It seems that is shutting down.

When Elon Musk took over Twitter in 2022, many people abandoned the platform. For a while, there seemed to be an opportunity to build a profitable business based on those former Twitter users. A small portion of the Twitter userbase moved to Mastodon and thus the Fediverse – only a small portion, but a huge boost given the tiny user counts before then. was another contender for those disenchanted users, especially journalists, and therefore perceived as a significant competitor of the Fediverse. So, plenty of Fediverse users will be dancing on’s grave.

And yet, very few of the journalists who were attracted to have any interest in using Mastodon instead. There are still vanishingly few journalists on the Fediverse. Many Fediverse users vocally boast about how little they want journalists here. And yet, each journalist or news organisation that does commit to the Fediverse causes widespread celebration.

So it seems that 1. journalists don’t want to join the Fediverse, and 2. this lack is, in fact, bad for the Fediverse – or else why would the occasional minor reverses be so acclaimed?

A Harrowing Tale

With this context, I want to revisit an ancient and minor kerfuffle from late 2022. The journalist Seth Abramson was an example of someone disgusted with Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, ready to move to something new. He created an account on and barely used it. He was then suspended, for whatever reason. This prompted him to analyse how the Fediverse works in more detail than he ever had before. What he learned horrified him so much, he wrote on a long screed titled “A Harrowing Tale That Explains Why Everyone on Mastodon Needs to Get Off It Right Now”:

I would advise anyone against using Mastodon.

Your account can be suspended or banned at any time and for any reason, the posted rules and regulations of your server be damned. You will not be told why you have been suspended or banned, nor will you be able to see who made the decision. You will not even be able to review your own posts once you have been suspended or banned to try to figure out what you may have done; your login to the site will be disabled. And this can happen to you no matter how long you have been on Mastodon, no matter what you have or have not posted there, no matter how big and encompassing the server you are on may happen to be, or whether you are a journalist and minor public figure or a private citizen with little or no public profile.

Naturally, no-one using had any interest in Mastodon, but everyone using Mastodon was offended to their core by criticism from someone on The piece was so overwrought, overblown, and fundamentally mistaken, that it was an easy target. And so a massive dogpile ensued on both networks.

Reading it at the time, however, I saw that he was making an important point. From his perspective as a journalist, Mastodon really is a huge step backwards from Twitter. Specifically:

There’s a reason we sometimes romanticize but don’t want to go back to the Wild West; there’s a utility, and certainly I’m predisposed to this view as an attorney, to having rules that are posted in advance and are consistent across an entire digital landscape.

Speaking as the last person who remembers this article, I believe it’s worth another look.


There’s an important piece of Twitter’s history that is almost never acknowledged on Mastodon, and therefore the Fediverse more generally:

Practically no-one ever used Twitter. That’s why it couldn’t make money. That’s why it was sold to Elon Musk.

At its peak Twitter had a couple of hundred million users. Ignoring how many were “active” and how many were bots, this is clearly tiny compared to the billions of users on Facebook, Instagram, and WeChat. In my own life, while I know a handful of people who claimed to read Twitter, I know maybe one or two who ever described posting there. The vast majority of my friends, when they talk about social media, talk about one of the properties belonging to Facebook or Tencent.

And yet, current and former Twitter users all act as if the whole world is there. (In practice, the vast majority of Fediverse users are former Twitter users, and I include them in this generalisation.) Clearly the whole world was represented on Twitter. Whatever psychological condition predisposes people to join Twitter, it’s widespread. But such a small proportion of people could not possibly truly matter.

But there was at least one group that universally did use Twitter: journalists.

Journalists On Twitter

What attracted journalists to Twitter?

The unique feature of Twitter is of course the 140 character limit. I think this is the nucleus around which the journalistic addiction to Twitter grew.

