At this point, you know there are problems with Twitter. Even if you haven’t been paying attention to the latest news on a day-to-day basis, you know that there have been serious issues over at the iconic bird-themed site for a while now.
Since Elon Musk officially became owner and CEO of Twitter, Inc. on October 27th, 2022, these problems have only become more apparent. Naturally, many have sought an alternative site to get away from Twitter before the ship completely sinks. Rival site Mastodon is one of the most popular alternatives, but how do Mastodon vs Twitter actually compare?
Mastodon vs Twitter: Side-By-Side Comparison
|Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams
|March 16th, 2016
|July 15th, 2006
|C++, Java, Scala, Ruby
|Social Media Site Type
|Number of Users
What Is Mastodon?
Not to be confused with the Grammy Award-winning sludge metal band of the same name, Mastodon is the latest microblogging social media site in the game. Seen as the closest alternative to Twitter in this post-Musk acquisition era for the platform, Mastodon first launched nearly seven years ago in the spring of 2016.
Originally created by Eugen Rochko, Mastodon stands out as the preeminent Twitter alternative for the way it offers short character limits and limited post-add-ons, but the site is not exactly a Twitter dupe. What makes Mastodon unique is the way it offers a seemingly infinite number of independently run nodes — i.e. instances.
When debates over factors such as terms of service, codes of conduct, privacy policies, and content moderation have played such a huge part in Twitter’s current decline, it’s no wonder why Mastodon might be appealing to both former and current Twitter users alike.
Mastodon users can gravitate toward specific instances that align with their particular social media preferences, while still being able to access the larger network of instances that make up Mastodon. In this light, it almost helps to think of Mastodon as a Twitter-Reddit hybrid.
How Does Mastodon Handle Privacy and Moderation?
With Elon Musk making such a point of restoring “free speech” and reinstating previously banned accounts on Twitter, it’s worth asking: what’s Mastodon’s company policy concerning privacy and moderation?
Sure, every Mastodon instance is free to enact its own policies concerning terms of service, code of conduct, and content moderation, but what are the specific tools available to Mastodon instances to help put these policies into place?
The answer is actually quite extensive, which should come as a relief for anyone concerned about what’s going on over at Twitter. First and foremost, posting on Mastodon comes with a number of privacy options.
For one, users have the option to send posts publicly or privately. Public posts will be sent to Mastodon’s global feed — i.e. the timeline — while private ones will only be sent to the timelines of a user’s followers. You also have the option to mark your posts as “unlisted” from certain timelines.
There’s also the option to send posts directly from user to user. Like Twitter, you can also make your account completely private, if you so please.
Whether posting publicly or privately, Mastodon offers users a number of content warnings they can attach to their posts. As with numerous other blogs and social media sites, these posts ask users to click on the redacted portion of the text to reveal the entirety of the post.
You can use these content warnings for anything from movie or television spoilers, sensitive trigger warnings, or content unsuitable for the workplace (NSFW). Because Mastodon relies on each instance to moderate its own feeds, each instance has the ability to restrict or filter itself as it sees fit.
Is Twitter Still Worth Using?
Often embroiled in one controversy or another (or even several at one time), Elon Musk is not the kind of person many people want at the head of their social networking site.
Critiqued for everything from his rash decisions to his short temper, his vindictive actions to his irrational business moves, his lack of a filter to his flip-flopping decision-making, Musk’s ownership of Twitter sent more than a million users fleeing from the site in just one week under new management.
But now, a couple of months post-acquisition, the question is worth asking. Is Twitter still worth using under Elon? These are the facts. Since taking control of the site, Elon Musk has:
- laid off more than half of the site’s existing staff,
- fired (or accepted resignations of) key site executives,
- reversed the bans on a number of previously (and rightfully) banned extremists,
- changed (and then reversed) several policies, seemingly on a whim,
- banned those who criticize, satirize, mock, or tease him,
- eliminated departments committed to online accessibility, ethics, and human rights,
- lost countless key advertisers, severing important relationships and revenue streams,
- implemented a service that requires users to pay for verification.
And that’s just in the first two months of ownership. As a result of all this, users are understandably concerned about what the site will become. (And the potential dangers it might hold.)
The question remains. With all of these changes, is Twitter still a site worth using? Some would argue yes, even in spite of all the negativity that has clouded the social media site in recent months. For starters, Twitter is still home to nearly a quarter-billion active users.
As a result, no other social media site on the planet can provide such immediate access to breaking news as it happens from the people there to witness it. Twitter continues to provide unparalleled access to history-in-the-making, whether it be the World Cup, the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia, and so on.
More Advantages of Using Twitter
Beyond this, there are numerous other reasons to continue using Twitter. Think of it like this: no other site connects everyday people with public figures like Twitter does. From your local politicians to your favorite celebrities and other prominent figures on the world stage, Twitter puts users in direct contact with people whom they otherwise would’ve struggled to communicate with.
Real-time updates on the lawmaking process, exciting updates about the latest projects… no other site out there today makes it this easy to get such immediate updates from the very source. Another big advantage of staying on Twitter is the sheer amount of information on the site.
Twitter’s search function, as well as its library of hashtags, provides users with the ability to learn all there is to know about a particular subject, person, event, or otherwise. Want to know what people are saying about the latest episode of your favorite show? Trying to find someone who’s hiring a candidate that fits your skill set? Looking for people with similar interests as you? Searching Twitter will help you pinpoint all this and more.
