Introducing Our Social Media Space on Mastodon

Victoria Guido, Christopher Kuttruff & Mina Slater

thoughtbot is now on Mastodon! More than that, we have created, a Mastodon instance where our team members and their followers can establish a social media presence in a safe and supportive environment.

This started out as most things at thoughtbot do: an open issue on our handbook. Given the disturbing direction of Twitter and its new CEO, we wanted to discuss how we would like to approach our social media presence going forward. Our goal was to create a professional network in line with our values around DEI that embraces our expertise in Ruby on Rails and cloud infrastructure. We see Mastodon and the federated software in this space as the future of social media at thoughtbot (and in general).

Aligned with our values

Mastodon seemed an obvious choice since it is mature, actively developed, has powerful privacy / moderation features, and is written in Rails (a framework where we are well-equipped to customize things and make contributions to the community); in fact, thoughtbot has already made some significant contributions to the core code base.

Mastodon is an open-source, decentralized social media tool that was established in 2016 as a direct response to Twitter’s failings (long before the latest suspensions, security incidents, and other concerning moderation decisions).

While every piece of software has its problems (especially in the realm of social media), Mastodon empowers admins and moderators to create spaces with clear codes of conduct and advanced tools for maintaining them. This offers an alternative to these decisions being made by massive corporations with concerning track-records around privacy and human rights.

Open-Source, Open Standards

Mastodon is just one part of a broader federated network (charmingly referred to as “the fediverse”) - a portmanteau describing the universe of federated software that interact nicely together via protocols like ActivityPub. This opens up engagement with other federated tools like Pixelfed, Misskey, PeerTube, Pleroma, Plume, WriteFreely, and many others.

An interesting aspect of federation is that Mastodon has a few different timelines; you can view posts from people you follow, those of your local instance, and that of the broader fediverse. This allows folks to foster communities that focus on particular interests (art, programming, community organizing, writing, etc), but still be able to interact with a much larger network.

Safety and moderation tools

As part of our commitment to DEI, we want to reduce harm and create inclusive spaces on our social networks. Mastodon’s safety and moderation tools include the ability to make private posts, lock accounts, filter phrases, mute and block individuals (and entire instances), and a code of conduct violation reporting and moderation system.

We prioritized adding our code of conduct based on the Contributor Covenant. We asked the community for blocklist recommendations to build a foundation, and we contributed some tooling to help with the sharing of such lists.

Some Tips for Transitioning away from Twitter

As powerful as federated social media can be, it can certainly be a bit confusing when getting started. Some really helpful guides exist to ease this process. But a few tips we’d like to share:

  • Take time to find an instance that focuses on your interests and values
    • The moderation policies and focus of particular servers matter a lot when finding a good home base on the fediverse
  • JoinMastodon has a nice rundown of servers where you can sign up; but don’t be shy about migrating elsewhere later if you find a better spot once you get acquainted
  • Read the code of conduct / policies on any prospective instance carefully
    • these live at /about of the instance domain in question
  • If you’re tech savvy and considering starting your own instance, consider the following:
    • It takes time to build up federation to see more content
    • this involves following / interacting with other accounts and servers
    • If you are considering open registrations or even inviting others, administration and moderation are a lot of work
    • It’s very worth reading up on others’ experiences with this
  • Consider what UI you want to use and its particular features and limitations
    • There are apps like Tusky, Fedilab, Toot!, etc, but for Mastodon, we’ve found that the official browser version (available via desktop and mobile progressive web app) tend to be a lot smoother than android/iOS apps in various respects
  • Once you create an account, take time to fill out bio, avatar, background pic, etc before interracting with other accounts
    • To avoid spam and trolls, many fediverse users will not engage with (and may even block) users with blank profiles
  • PascalCase your hashtags for accessibility (makes a huge difference with screen readers used by blind folks)
  • On this note, always include image descriptions where possible!
    • Those using a screen reader encountering images without descriptions cannot access that content
    • The fediverse has historically been much better than sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc about prioritizing accessibility here; we want to continue on that path
  • Consider tools like debirdify to find familiar folks from Twitter

What’s Next

We are just getting started on our Mastodon journey, but as we continue to use the platform we will be sure to share our experiences. Consider stopping by to say hey and give us a follow; we look forward to seeing y'all out there!