What is the fediverse — and how might it affect creators?Reading Time: 6 minutes
All social media sites interconnected — heaven or hell for creators?
There are times in which it seems oh-so-obvious that tech bros love science-fiction movies. They’re obsessed with a vaguely utopian ideal that has no chance in hell of panning out in real life. Or, more likely, they just love Star Trek. And, to me, the creation of the fediverse is one of those times — but it isn’t as out of touch as you may think.
Imagine a world in which there are no such things as ‘Instagram followers’ or ‘Facebook friends.’ Instead, all of your followers on one platform are also all of your followers on another. Each app would still have its strengths and weaknesses, moderation policies, and tools — but you would have the same audience and you’d follow the same accounts, no matter what platform you choose to use.
Imagine your brother posts a photo of your nephew on Facebook, and you can see and interact with it on Lemon8 or X (formerly known as Twitter).
Imagine a world online that is completely decentralized. This is the fediverse.
What is the fediverse?
The fediverse, short for ‘federated universe,’ is a decentralized social media network. The fediverse allows you to have an account on one service and post on other services. In less basic terms, it is a collection of interconnected servers, also called instances, that run software compatible with a set of open protocols. The primary goal of the fediverse is to allow users to communicate and interact with each other on different platforms and servers while retaining control over their data and identity because they aren’t giving it all to one individual company. Mastodon is on the fediverse, for instance.
The fediverse isn’t particularly new, and the tech-savvy elders among us might recognize the most well-known protocols used in the fediverse such as ActivityPub, Diaspora, and OStatus. Mastodon and PeerTube both use ActivityPub, which is probably the protocol we all know best.
The key feature of the fediverse is that users on one server can interact with users on other servers, regardless of which software they are running. For example, a user on a Mastodon instance can follow, mention, and interact with users on different Mastodon instances, Diaspora pods, and other platforms that support the same protocols.
‘I can email somebody with a random .com address from my .edu address and it just works, the servers talk to each other and the email is delivered,’ Ross Schulman, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s decentralization fellow, told Engadget. Decentralized social media — the fediverse — is similar. ‘Instead of exchanging little short messages that we call emails, they exchange little short messages that we call social media, or images, or likes, or replies.’
Why is everyone talking about the fediverse right now?
The fediverse got a bit of a bump in the aftermath of Elon Musk’s continued attempts to completely ruin Twitter (sorry, X). Mastodon, one of the first reasonable alternatives to X, exists in the fediverse. The BBC recently joined Mastodon, saying it’s betting on the fediverse.
And Meta is trying to get in on it too. Before you join Threads, a disclaimer pops up: ‘Future versions of Threads will work within the Fediverse, a new type of social media network that allows people to follow and interact with each other on different platforms.’ Although, the functionality for Threads to enter into the fediverse hasn’t been built yet.
A Meta spokesperson told MediaDownloader that it is working to build Threads on the ActivityPub protocol. ‘Soon, we will make Threads interoperable with other apps that also support the ActivityPub protocol, such as Mastodon and WordPress,’ the spokesperson said. ‘Other services including Tumblr have shared plans to support the ActivityPub protocol in the future.’
There are already millions more people on Threads than the fediverse. This imbalance could be seen as a good thing, according to Wired, because it could make the fediverse even more relevant.
‘The fediverse community has been jolted into motion — due to fear and loathing of Meta, and also excitement,’ Dmitri Zagidulin, a developer who leads the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), told Wired. ‘There are furious meetings. Grants being applied for. Pull requests. Pushes for better security, better user experience. Better everything.’
People who support the fediverse think it offers a lot of advantages, such as increased resilience against censorship, enhanced user privacy, and the ability to choose the server that aligns with one’s values and moderation policies. But, as with anything on the internet, it’s not so straightforward.
How will the fediverse affect content moderation?
Those who don’t know much about the fediverse and its protocols could argue that entering into a fediverse is a way of pushing all moderation onto the user and off the platform itself. They would be mostly wrong.
On Mastodon, for example, small groups or individuals run independent communities or ‘instances’ on their own servers, and they have their own moderation rules. But they still have to comply with the ActivityPub protocol.
In 2018, the organization that set standards for the World Wide Web, known as the W3C, wanted to have a modern standard for distributed social networks like Mastodon. It started a group — co-chaired by Evan Prodromou, an entrepreneur and technologist based in Montreal who is often credited as a pioneer of the fediverse — called the Social Web Working Group. They created the standards that make up the ActivityPub protocol.
Beyond that, though, each of the communities would moderate themselves. Instagram would still moderate content on Instagram; X on X; Threads on Threads; Mastodon on Mastodon.
‘As with all our products, we’re taking safety seriously and we’ll enforce Instagram’s Community Guidelines on content in the app,’ a Meta spokesperson told MediaDownloader. ‘From the start, you can control who can reply to you – choosing between anyone, only accounts you follow, or only accounts that are @ mentioned. In the future, once Threads is interoperable with fediverse platforms, we’ll apply the same rules on fediverse users as well. If an account or server is found violating our rules they would be blocked from accessing Threads, meaning the server’s content would no longer appear on Threads and vice versa.’
How will the fediverse affect content creators and influencers?
‘One of the main challenges for a lot of influencers is to move your influence from one platform to the other,’ Alessandro Bogliari, the CEO and co-founder of The Influencer Marketing Factory told MediaDownloader. One content creator might have millions of followers on TikTok, but struggle to get over the 1,000 mark on YouTube or Twitter. Bogliari points out that there are some real reasons people aren’t successful on every platform — folks who are excellent at short-form video aren’t always excellent at long-form video. But oftentimes, he says, followers are ‘lazy.’
‘It’s difficult to move people [from one platform to another],’ Bogliari said. ‘So having a more simplified way to move around social media without having to disconnect from one place to the other should absolutely help for a lot of content creators. They can focus on creating the content.’
This is pretty much exactly what Meta is hoping for. ‘For creators, this means in the future your posts would appear on other apps and services, allowing you to reach new audiences and grow your audience with no added effort,’ a Meta spokesperson told MediaDownloader. ‘In addition, you would have the option to take your content and move to other services like Mastodon at any time.’
It may be a godsend for some creators, but it is not a panacea — they still have to create good, engaging content. And what works on one platform doesn’t necessarily work on another; your video might go viral on TikTok and get a dozen views on Instagram Reels. Tailoring content to each platform is an important part of the work that creators do.
Users can already post from Instagram onto their Facebook accounts and vice versa. But Meta says that Threads’ involvement in the fediverse is different in that you can post on platforms that aren’t owned by Meta — like Mastodon or WordPress — as long as they also support the ActivityPub protocol.
‘Content would flow between our app and other apps. You could be followed by people who use our app or other apps, and you’d get the opportunity to reach audiences that don’t necessarily use Instagram today,’ a Meta spokesperson said. ‘This would allow you to bring your audience to another server or platform if you someday decided to leave Threads.’
Largely, though, the fediverse won’t have much of an effect on people who don’t know what it is and, therefore, don’t participate in it. Meta, Mastodon, and other fediverse-connected platforms are going to have to do some pretty heavy lifting with regards to how they communicate the importance and usefulness of the fediverse to users before it becomes a reality.
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