If you’ve been following the 280-character musings of the world’s richest man over the last two weeks, you’re likely aware of the following: Elon Musk owns Twitter now. And boy, people sure have thoughts about it.
Times have been turbulent since the company’s takeover. Within a week of Musk completing his $44-billion purchase of the social media site on Oct. 27, the company’s leadership fired about 3,700 of its 7,500 employees—then asked dozens to return days later, after reportedly realizing that those staffers would be crucial to building Musk’s envisioned new features.
The Tesla CEO has mused about putting all of Twitter behind a paywall. His biggest change to date, a revamped Twitter Blue, allows anyone to “verify” their account for $8/month and receive a blue checkmark, typically reserved for government officials, journalists and other public figures. (On Sunday, Musk tweeted that Twitter “needs to become by far the most accurate source of information about the world.”)
Before the checkmark change went live, US civil rights activist Rashad Robinson cautioned that “any right-wing troll can pay $8… get a blue checkmark and then change their name to CNN or Georgia’s secretary of state.” Sure enough, comedians Kathy Griffin, Sarah Silverman and TV actor Valerie Bertinelli impersonated Musk on Twitter over the weekend in protest of the multibillionaire.
Bot Sentinel estimates that more than a million users have deactivated their Twitter accounts or had their accounts suspended since Musk bought the social media site. Some of us at The Coast have noticed our own follower counts drop in recent weeks.
But any exodus prompts the question: Where are people fleeing to?
‘The time was right’
Peter Smith says he was “probably 50/50” on whether anybody would join when he launched a Halifax-based server for Mastodon, a decentralized and open-source social media platform first rolled out in 2016.
A longtime software developer and self-described “tinkerer” (“I’ve basically been working with computers since 1982,” the Bedford-based Smith tells The Coast), he’d been curious about the possibilities of the hosting software before. But as he saw a rise in “extremist posts” on Twitter in recent months, he figured the time had come for an alternative. So, last week, he bought the domain for halifaxsocial.ca and started a hyper-local Halifax server: “A place for Haligonians, past, present, and those that wish they were, to hang out, share info and resources, and socialize in an inclusive welcoming environment,” he wrote on Twitter.
Smith’s “pie in the sky estimate,” he tells The Coast, was that “maybe in a year, I would get to 500 [users].” After the first night, Smith awoke to “20, 30 or 40 signups.” As of Wednesday morning, there were 253 users.
At first glance, Mastodon and Twitter hold much in common. Both are text-based (Mastodon posts are “toots” instead of “tweets”). There are hashtags and character limits (Mastodon’s is 500 characters), and most timeline feeds, like other social media outlets, are full of the mundane—from cat photos to musings about chiropractor’s appointments.
But unlike Twitter, which is centrally-controlled, Mastodon is run by volunteers over thousands of servers. Its user-base is small (roughly one million monthly active users, according to Reuters), but growing. And Smith hopes his little Halifax corner of Mastodon will continue growing too.
“I really wasn't expecting this at all,” he says, “but I think maybe some of it was [that] the time was right.”