Andy DeVane

Software engineer, Privacy goof, Sysadmin LARPer

So, someone invited you to mastodon

I recently created a mastodon server for my family. The idea is to move away from big social, but I still want to connect with the family. The plan is to provide a place where the ones I want to follow can join me.

This post is for those family members. If you’re also hosting a small Masotodon server, you can use this post to bring your users up to speed as well.

So with no further ado, what the heck is going on here Andy?

I’m glad you asked! Mastodon is a new(er) form of social media that works like email. Your profile on sites like Instagram and Twitter can be found by just your @ i.e. @your-username. On Mastodon, your @ looks a lot more like an email address. @[email protected]. Notice that unlike email, there is also an @ symbol at the start of the “email” address. That’s because that is your new social media address.

With this setup, you can see posts from people who have accounts from the same, or from other providers in a wider social network.

You might be thinking, this seems complicated. What’s the point of all of this. Many people reading this are likely aware of the issues with modern social media, but just as a reminder, lets go over some of the issues with big social, and how Mastodon is different.


I’ve heard many people talk about how the ads they are served make them feel like they aren’t as successful as they want to be. Other feel as though the targeted advertizing is creepy. Most people these days would say that they’re sure that their phones are spying on everything they do, and listening to what they’re saying. How does Mastodon differ? There are no ads. Period. Mastodon is a created by a non-profit with a focus on the public interest. Therefore ads are not a part of the platform. Also, because the user base is spread across smaller “instances” most instances of Mastodon are funded by donations from their users. There isn’t a profit motive tied to collecting user data, so the Mastodon providers mostly don’t have any need or desire to exploit their users by farming and selling their data.


Keeping unwanted content off of websites and applications that allow people to post whatever they want means moderation is necessary. This task is quite difficult, and leaves a toll on anyone who undertakes it. And the more users you have, the harder it is to do a good job at preventing toxic content from reaching your server and thus, your users. In the case of big social, some have argued that effective moderation is impossible

Moderation is still difficult on Mastodon, but there are some advantages to moderating on Mastodon vs relying on the moderators of big social. First off, you can block many spammy, toxic, or illegal users in one fell swoop. Because Mastodon works similar to email, you can block other instances of Mastodon that allow content that you don’t want to see. There are also blocklists that administrators can use to block known abusive instances which creates a good starting place to get moderators ahead of the curve.

On my instance, I’m only allowing users that I invite. It’s unlikely that much moderation will be necessary because it’s just my family. That makes things easy for me, and it works the same way for many other instances. The work load of keeping nasty content is spread across more moderators. Not one team of people for the millions of users on big social sites.


Because anyone can host an instance, anyone can maintain their ability to use our global communication infrastructure. Depending on who you ask this can be a pro and a con, but I’m of the mind that the pros outweigh the cons. Being able to speak your mind, is extremely important. Having no means to express oneself can leave you feeling hopeless, and being able to speak ones mind, also means that others can challenge them. Open dialog is an important part of sense making.

If the idea that anyone can just host an instance and be able to say whatever, to whoever, is worrying to you, rest assured that as we covered in moderation, you can block users, and instances. So if someone creates a new instance that you really don’t want to hear from, you are well within your right to block them.


All of these advantages do have their costs. Mainly that it can be harder for people who are used to big social platforms to understand how to use Mastodon. Also because Mastodon is self hosted, it does have a lot of highly technical users who swear that it’s not that complicated and people just need to get over it.

The other thing about those users is because Mastodon was build by my many of the people who use it. There is a bit of a monoculture of people who have unspoken rules. Many times the enforcement of those rules can push people away. Often their behavior can be counter productive. Some of these users just straight up don’t want new people to join. They liked it better when it was a small exclusive club. I’m of the opinion that we should all join platforms like Mastodon to get away from big social.


This may seem intimidating, but all I ask is you give it a try. At the end of the day, you will be on one instance of a wider social media landscape. An instance filled with your family. You will be able to follow your family members, and other users outside of our home base. Welcome to a new kind of social media. One by the people for the people and not megacorporate interests. I’m glad to have you here.

If you want to use Mastodon without pulling up a webpage, check out this post to learn how to set up the official Mastodon app.

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