Many people (I don’t like this phrase) are leaving Twitter these days, and looking for a new social media home. One of these places is Mastodon. This blog post aims to summarize the steps necessary for a migration, and includes pointers to websites which can help with said move.
Image & CC: https://www.pexels.com/photo/3-grey-elephants-under-yellow-sky-68550/
What is Twitter?
Twitter is a Microblogging service. Users post short texts with maximal
140 280 characters, optionally including media attachments. Tweets (that’s the name for the posting) are public by default, however Twitter implemented the ability to protect accounts (make the content private to followers only), or recently implemented functionality to target specific user groups for Tweets. In October 2022 Elon Musk completed the acquisition of Twitter, and took over as CEO. The following weeks have seen erratic and dramatic changes, which are not well-received by all users. Quite a number of users decided to leave Twitter. In addition, as a consequence of the turmoil some companies stopped doing advertisements on Twitter. The future will show if the users and advertisers will come back.
Users have a unique username on the platform, mine is @ascherbaum.
What is Mastodon?
Mastodon is a Microblogging, which in contrast to the centralized Twitter, runs on decentralized (federated) instances (servers). The instances communicate with each other. The software is open source, and the project started around 2016.
Postings in Mastodon are named Toots, not Tweets. Or Trööt in German. Please let me know the word in other languages, I will update this posting.
After Elon Musk took over at Twitter, users started to migrate to Mastodon as an alternative, and every controversial announcement shows a new wave of users leaving. This will likely keep going for quite a while.
Mastodon users have a unique username on one instance, however the same username on a different instance can be used by someone else. There is no universal verification across instances, instances might implement their own verification. For example the social.bund.de instance is only open to other federal agencies of the German government - therefore every account on this instance is already validated as a government account.
My Mastodon account (the one I’m currently using) is ascherbaummastodon.social. The software allows users to move to new instances and migrate followers over, check the profile settings of your instance how to do that.
Your new Mastodon account
One of the hard choices is to pick an instance in the Mastodon world. In theory you can pick any instance, in practice you want one which is maintained and running stable. Or maybe you want to set up your own instance. The recent rush of new users let some instances struggle, and they temporarily close account creation.
There are a couple ways for you to find a new instance:
- Look where your friends are going - always a good choice
- Join Mastodon has a list of servers
- This OpenStreetMap map shows a list of servers by region
- Instances.social has a list of servers, which can be filtered
- Fediverse.party has a list of servers, by category
- Fediscience.org has a curated list of science servers
- Tech Briefly recently published a list of servers
You are spoiled for choice!
Once your brand new and shiny account is created, make sure that other users can find you. Edit your profile, add your name (or the nickname you are known under), add a picture and say something about you.
The same profile page can be used to verify your account. This happens by adding the backlink which is shown on your profile on other websites and social media profiles. This way there is a two-way verification process between your account and other accounts or websites where you are already known.
Get an App
Sure you can use the website to interact with your Mastodon account. But like other social media networks, there is an app for your mobile phone. Actually, there is more than one. There is the “official” app, linked at the top of the “Mastodon Apps” page. And then there are other apps. And you have the choice to pick whatever app suits you best. Some of the apps are for Mastodon only, some allow you to use multiple social networks in one app.
Find your friends/peers
Many users who operate both a Twitter account and a Mastodon account add other profiles on their bio. Mastodon profiles have the option to create a section with other profile links. On Twitter you can add your Mastodon profile in your bio. There are several tools which can use this information, scan your Twitter profile, your followers and your blocklist to identify which users have Mastodon accounts. A couple of such tools are available here:
You authorize the website to access your Twitter profile (it only asks for necessary permissions), it then scans your profile and followers and block list and gives you a list of matching Mastodon accounts. Quite handy. The list can also exported as CSV.
For these tools to work - not only for you, but for anyone - it is helpful if you don’t delete your Twitter account, but instead keep the account (maybe without content, see later in this post) alive. And don’t forget to add your Mastodon account in your Bio, to make the migration easier.
Once you are done with the scan, you can revoke the permissions for the tool. Or you can keep it, and scan again in the future and see if more people migrated.
Mastodon differentiates between three different timelines.
There is the “Home” timeline, which is your personal timeline, and this one shows the content of all the people/accounts you follow. You are likely interested in this.
There is the “local timeline” (button on the top left, which looks like a table with people sitting around it). This is the content of your Mastodon instance. If you picked your instance based on preferences (like hoppy, or work), this is the interesting chatter happening which relates to what you are interested in.
And there is the “Federated timeline”. This is the content from your instance plus the content from all other instances your own instance is connected to. This is quite a lot of content, and usually scrolling very fast - at least on large instances. Have a look, but it might become too much.
