate with myself, have already blocked Gab," says Rochko, including Mastodon.Social. "Essentially, they are isolated."
Gab may not need Fediverse. It does not depend on Mastodon for hosting, payment processing, domain registration or any other basic infrastructure. While a recent Motherboard article Gab says that it has become "unstoppable" thanks to Mastodon, Mastodon really seems to solve a big problem: access to mobile applications.
Apple and Google at once expelled Gab from their apps stores years ago. Moving to Mastodon offers users an integrated application suite from which to choose, filling one of the biggest gaps in the social network. Gab had apparently returned to the Google Play Store As of July 10, the Mastodon protocol still guarantees users many backup options if they are banned again.
This has transformed access to applications into a battlefield. Developers can lock Gab out by disabling login options to the instance or by completely blocking the contents of its servers. And many did it. Mastodon lists six major mobile apps on its homepage. Four of them – the Tusky Android client and the Toot !, Mast and Amaroq iOS applications – block Gab in one way or another.
The Amaroq developer, John Gabelmann, has banned Gab in order to avoid any problems with the App Store. "My main goal is to keep Amaroq accessible to the public and to respect all Apple's policies, which preserve the extremist / hateful content of the store," he said. The edge. "If your network is large enough and unmoderated to attract the negative attention of Apple, Amaroq will abide by Apple's rules."
The creator of Mast, Shihab Mehboob, on the other hand, blocked Gab after the users asked him. Angry Gab users give him a star, but "if hate speech masquerades as freedom of expression on an app I've built, it's my job to moderate it and to reduce it as much as possible, "he says. "I understand that Fediverse is intended to be open and entirely at the discretion of the user as to what he wants to see / use / share, but that should not cover Nazi ideologies. a line drawn somewhere. "
Other applications developers maintain that this blockage does not match Mastodon's mission. The free version of the Fedilab application based on Android initially blocked Gab because of fears related to the content policy of the Play Store. But the ban has been lifted. "I'm just not going to block instances with the application," wrote The developer of Fedilab. "I clearly think it's not my role … If you want a strong block, it's in the hands of social network developers or your administrators."
And the developer of Subway Tooter, which goes through Tateisu, is skeptical that the stores will censor apps that support Gab. "They can run their web application on a web browser," says Tateisu. "If Google wants to ban it, it must use its Chrome web browser."
Gab calls the most important instance of Mastodon, with over one million accounts before migration. This number is almost double the number of users in the previous largest instance listed, Pawoo.net Japanese language forum, and triple the base of Mastodon.Social, the largest instance of this day.
Rochko challenges statistics on accounts in millions of people, because people who registered on these accounts before Gab moved to Mastodon do not know how many of them are still active. He also notes that communities in Mastodon are often intentionally small; some limit the registration or stop accepting new users after a certain point. While Gab has sought to become a direct partner of the "Big Tech" sites that he hates, the main attraction of Mastodon is intimacy – four days after the migration, programmer Darius Kazemi has published a guide specifically praising the virtues small communities.
Some Gab users revealed that they were invading the platform. We illustrated the shot with a shot of The brilliant, tagging "Nicholas" Jack Nicholson, brandishing his ax, and tagging Shelley Duvall by shouting Mastodon. But joining Mastodon is not like infiltrating a traditional centralized social network. If most instances block Gab, being one of the largest Mastodon nodes might be more like becoming the largest group creating a site with WordPress or starting a Slack workspace: it's more like a bragging right that a takeover.
It is unclear how much interaction between users of Gab and other parts of Fediverse. The directors of a major instance of Mastodon, who asked not to be named for fear of harassment, stated that they had not noticed any activity related to Gab on their server . On the other hand, another administrator who spoke anonymously said that he had "an increasing number of user reports stating that people were fighting and harassing users – mainly about transgender issues".
Even without direct action, the administrator said Gab's fundamental concern over Fedivers had put people on the nerves. The administrator mentioned that another user had actually wrongly caught another offender, was also accused of being accused of coming from Gab. "People are more paranoid, but I can not tell them that I blame them."
Mastodon has certainly encountered problems before Gab. Among others Daily point reported Earlier this year, some marginalized users felt ignored or underrated on the platform, including some who said they left because of problems with Rochko's development process. But Gab's migration seems to be at the heart of Mastodon's mission, establishing two founding principles – security and transparency – in contradiction of one with the other.
Even Gab's de facto defenders do not tend to discuss much of its content. (The creator of Subway Tooter is apologized for being insensitive to the "Nazi problem".) Instead, the battle lines seem well drawn: helping individual users and administrators to avoid d & rsquo; Interact with the instance, or drive Gab away from Mastodon as much as possible by any means necessary.
When Tusky blocked Gab, a poster on the F-Droid repository suggested that the application should no longer be considered free software – claiming that even if Tusky respected the letter of open source code, it violated his mind by incorporating censorship into the code. Another user counted asking for a "favors bigotry" flag on Fedilab to allow Gab connections. "It's not about freedom of expression, it's about fostering hatred against specific groups," wrote the user, who said he was assaulted to be a transgender woman. "I do not ask apps to block, just to find out which apps do not actively fight against the intolerance of others."
The puzzle of Mastodon is a microcosm of a much larger conflict online. The Internet has given billions of people a way to amplify their voices, but compromises have become tangible. Abolishing guards may allow misinformation and hatred to flourish. Uncensored online forums can be co-opted by fanatics and stalkers, silencing their less powerful targets. And in the face of violent supremacist movements that target real people, openness – a pillar of Internet culture that was not controversial – may seem like a hopelessly abstract principle.
At the moment, Mastodon and his members navigate between two bad options. If they completely ignore Gab, they could become a less welcoming community for marginalized people. But if they go to war, they risk fracturing Mastodon. And anyway, for the moment, Gab has probably outperformed the work of administrators and developers who have been feeding their communities for years.
At the end of my conversation with Rochko, I ask him if he has any final comments. "It is unfortunate that these are the circumstances we are talking about Mastodon again," he told me. "I'd much rather have it specifically for Mastodon, rather than, you know, Gab."