Last month on April 4, Musk revealed owing a 9.2% stake in the microblogging company’s free-floating stock, making him the company’s largest stakeholder. Though Twitter promised him a seat on its board of directors, Elon pulled a trump card by declining a seat on Twitter’s board of directors on April 10 in favor of attempting to purchase the entire company.
What followed next was an interesting turn of events that started when Elon’s initial offer to buy Twitter at US$54.20 per share, citing that it was his “best and final,” in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on April 13 That offer valued Twitter at about US$43 billion. The board initially rejected the proposal because, while the offer was significantly above Twitter’s existing share price, it was probably too low, considering that the stock had lately risen beyond it. The board also took steps to limit his power, including instituting a “poison pill” on April 15 that would diminish everyone’s shares and prevent a hostile takeover. This so-called poison pill, or shareholder rights agreement, allows other shareholders to buy the shares at a reduced price if Musk or another individual or group acquires more than 15% of the outstanding common stock.
In addition, Musk’s funding for the acquisition was first unknown. However, on April 21 Musk explained in another Securities and Exchange Commission filing that he had obtained US$46.5 billion in commitments to help fund the deal. This includes around US$25.5 billion in loan funding from Morgan Stanley Senior Funding and other companies. Further, Elon stated that he had invested US$21 billion in equity.
After a roller coaster of rumors and speculations, on April 25, Elon Musk finally purchased Twitter. It is important to note that the buyout has not yet occurred, since the procedure will take some time to complete; nevertheless, the deal is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Though Musk has frequently mentioned that his primary concern with Twitter is the company’s censorship of free speech, critics fear that the billionaire’s control of the platform will result in the silencing of their voices and those with whom he may disagree, given that he has frequently blocked critics from his account. Moreover, the ‘free speech’ bait also implies giving a platform to profiles that spew hate, spread misinformation, and fuel propaganda. Not only that, but since today’s social networking sites have the power to change the course of political opinion, trigger discourse on literally every trivial and important topic, and manipulate the crypto market with hearsay, the ‘free speech’ is a necessary gambit to bring chaos. This is mortifying especially when Twitter has been both fertile ground and echo chamber for anti-Islamic and antisemitic content.
To surmise, not everyone is happy with the takeover. Since the world was hit by the news of the then alleged buyout, many netizens have been looking for alternatives to Twitter. This development gave an influx of users to switch to Mastodon, a Germany-based open-source social network site. According to Mastodon’s CEO Eugen Rochko, the platform recently witnessed an influx of approx. 41,287 users with 30,000 new user signups in the wee hours post-acquisition. The unexpected surge of new users has also caused the servers of this modest social network to slow down. There was also discussion among the Twitterati about restarting their blogs and recommitting to RSS (Really Simple Syndication).
Rochko, who created Mastodon was inspired by a rumor about the potential selling of Twitter to a “controversial billionaire” back in 2016. In its essence, Mastodon is a decentralized social networking platform that allows users to build their own private networks. People can post 500-character messages known as “toots” (similar to Tweets on Twitter), repost or “boost” posts on their own timeline, and follow or privately chat with other users. It’s a software platform based on the open-source ActivityPub protocol, rather than a single company-run site. Anyone could establish their own Mastodon private Twitter-like networks, called instance thanks to the open-source functionality. While each of these instances can set up its own guidelines for users, users from different servers can also freely communicate with each other. When it comes to choosing your instance, users can join groups organized by area, LGBTQ+, and specialty hobbies such as art, music, activism, gaming, technology, humor, cuisine, and more. Also, because these networks are hosted on numerous servers, no one company can target them with adverts. Mastodon’s feed, which is chronological, and non-algorithmic, is another noteworthy contrast from Twitter.
Earlier Mastodon had only a web version, until last year when it launched an iOS app. To entice more users, it has recently launched an Android version.
