One of the primary methods I use for keeping up with the goings on of webcomic creators is following the creators themselves on social media. Not everybody plays on all the different platforms, of course—some not at all—but by trying to keep up with many of them there, I’ll usually catch any updates from them directly as well as mentions of the folks not using social media by virtue of webcomikers trying to help each other out.
In any event, I happened to catch an interesting phenomenon this past weekend, when a large number of these creators seemed to suddenly start mentioning something called Mastodon. It’s a microblogging platform, not unlike Twitter. A number of creators, particularly those in minority communities, mentioned signing up for accounts and were testing the waters to see if it were worth migrating to.
New social platforms are a dime a dozen. Most fail quickly, a few do okay for a few years until they realize they just can’t find a way to make things financial feasible, and only a very rare few become really successful. What was interesting here was seeing so many creators simultaneously express an interest.
The reason has to do with how Mastodon is set up. Unlike Twitter, which throws everyone into the same bucket, Mastodon uses “instances,” a kind of distributed network of independent servers each acting as mini-platform unto itself. Instances can then be established for targeted groups: one for showcasing art, one for animal rights activism, one for science fiction… I found one specifically for people interested in Belgium’s political Pirate Party. Each one of these is administered and run independently, meaning that the “terms of service” can vary a bit from instance to instance.
That last point is significant precisely because Twitter is (by design) very open and broad with its usage. And many users have run into major problems with being attacked and harassed online by everyone from anonymous trolls to self-professed Nazis. Twitter does have a reporting policy in place, but it’s not enforced very heavily and even then very inconsistently. So when Twitter seemed to forgo complaints about not enough being done to counter these attacks (some have noted Nazis are actively banned by Twitter in Germany, but still allowed to harass people here in the US) and instead just provide a longer character counts for Tweets and user names, people are looking for alternatives. And by “people” I mean “people who have repeatedly been on the receiving end of this harassment only to see nothing done.” A group that includes a number of creators of color and LGBTQ creators.
So with distributed network administration (and greater controls over who can/can’t follow or respond to you) Mastodon looks pretty promising to a number of people. One of the administrators of the “main” instance noted that he had to make some server changes because he noticed the large increase in new accounts this weekend. (Including me! I’m @firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.)
Now, whether Mastodon will be successful or not is impossible to say. It doesn’t seem to me that it’s reached a critical mass of users to be considered a success or not, and the whole discussion of “instances” is a little challenging for many people. So it’s by no means a slam dunk. But considering that webcomics have some of its best work being done by minorities, and Mastodon trying to directly address the problems minorities face on Twitter, it’s worth keeping an eye on, I think. It might not be long before your favorite creator is posting their updates on Mastodon and letting their Twitter account go dark.