The big difference, though, is the content warning system. This is a subtle thing to grasp but an important one. The early culture of the Fediverse and Mastodon were shaped by marginalized communities, particularly LGBTQ+ folks. They shaped the content warning system, which is unique among social networks so far as I know. Basically, if you’re sharing something that others might find uncomfortable, you can put the post behind a custom warning.
For example, if I were sharing a nude picture of myself I could write the content warning “nude pasty white dude.” Anyone who wants to see me, for some reason, can click to do so, but everyone else is spared. Useful for nudity, yes, but the culture on Mastodon also uses it for anything potentially triggering—think mental health issues or family trauma.
The system evolved from there. It became a way to post about things most people didn’t care to read about without subjecting the majority of your followers to it. So if I, a person who doesn’t usually post about politics, decides to post about politics, I can put up a content warning explaining that I’m doing this. Then people who are scrolling can decide whether they want to read it or not.
Mastodon became a comfortable place for many during the late 2010s, which were dark years for a lot of marginalized communities. It’s meant to be a comfortable place, not the argumentative hellscape that other social media turned into. This tool helps make that happen, so try to respect it. Observe how people are using it and try to do the same.
One more thing: If you’re uploading images, be sure to leave a description of the image. This helps anyone who is blind get a sense for what is in the image, and is generally just considered good practice.
The Fediverse is not free of harassment, but there are also tools for fighting it. The first thing you need to know is that there are entire servers out there dedicated specifically to trolling and harassing people on other servers. Most of these servers are blocked by the popular servers, so if you’re using one of them you won’t run into them. If you do, however, you can block and report the user to your servers’ moderators, who will typically respond quickly. As an individual, can also block entire servers.
The Revolution Will Not Be Optimized (For Engagement)
The internet was never supposed to be like it is now, a service we use to log in to a handful of social networks. The web used to be a pretty decentralized place—one where people with different interests hung out on different websites. I’ m not saying that was better, exactly—God knows the old internet was a mess—but there was an authenticity to it.
This was before “optimizing for engagement” was a thing, back when people built blogs and websites from scratch for the heck of it and carefully cured their RSS readers. We lost that spirit when we shifted the time we spent online away from small, independent Communities built on shared interest, toward dopamine-optimized apps that make most of us depressed, anxious, and angry while a few Silicon Valley types get very, very rich.