Note: If you're strictly interested in why I think we should defederate Meta skip to here.
Meta is working on a new social media platform called Threads, and their plan is to make it compatible with the ActivityPub protocol. Many influential people within the Fediverse see this as a victory for the protocol, and are planning on federating with Meta's new platform. I think this is a huge mistake. We should band together to defederate Meta. Here's why.
If you’re reading this, I assume you have at least some familiarity with the Fediverse, specifically the parts of it powered by ActivityPub, like Mastodon, Pixelfed, Friendica, Calckey, and kbin. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of the Fediverse and ActivityPub I would recommend taking a look at fedi.tips. A lot of what I write in this article is going to specifically talk about Mastodon, but it does directly apply to other Fediverse apps like Friendica and Calckey.
I joined the Fediverse as part of the big Twitter migration in late 2022, and I landed over at mstdn.social. It was not love at first sight, but over time I've come to really enjoy Mastodon, and the greater Fediverse. It was hard to fully leave Twitter because of the connections I’d made there, and for a while I split my time between Twitter and Mastodon. But lately, Twitter has been degrading slowly over the months and is now effectively useless to me, save for a few accounts that are important to me (including one that I unfortunately rely on for my safety). I now use Mastodon as my primary social media. The more I use Mastodon, the more I enjoy it. It’s much easier to see the content I want to see (birds, lots and lots of birds, paintings, synths, and more), and much harder to come by content I don't want to see (cryptocurrency shills, ads, transphobic content, etc).
Critically, when I use Mastodon I don't leave the site feeling terrible, and I also don't find myself being consumed by the app, wasting hours of my day on it. My relationship with Mastodon has been much more healthy than with other apps like Twitter. This isn't to say that I've completely isolated myself into some little bubble that is only happy little bird pictures, not at all. My feed is still full of people engaged with politics, social justice, and other heavier topics.
I have also since joined Blue Sky, but overall I don't like it there and won't be spending much time talking about it in this article. Maybe I'll do another post on Blue Sky, but I am not sure I have anything interesting enough to say at this moment.
Well, not quite enter, as Meta hasn't actually launched anything yet, but in early March 2023 Meta announced their intentions of launching a Twitter competitor that implements the ActivityPub protocol. Meta's new project has been referred to by several names so far: Project 92 (aka P92), Barcelona, and Threads.
It was first reported by Money Control, which was then picked up by Platformer and similar organizations. Right from the start Meta said they would be building a new app that uses the Instagram account system, and is compatible with ActivityPub, meaning it can interface with other AP apps like Mastodon. In early June The Verge wrote an article that showed off screenshots of the new app, and outlined how Meta is approaching celebrities like Oprah and the Dalai Lama, as well as "creators". The primary purpose of this app is to be a text-based social media app intended to compete directly with Twitter.
When I first heard about this I wasn't particularly surprised. To me, this move makes total sense. Meta has been wanting to compete with Twitter for ages now, and Musk buying Twitter has made it much easier for them to compete directly. Mark Zuckerberg has also repeatedly stated that his goal is to "connect the world", so offering a service that allows Meta to onboard new users, and connect them to the Fediverse, is in direct alignment with that mission. Meta is also a publicly traded company, and their shareholders are expecting growth every year indefinitely, so they need to do whatever they can to try to broaden their reach, and increase revenue.
What did surprise me is the amount of Mastodon admins that are not only choosing to federate with Meta, but are outright celebrating the arrival of Meta into the Fediverse. Eugen Rochko, the creator of Mastodon, and admin for the largest Mastodon instance (mastodon.social, 218k active users at the time of writing) replied to a user posting about Project 92 saying "It is exciting to see more ActivityPub adoption. This is huge.". In another thread from The Nexus of Privacy, Byron Miller, an admin for Universeodon (11k active users), and Stux, the admin for mstdn.social (31k active users) and masto.ai (7.2k active users), also said they would be federating. Stux in particular declared "The joining of such a project would only be a win for the fediverse!"
