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  • Writer's pictureLaura Perry

The perils of social media and the exploration of new platforms

Like so many aspects of life in modern society, social media is fraught with ethical difficulties.

I've recently been wrestling with a subject many of you have been thinking about, too: How to maintain a presence on social media without contradicting my internal sense of ethics.

In my case, social media is an important aspect of how I make a living. I use it to share my books and other projects that I rely on for income. The landscape of the public world has changed dramatically since my first book was released in 2001. It's just not possible these days to be a successful author without participating in social media in one way or another.

I also rely on social media to keep in touch with my spiritual community and my fellow authors. I've made many friends - real friends, people I've ended up meeting in real life - via social media. And I keep in touch with IRL friends and family online. So for me, social media certainly has value.

But every corporate social media platform has its problems, from Meta's misuse of private data to Twitter's encouragement of white supremacy to YouTube's child video fiascos.

Social media is embedded in our culture now. It would be very difficult for me to continue to work as an author without these platforms. Yes, you're reading my blog - but did you find this link via social media? There's a good chance you did.

So I struggle with how to handle my online presence. I literally can't afford to just drop out of it. What to do?

I rely on my newsletter to keep in touch with readers and fellow members of the Pagan community. I've been writing it for quite a few years now, but I feel like newsletters are becoming more important since they're direct communication that isn't filtered by some stupid algorithm. I value the newsletters I receive. Did you know that you can reply to a newsletter just like to any other email? I love it when my readers do that - it's a great way to have a conversation.

I've also begun exploring the Fediverse, including joining Mastodon. I like the idea of a decentralized Internet. It fits nicely with my desire for an economy that relies more on local, independent business and food production than on giant, continent- or world-spanning conglorporations.

I've had friends proclaim that they won't join Mastodon because they've heard about issues with racists and other bigots. The thing is, like the rest of the Fediverse, Mastodon isn't a single entity. It's not owned by just one company. Or by any company, for that matter. So referring to Mastodon as if it were a single thing is inaccurate.

It's more like email: You may use Gmail while a friend uses the email their business or college provides them with. But you can both send each other emails and read them just fine. That's because every email company uses the same underlying software, the same protocols to process your incoming and outgoing messages. So you can email anyone, regardless of their email provider.

Mastodon is like that. Each instance is run by a different person or group of people, usually volunteers. None of them are big corporations. The vast majority of them are funded by donations. Each one has its own personality, its own moderators, and its own rules, though there are some general rules and guidelines that apply across all instances. But they can all talk with each other the same way you can email anyone with an email address.

If you join a Mastodon instance that's full of bigots, it's likely to be an unpleasant experience (unless you're a bigot yourself). But the nifty thing about federated setups like Mastodon is that other instances can identify and block problematic ones, which leads to the problematic ones sitting all alone, shouting bigotry among themselves because no one else can interact with them.

I've watched several instances shut down over the past few months because of the pressure against bigoted behavior. I recently moved to a new instance because the one I began on will be shutting down soon, thanks to TERFs who couldn't shut up about about she-who-must-not-be-named. But transferring to a new instance was surprisingly easy. I was actually impressed. It seems like these volunteer-run setups are actually more efficient and user-friendly than the corporate-owned ones. Hmmm...

Honestly, I think the folx who run the various Mastodon instances have done an amazing job. They had an almost overnight influx of something like 2 million people who were fleeing Twitter. Suddenly these volunteers were having to deal with many times the usual number of members and posts (they're called toots, which I just adore) - while putting up with critical, sometimes rude comments from self-righteous Twitter refugees who expected these volunteers to take crap from them. I was embarrassed to see some of that behavior. And I was impressed with how well the Mastodon moderators managed to deal with that huge expansion.

So I'm over on Mastodon now. I'm not leaving Twitter, but I expect it will fall of its own accord soon enough. I'm not leaving any other corporate media either - at least, not yet. But I expect I'll be spending less time on the corporate end of things and more time in the Fediverse from now on. It just feels like a healthier kind of place to be.

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