Poll: One-Third of Mastodon Users Won’t Follow Threads Users
Over the weekend, I ran a poll on Mastodon that asked the following question: “If Threads goes ahead with its plan to add ActivityPub, will you follow one or more Threads users in your Mastodon account?” The poll received 3,889 replies before closing (helped by a “boost” from Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko), so it was a statistically meaningful response. Surprisingly, one-third of respondents voted “hell no!”.
The majority of people (57%) voted “heck yeah!” to following at least one Threads user, so there is certainly hope yet for Meta’s foray into the fediverse. The remaining 10% voted “other” — and judging by the comments, usually this meant they either hadn’t decided or it would depend on how the federation between Mastodon and Threads will be implemented.
Regardless of how many of the 10% will decide to interact with Threads users, it’s interesting that a full one-third of Mastodon’s current user base do not plan to follow anyone on Threads. It shows there is a lot of discontent in the wider Mastodon community about Meta’s plan to join the fediverse.
First, let’s clarify the different ways an instance (a Mastodon server) can choose to deal with Threads. The two obvious ones are to either federate with Threads (so it will be part of the instance’s extended network) or not federate (which blocks all Threads users via a “domain block”). But there are other, more subtle, options — such as what used to be called “silencing.” It’s now called “limiting” and, in the case of Threads, it would mean Threads isn’t featured in the federated feed but users can decide for themselves if they want to follow individual Threads users. Here’s how the Mastodon documentation describes this:
“A limited account is hidden to all other users on that instance, except for its followers. All of the content is still there, and it can still be found via search, mentions, and following, but the content is invisible publicly.”
Why Did One-Third of Mastodon Users Vote No?
Okay, let’s get back to individual user preferences across the Mastodon network. In particular, why would 33% of Mastodon users not want to follow at least one Threads user?
For many, the likelihood that the user base of Threads and/or Instagram includes hateful people or groups is reason enough not to federate. The word “nazi” was used multiple times to convey this sentiment.
Another prominent reason given was that Meta will unduly influence the fediverse, if/when it reaches a position of power. This comment by Erik Uden, who is the administrator of an instance called Mastodon.de, is representative:
“I think we should learn from our mistakes, especially considering how Google Hangouts was initially praised as “look, a big corporation now uses this free protocol [XMPP], it will make our instant messaging client so famous!” when in reality it lead to Google dominating the Messenger and later cutting support for XMPP, killing the once decentralized and feature rich platform almost entirely.”
Another reason proffered is that because Threads is so large (at time of writing it is well over 100 million users, but could easily approach 1 billion in the near future), it may overwhelm the much smaller servers of Mastodon.
Finally, many people simply view Meta as an untrustworthy entity. “If there is any technical hassle involved or I feel like just by following someone I might be playing into Meta‘s hands, I would probably think it is not worth it and stop,” commented Sonja Pieps. “I am absolutely in favor of treading extremely carefully around an entity as untrustworthy as Meta.”
Who’s Actually Making the Decision About Threads?
At least one commenter noted that you don’t have to rely on your instance to block Threads — you could also block the domain “threads.net” as an individual user, regardless of what your instance decides to do. But even that stance would be slightly controversial; as another commenter put it, there are “good reasons to not want to be on, nor support, a server that federates with Facebook or similar.”
A number of people commented that the decision will be made for them by the administrators of their instance. For some users, this presents a dilemma:
“If they block #Threads, I won’t move. If we federate with #Threads, it really depends on how many other communities then block us. There’s essentially no UX for that, you’ll just silently lose follows/followers.”
It was also interesting to see that some Mastodon users view existing large instances with suspicion. I’m currently on the largest instance, Mastodon.social, which is run by Eugen Rochko. One person commented that “I’ll probably treat them [Threads] the same way I treat mastodon dot social users: with a healthy dose of caution and a daily prayer of defederation.”
This seems a little harsh, because Mastodon.social is the easiest way to join Mastodon — hence it has become a default for many new users. And even though I’ve been on there for years now, I think it’s well managed and so I don’t see any reason to move to another instance.
Others disagree. Wrote one commenter: “I’ve encountered two major problems with mastodon dot social: spam/bots, and in my experience the majority of its users don’t include #AltText and #CW.” (It’s worth noting that many Mastodon newbies have been turned off by this kind of attitude — that is, existing Mastodon users telling them the “right way” to use the product.)
What Are the Reasons to Follow Threads Users on Mastodon
Despite the hard-line stance some Mastodon users are taking with Threads, a lot of users have taken a more pragmatic stance (indeed, it’s fair to say that the majority of users are like this, if you believe the poll results). A Mastodon user from New Zealand noted:
“I’d love to stay in touch with friends who are on Instagram without actually having to use Instagram myself. It would, in effect, allow *me* to consolidate my socmed [social media] accounts to just Fediverse accounts. Win!”
If you assume that person meant Threads as well as Instagram, it’s a great point — many of Threads’ users have not wanted to sign up to Mastodon so far, and so perhaps Threads is a good middle ground for Mastodon users to meet them on.
Others noted that the lack of an algorithmic timeline on Mastodon is a plus and would allow them to follow Threads users unfiltered. “There will surely be some interesting people there, and the ability to consume their content without a ‘managed’ timeline would be really welcome,” wrote Andy Davidson.
There’s also the fact that some communities just aren’t well represented on Mastodon, and so this will enable Mastodon users to keep track of them. “So many of the communities I followed on Twitter outside of Tech aren’t present or are too small here,” said Jared Gaut. “Already found that some of those are better represented on Threads after a week.”
It’s hard not to see this poll result as an augery of trouble for the fediverse. If one-third of Mastodon users are resistant to federating with Meta, then what does that mean for the principle of decentralization on the web? Is it ok to pick and choose who can join the fediverse community — or worse, for administrators of instances to pick and choose, and not the users themselves?
We shall see what happens once Threads turns on its ActivityPub support (as yet, that hasn’t happened). As a final note, despite the massive user base that Threads already has, nobody in Europe has been allowed to sign up so far — a consequence of Europe’s privacy regulations. That begs the question: which will Threads connect to first, Mastodon or Europe?