Lastly, there’s the simple human desire to go down with the ship (if it’s actually sinking, that is). In other words, staying on Twitter is worth doing if you’re curious to see how bad it might actually get. Only Twitter users will get a front-row seat to the potential carnage that’s in store for the site.
Staying aboard until the bitter end brings its own unique sense of community among the stragglers. (Not unlike the band continuing to play as the Titanic sinks into the icy deep.) There’s nothing brave about continuing to post as the site goes up in flames, but at least it has the potential to be somewhat entertaining.
Mastodon vs Twitter: What’s the Difference?
Looking past all the opinions, all the possibilities, all the hypotheses, and all the explainers, here are the main distinctions between up-and-comer Mastodon and social media titan Twitter. These points will help drive home the key differences that exist between Mastodon vs Twitter.
One of the top concerns on any social media site is how it will handle content moderation. There are millions upon millions of social media users out there, and while a vast majority are good people at heart, not everyone has the best intentions in mind online.
Twitter under Musk is a place with increasingly less concern with content moderation, while Mastodon leaves moderation up to each instance with a larger administrative unit there to step in if necessary. Neither is necessarily ultra-moderated, but Mastodon seems to be the safer of the two. (At least right now.)
One of the less pressing — but nevertheless significant — differences between Mastodon and Twitter is the way you interact with posts. Twitter has the classic ones: like, retweet, quote tweet, pin, share, and so on. Mastodon, on the other hand, differs slightly.
It has favorites instead of likes, boosts instead of retweets, and no quote tweets or anything else of the sort. Additionally, Mastodon doesn’t offer any sort of algorithmic boosting of heavily favorited or frequently boosted content like you might see on Twitter. Neither Twitter nor Mastodon is “better” in this regard. They’re just… different.
There’s only one Twitter, but there’s an infinite number of possible Mastodons out there. Each of these facts is inherent to its respective site.
This is the nature of Mastodon’s reliance on instances. If you don’t like one particular Mastodon instance, you can simply find another that better suits your social media needs.
What’s more, if you’re still unsatisfied, you can simply create your own Mastodon instance. You can’t do any such thing on Twitter, which only exists in its lone form. This difference is a major plus for Mastodon.
Here’s another major difference between Mastodon vs Twitter: ownership. Elon Musk currently serves as owner and CEO of Twitter, and his controversial status makes Twitter controversial as a result. Mastodon, on the other hand, is completely open source.
It’s not owned by investors, corporations, executives, or anything else of the sort. Its decentralization and open-source nature make it virtually free from any ownership. (Though there are people there to help facilitate things like content moderation and so on.) This is a clear advantage for Mastodon and a big downside for Twitter.
Number of Users
Last, there’s one more thing that distinguishes Mastodon from Twitter, and that’s the number of users per site. Mastodon has around a few million at this point, while Twitter is nearing a quarter of a billion users in all.
If you prefer a smaller, more intimate social media experience, then Mastodon’s the place to be. (Especially since each individual instance will have a much smaller number than that overall figure across all Mastodon instances.) Twitter, on the other hand, is ideal for those that want a massive audience. It’s a matter of preference.
Mastodon vs Twitter: Pros and Cons
|Pros of Mastodon
|Cons of Mastodon
|Thanks to crowdfunding, Mastodon is ad-free
|Following people across different instances can be complicated
|Mastodon is not owned by a single corporation
|A Mastodon instance is only as good as its server’s contributors
|The site is decentralized, which means anyone can download its code and improve upon it
|The site is still growing, so there are going to be more bugs to squash
|There are no monetization strategies in Mastodon’s software
|The larger an instance grows, the more difficult and expensive it will be to maintain the server
|Pros of Twitter
|Cons of Twitter
|Immediate access to breaking news as it happens
|Can feel like an endless stream of bad news from all around the world
|Connects users with prominent public figures
|Riddled with bots
|Easy to search to find exactly the kind of content you want to see
|Elon Musk’s ownership has cast a concerning shadow over the site
|Lots of hilarious, informative, or otherwise entertaining users worth following
|Has a real problem with getting a handle on extremist or otherwise problematic users
Mastodon vs Twitter: 4 Must-Know Facts
- Mastodon doesn’t offer any sort of algorithmic boosting.
- Mastodon has around a few million users right now, while Twitter is nearing a quarter of a billion users.
- Mastodon is a decentralized social media.
- Mastodon and Twitter offer different ways of interacting with posts.
Mastodon vs Twitter: Which Should You Use?
When all is said and done, every successful social media site finds a niche and sticks to it. This is where its true success comes from. Copycats don’t often find a path to victory when placed in direct competition with their inspiration.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn… each has its own unique purpose, and users flock to that purpose as a result. It remains to be seen whether Mastodon will be able to thrive in the shadow of Twitter, but there’s no doubt it’ll be continually sought out as the next-best thing until Twitter gets its head on straight again.
At the end of the day, neither social media site is necessarily superior. It’s ultimately up to you and your preferences for a social media site. Both Mastodon vs Twitter have their own unique advantages and disadvantages, and it’s going to take some thought to determine which you’d rather use.
With that being said, Mastodon undoubtedly seems to be on a lot more stable footing than Twitter at this point. If you’re looking for a platform that replicates the best of Twitter without all that controversy, then Mastodon is no doubt your best bet.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©davide bonaldo/Shutterstock.com.