Amid Elon Musk’s chaotic, first few weeks owning Twitter thousands of users have joined a new, similar social media network, Mastodon.
Eugen Rochko, CEO of Mastodon, said in an interview with CNN last week that it has gained 230,000 users since Musk closed the deal to acquire Twitter. The network hit 1 million active monthly users on Monday.
“It is not as large as Twitter, obviously, but it is the biggest that this network has ever been,” he said.
TIME also ran an interview with Rochko over the weekend. On Monday, in the wake of all the press, Musk, the new Twitter owner and CEO, Tweeted (and then deleted) a crude joke about the platform.
“If you don’t like Twitter anymore, there is an awesome site called Masterbatedone,” he wrote.
What is Mastodon?
Mastodon is a text-based social network. It’s also a little bit like Discord, in the sense that you can join “servers” of various interest groups. They exist in a “federation” with one another, (and Mastodon exists in a larger “Fediverse” of various social networks) and anyone can start one. When you sign up, you’re offered a list of many to join.
Right now, since its user base is so small, there are pretty limited server groups. There were only a few offered LGBTQ options, for example, in Korean, French, and Portuguese.
Mastodon app. Signing up for servers.
Rochko is a software developer born in Germany. He told TIME he began working on creating the website after feeling like Twitter had “top-down control” over its content.
“I was thinking that being able to express myself online to my friends through short messages was very important to me, important also to the world, and that maybe it should not be in the hands of a single corporation,” he told the outlet. He further told CNN it was more of a side or passion project.
It shares a name with both an extinct elephant cousin-bull and an American heavy metal band, but he said he “called it Mastodon because I’m not good at naming things,” Rochko told TIME.
The platform is not funded, unlike other social media upstarts such as BeReal or Clubhouse, with millions in venture capitalist funding. Instead, it’s crowdfunded.
How does Mastodon make money?
The company makes money mostly through monthly contributions from users or companies. Individuals can sign up on Patreon in tiers ranging from $1 a month to $500, or companies can sign up to sponsor the platform, which gives the company a link on Mastodon’s website.
According to just the company’s Patreon, it currently has 3,091 patrons who contribute $15,610 a month.
Content moderation also has a community approach. Rochko told TIME that users are empowered to regulate content on their servers. Then, he added, if someone starts a server with a hateful purpose, the company doesn’t promote it, and it ends up being “ostracized” by the wider circle of people on the app.
Rochko said he disagrees with Musk’s opinions on free speech. Musk has said social media platforms should not regulate anything that is not illegal (that does not include hate speech) then later said he will not let the platform become a “free for all hellscape.”
“Allowing free speech by just allowing all speech is not actually leading to free speech, it just leads to a cesspit of hate,” Rochko said.
Twitter technically has rules about hate speech (even now). But, it remains to be seen how the platform will be moderated. Last week, Musk fired half of Twitter’s staff, including a key voice in platform moderation, Vijaya Gadde, upon taking over the company.
My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 7, 2022
Researchers from Montclair State University found that there was an increase in hate speech right after Musk took over. Sarah T. Roberts, a Mastodon user and an associate professor at UCLA, told CNN that this could lead people to jump ship for other platforms.
Mastodon, meanwhile, is buzzing with its newfound fame. On one of the channel’s more popular servers, “climatejustice.social,” users have referenced a “Twitter migration” and claimed thousands of users have recently joined the server.
“It seems the #TwitterMigration is not slowing down, but still very much speeding up,” @PaulaToThePeople wrote on the platform.