Generate and interact with content
As mentioned before, the content is called “Toot” in Mastodon. You can generate your own content by writing Toots, and also add media like videos or pictures. Side note: all the media is stored on the instance server, make sure your admin is ok with uploading large amounts of media.
Each Toot can be labeled with a CW - Content Warning. Consider how you would receive the Toot, or included media, if it scrolls through your timeline. If it’s content you would rather not see without warning, mark it as CW.
In addition to the CW option you can mark Toots as private, this hides them from the timeline. This is useful for additional Toots if you generate posts which are longer than a single Toot. You can add polls, and change the language to make it clear in which language your Toot is written.
You can also interact with other people’s toots. Either by “Boost”ing them, this is like a Retweet in Twitter. Or by Favourite the Toot. That’s the “Like” from Twitter. You can also reply and express your opinion or contribute to the discussion. And finally, there is a Bookmark option which you can use to remember the Toot, and come back later.
One of the nice things about the Fediverse is that no algorithm is manipulating what you see.
All the content the people you follow will be presented to you. This can be a bit much, and sometimes you want to exclude content.
Luckily there are built-in filters.
On your Mastodon instance click on your profile, go to “Edit profile” and there click on “Filters”. You can create filters for any kind of content, you can also just block entire instances. Filters can be made permanent, or expire after a given time - useful as example if you want to ignore certain keywords or hashtags for a while. Users on Twitter did repeatedly ask for such a feature.
Add a filter in Mastodon
It is possible to use one system as “leading” system and do cross-posts, either from Mastodon to Twitter or vice versa from Twitter to Mastodon.
Keep in mind: Toots can be (way) longer than Tweets. A Toot can be up to 500 characters, where the Tweet limit is 280 characters.
A few online services are available which take care of this, all untested:
Keep in mind that these services have access to both of your accounts, and can post in your name. Use with care.
If you have access to a Linux system, you can use mastodon-twitter-poster and setup your own bridge.
Twitter data export
In case you are interested in your Twitter data, this data can be exported. Twitter will give you an archive (size depending on how much you interacted with the platform), which more or less includes all your data. This distinction is important: as example the export includes links to Tweets you liked, but since the Tweet itself is not “your” data, the actual data for the Tweet is not included. Your data in this case is “the like”.
The export from Twitter can be improved. Tim Hutton wrote a script which converts the Tweets into Markdown and HTML, and includes the embedded images. It can also update usernames (so they are not deactivated) and download the original size images (the export only includes scaled down versions).
To get your personal data export, go to the Twitter.com website, on the left side click on “More” and on “Settings and Support”, then on “Settings and Privacy”. Brings you to the Account website. In the menu on the right side click on “Download an archive of your data”. The website will ask you for verification, and then you can request the download. It will take a couple hours until the download is ready. You will receive a notification.
Delete your Twitter data
Some people prefer to “clean” their Twitter profile. There are services which can do that for you. One such service is TweetDelete. Like with finding accounts of others, you have to authorize this service. It needs more access to your profile, because it will not only read your followers, it will also manipulate (delete) your Tweets and Likes. The premium version can delete more Tweets, you can also apply filters, like only delete specific Tweets, or delete old Tweets automatically.
Another service is TweetDeleter, a third one is TweetEraser. All services have similar functionality, and the premium services offer more options.
Keep in mind that these tools have access to your entire data, and can modify all your Tweets. Use with care.
There’s also tweet-delete, a Python script. However in order to use this you need to apply for a developer account at Twitter first. It’s a bit more work, but does keep the access to your data clean.
Delete your Twitter account
Should you delete your entire Twitter account? No, in my opinion. There is a simple reason: after you delete your account, after 30 days your username is available again, and any imposter can create a new account under your previous name.
There is a second reason not to do this: you can clean out your profile, and leave behind information how people can find you somewhere else. Like adding your Mastodon account(s), or other social media links. This makes a migration for anyone else easier.
There is also a third reason: if you use your Twitter account for other websites as Single Sign-On, you will lose access to the other website. Also keep in mind that logging in into other websites using SSO during the 30 days period will reactivate your Twitter account. You first need to revoke third-party access to your account.
If you still want to delete your Twitter account, the process starts by deactivating your account. Once you have done so and you don’t reactivate the account in 30 days, it will be permanently deleted.
If you decide not to delete the account, you can still clean out the content (see above), remove your phone number from it, set a strong password, change the email address and remove access for other applications. Basically leave an empty profile behind which only points to your new social media profiles.
Twitter and Mastodon are different, but with a bit of effort it is possible to establish a presence in both worlds. It’s also relatively easy to leave Twitter behind.
My thanks goes to the Gurkentruppe for adding helpful pointers!