I recently posted a thread on Mastodon critiquing the point that all growth is good for the Fediverse. You can find the thread here. As of this writing, the thread has taken off and gotten more likes, boosts, and replies, than anything else I've ever posted on Mastodon. If you're reading this article you may have already seen that thread, if not I'd recommend taking a look, as you can see a pretty wide variety of what people are thinking. There are several pro-Meta people in that thread, most of which seem cautiously optimistic.
I don't have too much more to say on this particular line of thinking, so I'm going to replicate the thread here, if you've already read it you can skip to the next section.
Assuming all growth is good is an inherently capitalistic way of thinking, and one that does not care about quality, nor does it care about community. The drive for unconstrained growth leads to less safety, and privacy, for all. Meta made their money via surveillance capitalism, they're not going to pursue a Fediverse App without bringing surveillance capitalism to the Fediverse. They are not going to be benevolent. Profits will be extracted, shareholders expect nothing less.
In the short term Meta may succeed in growing the fediverse, and folks are going to praise them for growing adoption of the AP protocol (they're already getting this praise and they haven't even launched). Meta may even put resources towards improvements that help smaller servers out. However, everything Meta does is going to be done purely to grow their Surveillance Capitalism Apparatus. Meta wants to profit off of you, and they are going to find a way to do it.
This is not to say all growth is bad, or that we should avoid growth. We should be intentional in how we grow our communities, and we should not view growth as an inherently good thing. We need to think more about enabling positive outcomes for our communities. We should prioritize creating spaces where people can grow as individuals and find a sense of community, this is especially important in a world that is feeling more and more hostile to marginalized people every day.
One of the top reasons that admins cite for deciding to federate with Meta, is that we should "trust, but verify", I've seen this from at least three different admins, and I'm sure there are others I haven't seen.
I find this reasoning rather flawed. Why are we treating Meta as an unknown? Meta has been around for almost two decades, they have had many, many, controversies over the years, and it has been proven time and again that they do not take the health and safety of their users seriously. If I was throwing a party, and a friend of mine told me he was bringing his buddy Mark, a known abuser, to my party, I would shut it down immediately. I would not invite Mark into my home, engage with him, and feed him. I would do everything in my power to prevent Mark from being in my home, and near my friends, whom I love dearly and want to keep safe. Meta does not deserve to be trusted, we've already verified this!
Meta has also not yet publicly commented on how it is planning on approaching content moderation with its new platform, nor has it made any public commitments to be good actors in the Fediverse, or establish a working relationship with other admins. I suspect Meta will make no particular binding commitments with the greater Fediverse, instead, they will do whatever they want, because they don't have much incentive to actively work with other admins in the Fediverse. It's hard for me to see why Meta would give a shit about a Mastodon instance with 30k users, when they're potentially going to have millions of users on their app.
Algorithmic content promoted by Meta and similar platforms has proven to be harmful time and again.There have been plenty of studies to show how harmful sites like Instagram are for people, especially kids, and it seems like more are coming out every month. Algorithmic content feeds are purpose-built to encourage addictive behavior in their users. How many times have you heard people say something like "I meant to go on Instagram/TikTok/whatever for 5 minutes and then I look up and an hour has passed"? Algorithmic feeds are powerful: they change the way people create content, and the way people consume it, and not for the better. People end up creating content that is algorithm friendly, not content that they truly want to make. It turns social media into a very performative space, where genuine interactions are hard to come by.
The new Meta platform will absolutely be powered by algorithmic feeds, and that will have an outsized impact on the Fediverse. It will change how people post on and off Meta's platform, because in the end, if Meta users can see and interact with it, then you're effectively posting on their platform. If Meta succeeds in bringing over a large portion of their Instagram users to their new platform we could easily see the Fediverse consisting mostly of Meta users. Don’t lose sight of how BIG Meta is: more than 77% of people on the internet are on at least one of Meta’s apps. This would mean that users outside of Meta's platform could have their content go viral within the Meta platform. Once people realize (subjectively or not) that their posts are more popular when they post in a way that pleases the Meta algorithm, then they'll change the way they post. Historically Meta and similar companies have used their algorithms to push content that has high engagement; content with high engagement tends to be divisive. I predict that we will see a large uptick in transphobic content, and other content that aligns with the current moral panic that is happening in America. I do not want to participate in a community filled with that content, and I don't want my posts to pass through the same algorithm that promotes that content.
