For the past 2 years Mastodon has been promoted as a place without Nazis. Anyone familiar with social media technology knows that it’s not necessarily possible to entirely make such a promise, especially with a network which allows users to set up their own village to invite their friends.
The Fediverse is the interconnected villages of decentralized alternatives of popular social networks such as YouTube (PeerTube), Twitter (Mastodon), Facebook (Hubzilla), SoundCloud (FunkWhale), Instagram (Pixelfed), to mention a few.
It isn’t immune to Nazis, but offers the tools to everyday users, and local leaders (administrators and moderators) to protect their village from them. On Twitter you can report, and block, but then you have to sit around and wait for that content to maybe get removed or maybe not. On Mastodon you get the chance to join a village, where you know that the admin has made a promise to you that Nazis, racist, or homophobes etc. aren’t welcome there. If your admin doesn’t fulfill this promise you have the power to move to a different village. With Twitter you simply can’t do that.
Nazis on the Fediverse: Gab
On the 4th of July, a big group of Nazi’s migrated into their own little village: Gab.com. They used Mastodon’s software to run the village. Gab has been a home to Nazis for a very long time, and anyone who’s been keeping an eye on social networks that keep popping up knew that their policies would welcome a lot of dangerous people. Gab the Social Network actively encourages people to harm other people, and let people run loose with harassment, all in the name of Free Speech. They have also been directly linked to a mass shooting. Yes, we could argue that mass shooters have been on Twitter and Facebook too, because duh it’s social networks. The major difference is, this place has become a breeding ground for these kind of ideas, and they are actively encouraged.
The Vice Article
This migration into the Fediverse by these racists and Nazis caught the interest of VICE, who wrote an article now proclaiming that Mastodon “the nazi-free alternative to Twitter, is now home to the biggest far right social network”.
This is incorrect. While Gab has made their home in the Fediverse, they are not the biggest instance. The Vice article utilized numbers from fediverse.network displaying user count to decide that gab was the largest instance on the fediverse.
The marked instance in 3rd place, is the Mastodon Flagship instance. The instance in 2nd place is pawoo.net which is a Japanese equivalent to DeviantArt.
How can an instance so new have so many users?
995391 users. Here’s the tricky part, they don’t. Not really. Basically what they did was migrate all the existing accounts from Gab. Simply just importing all existing accounts, including suspended and inactive ones, all old beta accounts from 2016 (because as far as I know they have not actually cleared any of those old accounts). So this number, while it sounds incredibly big doesn’t translate to much in activity:
Comparatively they are not nearly as high up, but still fairly big. There are a few ways to spoof and fake numbers that show up for these stats. The below screenshot was taken just a few moments ago (and less than an hour after the above ones), here banana.dog is on the top of this list:
Eugen (creator of Mastodon) points out himself that:
“Gab already removed the Monthly Active User counter from their frontpage (a default Mastodon feature). That’s easier than faking active user numbers I suppose” — Eugen
Their public timeline is also filled with spam posts, for accounts which haven’t been suspended, and even if those accounts were suspended they would still count as a body for the user count.
Is the Fediverse riddled with Nazis now?
No it’s not, unless you join a village which actively wants to communicate with them. First, let me cover how Gab migrated to the fediverse, and what that means for communication. Simply put, Gab installed a radio station (Activity Pub), by making a copy of the Mastodon software, and making it their own. This means that they can now call all the other villages if they so please. Or at least attempt to call the other villages. A major part of the Fediverse and Mastodon servers prepared by preemptively blocking gab.com, before they officially joined on the 4th of July. By blocking them, we’re effectively not listening to their radio station.
Unfortunately because the radio waves are publicly available, they are still able to listen into us, and “interact” with our radio shows (Public Posts), on their side of the fediverse, even if we refuse to listen to them (by blocking them). This is a flaw in the current design in the Mastodon software, and to some degree the Activity Pub (the radio waves). There is a lot of people on here who are working on the software, or are at least interested in it are working on different ways to deal with this issue, and hopefully we’ll be coming up with even more creative solutions in the future.
To use Eugen’s own words. Mastodon has still hard-lined against Nazis, and their fairly new covenant, enforces that by deciding which servers JoinMastodon.org will advertise for. If you don’t follow the covenant you wont be featured, if you’re a racist / Nazi instance you wont be featured.
On top of that there has been massive efforts between instance (village) admins to organize against this influx of racist and Nazi users. There are even apps developers have decided to block gab.com users from connecting through the app (eg. Tusky and Sengi — full disclosure, I merged the feature to block gab via Tusky as I work for that app). And users are actively sharing lists of Fascist-harbouring instances that they have blocked.