Mastodon accounts can communicate with ActivityPub-enabled accounts on other social networks. PixelFed, a decentralized and open-source Instagram equivalent, for example, leverages ActivityPub to allow Mastodon users to follow and engage with PixelFed profiles. This cross-network social following and engagement capabilities are contributing to the popularity of Fediverse. The phrase Fediverse is a portmanteau of the words “federation” and “universe.” It’s a cluster of federated (i.e. networked) servers used for online publishing (i.e. social networking, microblogging, blogging, or webpages) and file storage, and could communicate with one other while being hosted independently.
However, ActivityPub is not alone in the game. Bluesky, Twitter’s version of a decentralized protocol, has already been in development. The main difference between ActivityPub and BlueSky is that it is still a vaporware project that is aiming to produce a Web3-based version. Vaporware is software that has been publicly publicized and actively pushed by a company despite the fact that it does not yet exist.
Towards April end, Mastodon welcomed the EU to join its social network and put up its own server, called EU Voice, in the midst of the record inflow of users. The European Commission also opened an account for PeerTube, another decentralized video-sharing network, on the same day.
According to European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski, the EU hopes to offer alternative social media platforms that emphasize individuals and their rights to privacy and data protection with the trial launch of EU Voice and EU Video.
While it is true that there is no guarantee that extremists and others won’t find new platforms to spread hate and misinformation, Mastodon has a number of policies in place regarding content that is not permitted on the network. This includes the requirement for sexually explicit or violent media to be labeled. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and casteism are all prohibited. The propagation of violent beliefs or incitement to violence is likewise forbidden. Users are also forbidden from harassing, dogpiling, or doxing one another. There’s also a ban on any content that’s regarded as illegal in Germany, thus Mastodon users can’t deliberately publish incorrect or misleading information.
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Apart from Mastodon, former Twitter users flocked to newcomers CounterSocial and Truth Social, pioneering social networks like Tumblr and MySpace. There are alternatives that also reminisce you of older Internet days or are designed using former social networking sites. These include Neocities, Spacehey, and Pillowfort.
CounterSocial resembles Twitter in appearance and claims to be free of bots, trolls, deepfake, and fake news. It also promises not to mine or sell user data and is ad-free. But its beginnings are murky, as it was formed by The Jester, an anonymous hacktivist who is suspected of carrying out hacks against WikiLeaks, and several Islamist websites.
Unfortunately, this site soon started receiving negative reviews. Users complained about the experience after joining this ad-free social network or tweeted that they had joined CounterSocial but didn’t know how to utilize the platform and that the site crashed after many new registrations.
Former US President Donald Trump’s social media network, Truth Social, has likewise gained a lot of interest since its debut in February. Though there was conjecture that Elon might reinstate Trump following the buyout, it did not materialize, despite news of Trump’s supposed departure from Truth Social. Trump reiterated that he has no plans to return to Twitter, but the prospect of his leaving Truth Social was enough to send shares of Digital World Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition firm hoping to join with Trump Media & Technology Group, plunging.
Mastodon still has a long way to go before it can compete with Twitter, especially on the basis of size, backed by its virtues. The Mastodon.social server has just 662,000 users, however, the federated network as a whole has nearly 3.5 million. Twitter, on the other hand, has 217 million daily active users. There are many areas where Mastodon needs work to keep the new users want to continue using it. For instance, though it is simple to use and the UX appears to be dynamic, it has a drab aesthetic and misses some of the functionality of the bird app.
While the open-source feature of Mastodon keeps attracting new audiences, it may not be for long as there Elon has been considering to open-source Twitter and has been an advocate of the same for a long time.
Rochko believes that the decentralized nature of Mastodon guarantees that it would not disappear like MySpace, Friendfeed, and SchülerVZ, a German version of Facebook. Those who remain long enough could observe some significant changes. According to Rochko, “really wonderful groups functionality” and end-to-end encrypted chats are in the works.
This is also not the first time the social networking platform had surged in popularity. Back in 2019, many users in India raced to join Mastodon as they were enraged by moderation policies.
In retrospect, though Mastodon is a drop in the ocean compared the Twitter, years later if Fediverse goes mainstream, this recent mass migration of users and Elon’s Twitter acquisition will be regarded as catalysts.