Not only will we see an uptick in divisive content that Meta is well-known for hosting, but I also see a potential for Meta to be a vector for harassment of non-Meta users. For example Meta may find that the users of a certain segment of their platform interact a lot with certain people on a different platform. Meta's algorithms would then start pushing posts from these external folks into the feed of Meta users. This may sound innocuous, but it could be that they start promoting the posts from trans folk to conservatives who are staunchly opposed to trans rights, strictly because it drives higher engagement from their users. Furthermore, we do not know how Meta plans to handle reporting from external accounts. Meta has no obligation to take reports from external users seriously, external users are not bound to their terms of service, since they never agreed to them. I would not be surprised if Meta outright ignored reports from external accounts, or at least weighted those reports significantly less than reports coming from within their platform. We will probably never know how serious Meta considers external reports, unless someone outright leaks their internal processes.
Meta, Twitter, Reddit, and other similar companies all make the majority of their money on ads. They've all been desperately trying to rely less on ads, but none have been able to even come close to having an alternative way of making money that can sustain their companies. So far the Fediverse has avoided the need for ads, and in general has been pretty anti-corporate, which as been nice. The closest thing I've seen to an ad on Mastodon is small artists promoting their online stores to sell prints of their work. On Twitter and Reddit ads are everywhere, and they do everything they can to make them blend in with normal posts. What is really annoying though, is that these ads tend to get a ton of engagement, so even if it doesn't get put in your feed because it was a promoted tweet, some dipshit may retweet, quote tweet, or reply to an ad, which then pushes it into your feed. I have seen countless promoted tweets that have hundreds of likes, retweets, and comments. What this means is that even if Meta has no direct way to push a promoted tweet into your feed on a non-meta platform, they can still put their thumbs on the scales in a way that gets ads to be liked, boosted, and replied to, which will increase their reach outside of Meta's platform.
The problem isn't just ads though. We know for a fact that Meta is reaching out to "creators and public figures", like Oprah and the Dalai Lama. Meta knows that Twitter shit the bed and scared off a lot of big name celebrities, but also a lot of brands. There is no doubt that Meta is actively pursuing big brands and doing what they can to get them to join their platform at launch. With an influx of brands coming to Meta's platform, we'll see them start to have sway in the Fediverse. On Twitter, Wendy's has 3.8M followers, Burger King has 2M, Steak-umm has 214k, Tim Hortons has 657k. Wendy's doesn't need to pay to promote their content, they get hundreds of replies, thousands of favorites, and hundreds of retweets on most of their tweets.
We also know that part of the reason brands like these big platforms is because they're given extra tooling that gives them more in depth information about the people who follow and interact with them. They get to see the data that Meta is harvesting, and they get to use that data to better target us.
If it's not obvious by now, I don't think it's a good idea for servers to federate with any application coming from Meta. I know I am not alone in my belief, but I also know that I appear to be outnumbered, at least by the admins who have a say.
If you are an admin, and you've made up your mind, then you should publicly announce whether or not you're going to Federate with Meta. Your community deserves to know, and you are obligated to tell them. If you are an admin and you are not planning on federating with Meta, then I would suggest signing the ANTI-META ADMIN PACT.
This is all I have to say at the moment. I'm not particularly used to writing blog posts, and I'm honestly not even sure that people will read this. I have a few more ideas around Meta joining the Fediverse fermenting in my brain at the moment, but nothing I feel coherent enough to write down. If you enjoyed this post please reach out and let me know, even if you don't agree with what I have to say.
With big thanks to my partner Adrienne for editing this.