The job of journalists is to summarise complex events for a large lay audience. But part of their responsibility is not to show their own perspective, but rather the perspectives of people directly involved. The problem there is that politicians and bureaucrats are incapable of saying something both concise and meaningful, while individuals on the ground are not used to speaking to a general audience without their specialised knowledge. Getting a usable quote out of any of these people is almost impossible.

Twitter, with its 140 character limit, neatly solved this problem. The platform trains people to express themselves succinctly and in public. Out of 100 people affected by an earthquake, 99 will be unable to express their feelings clearly. But the one who is on Twitter can, and will. Instant source of golden quotes. Meanwhile, politicians are forced to divide their waffle into 140 character slices that can stand alone. Somewhere in there is a quote that can fit in a news article.

To a journalist, Twitter resembles the original promise of cyberspace. You jack in to the network, and are instantly connected to a sea of real-time updates on everything that matters from all over the globe. You can freely choose any thread and follow it to deep insights, exotic local flavour, the reactions of the powerful and the important, and almost instantly build the kind of understanding that previously would have taken months of painstaking work.

It’s easy to see how the journalistic profession in practice reduced down to simply reading Twitter. In the end I think many ordinary people like me gave up on Twitter for this reason. There’s no need for me to read Twitter to find out what’s happening on Twitter. Sooner or later a journalist will come along and tell me.

But what gets missed here is that journalists are not, in fact, plugged into the whole world. They’re just plugged into other Twitter users. More and more, that became just two highly unrepresentative groups: journalists, and people who want to talk to journalists.

The Rules

Once you’re addicted to Twitter, it’s crucial that you are allowed to stay there. Fortunately this is quite simple. You have to follow the rules.

These boil down to not engaging in overt racist or sexist harrassment or advocating crimes. Wrapping overtly racist or sexist speech in complex language was always fine though – free speech. So really, it was never hard for even marginal journalists to keep to the rules, even as many less careful users found themselves banned. In exchange, journalists got access to the whole world of primary sources and the great and the good.

But it’s clear that these rules aren’t nearly good enough. Around the world, the “free speech” offered by Twitter (and other sites) has routinely been used to whip up ethnic hatred and genocide. In these countries, having any kind of functional society at all, let alone a democracy, requires limits on the activities of bad actors. Enforcing such limits requires knowledge of the local culture. Big tech companies like Twitter have consistently refused to even attempt such a thing, arguing it’s too complex and expensive to be feasible.

Imagine though, a world where that actually was done. Each country defined topics that are off-limits to discussion. In Sweden, claiming that Skåne is ethnically Danish would be banned, and so on.

This would destroy Twitter’s value to journalists. No-one could possibly maintain 200 lists of untouchable topics, especially since only locals can understand the relevant nuances and euphemisms. An active Twitter user would blindly cross many of these lines almost instantly. So a journalist would either find themselves banned from half the world, or have to self-censor down to the blandest possible lowest common denominator. Twitter would become almost useless for journalism.

Twitter was too big and American for most jurisdictions to effectively control. But Mastodon instances are far smaller, run by individuals with no budget for lawyers. They have to follow national laws. In fact it’s even worse than that. Every individual instance gets to set its own rules, and there are tens of thousands of them. And, the rules aren’t even necessarily published, there’s no appeal mechanism, not even notifications that someone has blocked you.

The Complaints

Back to Seth Abramson. I would say that there are two major complaints here.

  1. Seth Abramson was kicked off his Mastodon instance
  2. Instances can block individual users, or even entire other instances

And there’s a common factor between them, that these decisions are made without accountability.

The responses failed to distinguish the two problems, and this exacerbated the confusion.

Getting Suspended

If its most popular instance has started banning journalists without even the courtesy of a claim about why they were suspended—in other words, if Mastodon is falling short of even the degree of transparency Musk is now allowing to govern Twitter, which is next to none—it is not a site anyone should be using.

Many participants in the backlash didn’t fully understand the complaint here. Seth Abramson is not complaining that people are getting suspended. He’s complaining that Seth Abramson was suspended. He is used to and expects better treatment that the ordinary person, because he is a journalist.

