The Guardian • Issue #2041

Twitter vs Mastodon vs What’s going on with Social Media?

For anyone who isn’t sure, what even is Twitter?

Twitter is commonly known as a social media network, a modern way to communicate and socialise with the broader world. Twitter began life as a micro-blogging platform, allowing users to post messages (tweets) with a very small character limit, and receive replies and “likes” from the entire twitter community. Unlike Facebook, which encourages friends and close contacts to “connect” with each other, Twitter makes it possible and actively encourages you to “follow” strangers, so long as the algorithm believes you will engage with their tweets.

So what’s the fuss about?

Elon Musk has recently purchased Twitter, taking it out of sharemarket ownership and into his own personal hands. Musk is a largely polarising figure, to the point of being seen as a meme (that is, an image or text  copied and spread rapidly by internet users); most people will have strong opinions of him one way or another.

Is Musk as bad as people think?

Elon Musk was born to his father Errol Musk and mother Maye in apartheid South Africa. The Musk family grew up with an investment stake in emerald mines in Zambia, profiting perhaps inadvertently from the system of Apartheid Errol had professedly campaigned against.

Musk himself has been involved in a long string of public controversies including allegedly exposing himself to a flight attendant, offering to buy her a horse, and then settling the case for a quarter of a million dollars. Musk has been known to attack workers, including forcing them back into the office during the COVID epidemic (at both Tesla and Twitter) as well as sacking thousands of Twitter employees shortly after acquiring the company. As an ostensible champion of green energy and electric vehicles through his Tesla company, Musk has managed to profit greatly from fossil fuel vehicle sales via the U.S’ carbon credits trading scheme, raking in over $5b (USD) between 2017 and 2022 from fossil fuel auto manufacturers required to purchase the credits Tesla generates. Recently, Musk demonstrated his U.S. chauvinism credentials when he tweeted “We will coup who we want” in response to a user commenting on the 2019 Bolivian coup which the user suggested would have granted Musk cheap access to Bolivia’s lithium reserves critical for manufacturing Tesla’s batteries.


Alternatives to Twitter include conservative-aligned platforms such as Truth social, Gettr, Gab or Parler, as well as more liberal-aligned outlets such as Mastodon or Tumblr. Each has its own pros and cons, evidence of a more compelling alternative can be found in the audiences of each rather than the features of the platforms themselves.

Why are people leaving Twitter for Mastodon?

From a political point of view, Musk has signalled himself to be aligned with the US Republican party by unbanning Donald Trump from Twitter, mocking the idea of pronouns and publicly denigrating Dr Fauci for vaccine mandates rolled out in the US Many Democrat-aligned celebrities and notables have publicly voiced their displeasure about Musk owning Twitter, claiming that his ownership will herald a resurgence of right-wing voices on Twitter and even a repeat of the January 6th capitol riots.

Twitter has also suffered more technical issues since Musk has taken over, including a large outage for all Australian/New Zealand users, multi-factor authentication being made unavailable for a short period of time and threads not loading for some users. A more contentious change to Twitter made by Musk was to allow users who paid a premium for Twitter to receive a “verified” badge on their handle. This badge was previously reserved for notable individuals, journalists, and celebrities as well as official corporate accounts to help prevent impersonation attempts on the site. With the badge now available to anyone with $8, a clever Twitter user swiftly impersonated the insulin manufacturer Eli Lilly and tweeted “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.”, prompting a sharp decline in not just Eli Lilly stocks but those of other insulin manufacturers,  as the fact that people were tricked into believing in the benevolence of a large pharmaceutical company.

I’ve heard Mastodon is really hard to use. Is that true?

Many users coming from a centralised platform such as Twitter have reported difficulties in adjusting to the use of Mastodon. As Mastodon intends to have separate servers for different topics/geolocations etc, this requires a user to connect with different servers in order to find content, rather than a conventional network like Twitter where all content is available and searchable in one place. The idea of a “federated” network, as Mastodon creators call it, is not usually a familiar concept to those outside of the technology industry. If, however, you fancy yourself tech-savvy enough you will have no problems adjusting.

If I want to keep hearing socialist voices, do I have to stay on Twitter?

No. If you are interested in hearing socialist voices, then reach out to your local Communist Party branch or other socialist organisations. If you are a university student, you could also try reaching out to socialist student organisations. Look for socialist reading groups and other socialist-aligned social groups (something your local socialist political parties may be able to help you find). Get involved in your community! The most effective, dissident voices will not be given a platform on Twitter, Mastodon or any other capitalist controlled social media outlet. The revolution will not be televised.

Can I register my disapproval of Musk without missing out on all the good stuff I get out of Twitter?

Of course! Elon Musk has professed his dedication to free speech absolutism. Don’t post publicly available information such as @ElonJet (that uses social media to track real-time airplane usage of Musk) and you may be fine, though suspension of some left-wing twitter account continues today!

The content moderation on Twitter has significantly declined in quality, likely due to a shortage of staff, and many accounts previously banned have now been restored. If you are concerned about censorship, Twitter will not likely cause you any problems unless you have a large audience.

Is Twitter really harder to use now?

No. Twitter has not changed in any significant capacity and will likely stay that way. Musk has fired a lot of employees including significantly knowledgeable architects of the current system. It will take months, if not years to get any significant changes through the platform without a huge risk of failure.

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