We are not free labor, we are not the product!

person screaming and flipping the view off against a fiery red background

We can all agree that social media is a currently a mess. In its brief history, however, it has opened up amazing and unheard of possibilities for connection and collaboration. Opting out completely would be hard, and a huge loss. Walking away is not the answer to our current woes.

There are alternatives.

For several years now, a quiet revolution has been taking place. It’s only with the very public meltdown of Twitter that a light has been shone upon the quiet little corners of the web where some smart and dedicated people have banded together to create something entirely new.  And it’s called the “fediverse.” I know, darlings, a terrible name right out of the Star Trek Bargain Basement. Bear with me.

In the realm of social media we’re used to the idea of numerous platforms run by various companies coming and going—today it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter where in times past it was Friendster, MySpace, ICQ and so many others. Imagine that they weren’t competing (or colluding) businesses in a capitalistic hellscape but rather interoperating services: log into Twitter, follow a Facebook friend, share an Instagram post all from one place, all in one app, on one timeline.

Take it a step further and imagine this network of networks built on and adhering to a set standard for interoperability that’s maintained by an international, non-governmental body. Add to that free, open source software that can be used to create an endless array of independent, collectively owned and operated social media. Let a thousand anti-Twitters bloom!

Welcome to the fediverse. A network of decentralized, independent social media platforms willingly interoperating by adhering to protocols maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (https://www.w3.org/). 

Mastodon (https://joinmastodon.org) is currently getting all the attention. You may have heard it touted as an alternative Twitter. It certainly is that, but more. Unlike Twitter, there’s actually thousands of Mastodons,  “servers” they’re called, the vast majority running on donations and volunteer labor. Each has its own criteria for joining and rules for moderation. There are server focused on art, technology, journalism, writing, and even, darlings, KINK!! Search a little and you can find your niche while at the same time being able to communicate and follow people on other servers within the fediverse—even on servers that aren’t Mastodon. As long as the other platform follows the conventions, you can connect.

Imagine, if you will, our own queer, smutty twittergram where we share our work and our thoughts without fear of algorithmic erasure, trolls, or weaponized reports.

So, does the fediverse present an opportunity for adventurous and technically adroit smut peddlers? Perhaps. Picture a small niche platform that sets its own community standards that are truly that—norms for the community, not a euphemism for censorship. Imagine, if you will, our own queer, smutty twittergram where we share our work and our thoughts without fear of algorithmic erasure, trolls, or weaponized reports. The community would be self-moderated so appeals, conversation, and learning could happen when conflicts arise. Harassment can be dealt with swiftly, maybe even proactively, ensuring true safety. We dispense with the dehumanizing automated processes we’re subjected to on the commercial platforms. And, darlings, no ads! Let me say that again for those in the back of the room: NO ADS! And did I mention custom emoji?

While I’ve painted quite a rosy picture, creating and maintaining such a space online and interconnecting with thousands of others online communities, some healthy, some not so much, is helluva lotta work. For all the promise, there are perils to consider. In the next post of this little miniseries, we’ll dig into these concerns a little more. 

I’ll also share some advice on how to get started in the fediverse. You may have been warned away by threats of “it’s complicated.” Yes, compared to Twitter or Instagram, it is more complicated. The payoff, however, is more control over the key aspects of your experience, communication, privacy, and safety.

In the meantine, if you’re already on Mastodon or another fediverse platform, hit me up at https://artisan.chat/@papertiger.

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

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Cover photo by Braxton Apana via Unsplash

Published by Edward Ficklin

Edward Ficklin (he/him), maverick artist not afraid to say gay, is a self-taught painter, writer, publisher and sometimes technologist. He creates sensuous and erotically-tinged queer surrealist art, publishes queer-centered sci-fi comix, and pontificates regularly on a range of topics in his Queer Quantum Dispatch newsletter.

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