There is some element of justification here. Journalists do have certain privileges. The public has a legitimate need to information that is difficult to access. Ordinary people cannot simply walk into a courtroom, or a warzone. Journalists have to in order to do their job. Ordinary people are not permitted to withhold information about crimes. Journalists sometimes do that.

And on Twitter, journalists did have privileges. They had blue checkmarks, and were treated well by the platform. Journalists do not have the experience so many other people have, of being banned for no reason (or because of targeted harrassment), and having no access to any appeal mechanism. Journalists generally understand and follow the rules.

Seth Abransom was banned from his Mastodon server not because he violated the basic standards of behaviour, but because he simply wasn’t wanted. That’s unacceptable to him. Journalists are rarely wanted, but they have to poke their nose in anyway to do their jobs. It is understandably horrifying to him that he could be prevented from doing his job for trivial reasons. He expects other Mastodon users to be as shocked as he is by these events.

But Mastodon users were not shocked – they were largely pleased. Seeing unwanted people get blocked is exactly what they want. As he says:

…what happened at Mastodon completely blindsided me and remains inexplicable to me in significant part because of the very federation protocols and obscure server operations those who cheer Mastodon say they enjoy.

And they may well enjoy them.

For now.

Right up until the point those same site features bite them in the ass.

What he’s missing here, is that being randomly blocked is something that most users experience anyway. Being bitten in the ass is routine. But being able to kick annoying people out of their network entirely is a new and highly appreciated treasure.


But being suspended was just the immediate, personal trigger. A far bigger Fedidrama unfolded earlier. Some journalists, excited about the possibilities of Mastodon, established a dedicated server called Many journalists signed up, or even moved from other instances. And then almost immediately was defederated by large numbers of other servers.

…certain Mastodon servers have of late—and for rather capricious reasons—begun blocking other servers, most notably the primary server used by journalists on Mastodon

Here he misses that defederation is the national sport of the Fediverse. There’s no “of late”. But this really did happen.

They can decide, for instance, and on a whim, to keep you from seeing any journalism on Mastodon.

Of course, if you are on a Mastodon instance that blocks a second instance, and you don’t want that, it’s quite easy to move somewhere else. So if an admin blocks on a whim, their users would move away, and Seth Abramson would have nothing to complain about. The fact that he’s still complaining demonstrates that those users are at best indifferent to journalism. Actually, far from being the actions of rogue admins, instances defederated from only when their users demanded it.

His complaint here is not that he risks being suspended, but that he might be prevented from reaching his audience. He probably understands that if he is facing a hostile environment on his own server, he can move. But if he is facing a hostile environment on other people’s servers, he can’t force those users to move.

This is a huge setback from Twitter. Like most long-lived public institutions, Twitter has to be fairly tolerant, as well as predictable. Individuals might want something more strict, but they simply have nowhere else to go. All Twitter users all around the world are forced to accept the same very simple basic rules. This allows journalists unprecedented access to highly diverse voices. If you break up the landscape into regions bounded by different rules, that access disappears.

As a journalist, Seth Abramson needs to inject himself into places that do not want him. He needs this both to gather information, and to distribute that information to his audience. In order to force himself where he’s not wanted, he relies on the kinds of public institutions that are designed to enforce his rights regardless of popularity.

The World

I think it’s worth repeating this quote, which summarises the core point of the article:

There’s a reason we sometimes romanticize but don’t want to go back to the Wild West; there’s a utility, and certainly I’m predisposed to this view as an attorney, to having rules that are posted in advance and are consistent across an entire digital landscape.

It is not true that everyone on Mastodon should stop using it. But for journalists, certainly English-speaking journalists, Mastodon really is no alternative at all to Twitter.

