Twitter in India: Why was rival Mastodon trending?
Some of the most influential Twitter users in India are looking to move to the little-known Mastodon network in the middle of a protest over Twitter moderation methods.
Mastodon’s apparent rising trend was fueled by Twitter by suspending the account of a leading lawyer of the Supreme Court of India twice.
Users have told the BBC that they believe Twitter has a “highly inconsistent position” on issues such as hate speech.
In contrast, they argue that Mastodon’s anti-abuse systems are much more robust.
The name of the smallest social network soon appeared on Twitter in India when users announced their new accounts.
However, it remains to be seen exactly how many have created an account, and how many will leave Twitter completely in favor of the rival platform.
So why were people angry with Twitter?
Anger began to rise against the social network, which is said to have more than 30 million users in India alone, after lawyer Sanjay Hegde suspended his account twice.
The first time was because he had retweeted a 1936 photograph of Nazi Germany in which a German citizen, August Landmesser, refused to perform the Nazi greeting, which Twitter said violated its rules on “hate images.”
“After a massive protest, Twitter restored my account but without the photo,” Hegde told Krutika Pathi of the BBC.
Soon after, Twitter took action against his account again, sending him an email with a notice to cancel a 2017 tweet, in which he retweeted a poem protesting against the hanging of two revolutionaries.
He had added the title of the poem – Hang it – in his tweet, which he believes “activated some automated robots in the Twitter backend.”
The two incidents sparked a broader discussion about how Twitter moderates its content in India, and many say the platform tolerates rhetoric against minorities.
Twitter has denied these charges. He published a statement saying he does not moderate his content based on “ideological or political” views.
But regular Twitter users, as well as technology experts, say the platform has an imperfect track record when it comes to moderating content in India.
Nikhil Pahwa, the editor of the Internet watchdog Medianama, told the BBC that Twitter “has not done enough to address the hate speech.”
A recent report by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) found that Twitter deleted almost a million tweets and blocked about 100 accounts in India as part of its “retained country” policy.
The report said that most of the blocked content was critical of the recent government movement to strip India-administered Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status, and it was done after the government’s own requests.
“With Twitter, the problem is increasing: there is a growing sense that the platform is closing or suppressing voices that criticize the government, so there is a lot of concern about that,” said Nilanjana Roy, an author who recently signed for a Mastodon account.
The platform has also been attacked by Dalit activists and writers (previously untouchables), who say Twitter routinely suspends its accounts while allowing problematic trends (#BoycottAllMuslims was one of the main trends last month) to continue.
“The prejudice against marginalized groups (Dalits, women, religious minorities) on Twitter is very shameless,” says activist Kavitha Krishnan, who added that she has previously complained to the platform but had never received any response.
Others have also noted the lack of action the company has taken when it comes to women on Twitter, who regularly face death and rape threats.
“It’s not fun being a woman on Twitter and watching the abuse go by, you feel like you’re exposed to an industry that is continuously polluted,” Roy said.
“What this incident has also shown is that there is a search for something that is beyond Twitter: it could be Mastodon or it could be something else that we have not yet seen.”
What exactly is the mastodon?
Mastodon is an open source network, where users can post, comment, follow other users and post images and videos as in a conventional platform.
But the most significant thing is that it is decentralized and open source; This means that there is not a single entity that runs the network.
Instead, users create and run their own servers. This means that the social network is made up of many servers, each of which has its own rules. This also allows users to choose servers that they believe comply with the policies with which they agree.
Mastodon was launched for the first time in October 2016 and the network claims to have more than 2.2 million users. Twitter has more than 300 million users.
While many have praised Mastodon as a great alternative to Twitter, some have pointed out that it is not so easy to use, which means that Mastodon is unlikely to take over, even in the long term.
Others have dismissed the movement to leave Twitter as “a passing fad” that probably won’t leave a mark.