Twitter users flee to Mastodon - but what is it and how does decentralised social media work?

Twitter is heading in a new direction. Credit: AP

With Elon Musk shaking up Twitter and taking the company in a new direction, some users are deciding they don't want to follow him and are seeking an alternative.

Although its pitfalls are well known, Twitter's microblogging way of communication can't be replicated by its rivals like Facebook and Whatsapp.

Enter Mastodon - not to be confused with the heavy metal band of the same name - a new decentralised microblogging platform that is attempting to provide an answer to the pitfalls of social media.

The end of Twitter?

With Mr Musk's takeover and subsequent actions, some users of Twitter fear it could change for the worse.

They point to the fact that large numbers of content moderators were laid off when Mr Musk made his cuts to the business.

Mastodon the social media app is not to be confused with the band of the same name. Credit: PA

Mr Musk has also been harshly critical in the past of censoring on the platform and points to the banning of Donald Trump as a mistake.

He has spoken frequently of his commitment to free speech, but some fear by going down this path it will lead to a rise in hate speech on the platform.

Last week Labour MP Diane Abbott told ITV News Mr Musk's takeover of Twitter was "very frightening," she said she had been a victim to large amounts of hate and racism on the platform and feared it could now get worse.

She said: "Twitter has just about been more regulated, it's kept people like President Trump off and it seems that now we are going to see a revival of hate speech on Twitter."

There are also fears that by moving the verification blue tick from a method of proving a person's identity to an optional subscription-based system will lead to a rise in fake accounts and impersonators.

Mr Musk has said senior government officials and important people will be flagged using a separate system which is already in place for top politicians.

He has also said any impersonator accounts that don't clearly mark themselves as a parody will be permanently banned.

On Friday, he tweeted: "Twitter’s strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged. In fact, we have actually seen hateful speech at times this week decline *below* our prior norms, contrary to what you may read in the press."But this hasn't stopped a growing number of advertisers from halting spending on the platform while they wait and see what Mr Musk's Twitter will look like.

Mastodon, a new alternative?

Mastodon is an "open source" social media that features similar microblogging to Twitter.

It's been around for six years but has seen a huge surge in interest since May.

The company claims it has 655,000 users, with roughly 230,000 of those joining since Mr Musk took over Twitter.

Many are unhappy with Elon Musk's new direction for Twitter. Credit: AP

Users can send out 'toots' up to a character limit and other users can reply or share their 'toot' in a similar fashion to Twitter.

The main difference is when you sign up you have to join a server, which are run by other users.

Anyone in the world can set up a server and users can gain access for free - although some do ask for donations when they join.

Servers can be themed around certain things, so for example there is a UK server and a politics server.

Once you join a server you are still able to interact with content from other servers.

The key features of this server system are that firstly you will be more likely to see content from other users on the same server.

The second big one is each server moderates itself, meaning different areas of Mastodon may have wildly different views on what quantifies hate speech, what is free speech and what should be promoted.

Server managers can also choose to not interact with servers they do not agree with. This means their users won't see content from the blocked server.

These servers are also not run on a central mainframe like most other social medias, rather the users who manage the servers run them.

This means if your server is overpopulated you could experience a lot of lag and user issues when people on smaller servers using the same app do not.

This server system runs right to the core of Mastodon and means effectively no one person owns it.

Each server owns a portion of Mastodon.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know

This is a new system of ownership called 'decentralisation', something which has become very popular in the tech industry recently - especially among cryptocurrencies.

This system means the platform cannot be owned and run by a single person, collective agreement is necessary.

Many former Twitter users hope this combination of decentralised ownership and ability to join a server with moderation rules you agree with will make the platform a more attractive place to share their views and interact with others.