It is with a degree of trepidation that I return to Twitter after a month-long hiatus. There are numerous reasons, but my primary justification is that they’ve finally started banning shitbags like Alex Jones, and you reward good behavior, even if it’s late and reluctant.
A more direct reason, though, is that for all of its faults, Twitter fills a gap that neither Facebook nor Mastodon can yet manage. Facebook is obvious; from a ethical standpoint it is no better than Twitter (and might manage to be worse in many ways). More impactful to me is Facebook’s lack of topic muting coupled with it just being the wrong crowd. Facebook is where I’ve aggregated friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances for life updates and event planning. It turns out that the politics of many people in those groups tends toward horrifying.
Mastodon though, in my experience, is almost worse. Whereas Facebook and Twitter are those racist cousins that you visit briefly until they drop an n-bomb in front of your kids, Mastodon is that seemingly polite aunt or uncle that seems sweet until you find out that 20% of their income goes to the Westboro Baptist Church and they lobby to keep “certain types” out of their neighborhoods. The former gives you the option of beating a hasty retreat or standing your ground and fighting. The latter just makes you wonder how much your presence in their life is advocacy of their beliefs.
Mastodon just feels uncomfortably like everyone is wearing their most presentable mask…but as Wil Wheaton saw, the faces beneath look awfully similar. Sure, it’s nice when it’s your “side” doing the dogpiling, but when you think of the ramifications it does cool the enthusiasm a bit.
But Mastodon is supposed to be safer than Twitter, so at least everyone is protected from that abuse, right? While Mastodon bills itself as more like a roll-your-own, artisanal social media experience–just pick an instance with whose ethos you’re aligned today, and if they abuse your trust you can just cart it all to a different instance–but that merely serves to distribute the burden simultaneously too broadly and not broadly enough. Wil was dumped from his instance because he was getting dogpiled and it was excessively burdensome on the admin. Mastodon, in a nutshell.
I hold out hope that we as an electronic community can come together and figure out a solution to the egregious abuses, but I’ve come to believe that the problem isn’t the network; the problem is the people. We have to solve our social problem, not our technology problem.
Until that time, I won’t cut off one potential abuser in favor of another, this time…although if we do run the into the problem of failing to ban painfully obvious abusers again, it’ll again be time to go.