Mastodon does not provide the audience that Twitter did. In terms of raw numbers, obviously the Fediverse is much smaller. But no matter how large it grows, no article will ever be able to reach all of it – at least, no article worth publishing. It is a communication network largely designed to prevent communication.

I imagine it’s almost inconceivable for journalists that anyone would want to use such a network. But of course that’s precisely the offering from Facebook and Instagram: you talk to your friends, not the world at large. And those networks are far more popular as a result.

It is only a tiny minority that desire to communicate to the whole world at once, and are willing to submit to a foreign regime to do so. But all journalists are part of that minority. They should seriously consider not using Mastodon, but something else.


What else?


Bluesky is the other federated system taking users from Twitter. For a journalist, it might be attractive, in that it is in fact centralised, due to its reliance on large relays. If you satisfy a basic set of rules (yet to be determined, but you can bet they’ll be similar to Twitter) then your content is allowed into the relay. From there, in principle, anyone can access it.

But then layered on top of this is the “labeller” system. Labellers are censors. The idea is that anyone can create a labeller, attaching a label to particular kinds of content. If you don’t want to see that kind of content, you block everything with that label. In effect, this replicates the problem of the Fediverse. The labellers are run by individuals with no accountability, who can unilaterally decide on a whim that all your content should be hidden from thousands of people.

Currently Bluesky’s censorship system is embryonic, with almost all content being let through. This is exactly what journalists want. But, you know. For now. Right up until the point those same site features bite them in the ass.


Threads hadn’t even launched when Seth Abramson wrote his article. But now it seems to provide a viable alternative. It has all the same features, but it’s backed by Facebook. Facebook has enough concern about its reputational damage that it’s motivated to clamp down on nazis and bots. I guess. Perhaps slightly more than Twitter under Elon Musk, anyway.

But I don’t know. Facebook has also suffered major reputational damage due to its role in the genocide of Rohingyas. They are also very keen to please local governments. Meanwhile their core userbase are people who only want to hang out with friends in a cozy corner of the internet, and have no interest in broadcasting to the world. On Facebook’s main site, they are deliberately steering people away from “politics”. This could well lead to Threads avoiding controversy by building exactly the network of national-level censorship regimes I imagined above. The kind of system that makes it impossible to communicate at a global scale in anything more than meaningless generalities.

If I were a journalist, I wouldn’t trust my future to Threads.


“POSSE” stands for “Post Own Site Syndicate Everywhere”. This means you set up your own website (there are many paid-for turnkey solutions), and then you post links everywhere else. Hopefully the link posting will be automatic. The idea is that while various accounts may be banned on other social media platforms, you will always be able to get your voice out there, and your audience will know where to find you.

The problem with this approach is that whatever reaction you get will be spread across Facebook, Twitter, and your own site. You’ll end up trying to split your attention everywhere. More importantly, the conversation itself will be split. A single conversation of 200 people is far more engaging than two conversations of 100 people.

And of course, running your own site is never easy. It hardly seems worth it when almost no-one will directly visit it.


In fact I think most journalists have ended up crawling back to Twitter. There’s just too many other accounts there that never left. It’s impossible to cut yourself off from all of that. Any other platform is a distraction.

And then, every journalist that flirts with leaving Twitter but eventually comes home, provides one more reason for every other journalist to stay where they are.

Not For You

I found Seth Abramson’s article very clarifying. I think putting it all together, the Fediverse really is deeply and deliberately poorly suited to journalists, perhaps more so than to any other profession. Journalists, uniquely, depend on globally important topics being discussed instantly by the most centrally placed actors, while the rest of the world observes. This is what Twitter is best at. But no-one else needs this.

As a Fediverse booster, I want more people here. But for journalists, I think this is a lost cause. I do expect federated social media to win more and more converts over the coming years. To an extent, some of those will be lured away from Twitter. But it’ll take more than that to break Twitter’s stranglehold on journalists, and people who want to talk to journalists. That hard core can endure as long as there is money to keep the servers running.

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