What is Mastodon?

What is Mastodon?

Mastodon, founded in 2014, has received a big share of attention in recent months, and it has gained a lot of new users after Elon Musk took over Twitter. Mastodon says it has more than 1.3 million active monthly users. It was higher right after Ellon Musk bought Twitter: 2.5 million active monthly users. 

Mastodon is a decentralized, open-source social media platform. Anyone can launch and host their own Mastodon server and create their own community, which can connect to other Mastodon servers.

“Nobody is in control of the entire network,” founder Eugen Rochko told NPR end of 2022.

“It is, in effect, more democratic,” he said.

You can read more about Mastodon’s structure on its basic help page. That page declares: “Mastodon is not Twitter.” The site won’t nudge you to follow certain people. Mastodon does not emphasize a post’s popularity or virality: “What’s important, here, is to interact in real conversations.”

Who owns Mastodon?

Everybody. Since Mastodon is a Free and Open Source platform, everybody can use, modify and install it on their own server. Moreover the people who developed Mastodon do not own any copyright on it. That’s the basic philosophy of Free and Open Source Software: to share useful software that everybody can use freely and collaborate to improve it.

Each server has its own rules and moderators, and moderators can serve as gatekeepers to that server, deciding who can join. Users of the different servers (known as Instances) can interact with one another, though Instances may form around specific interests. You can create accounts on more than one server, so there’s no need to pick the perfect community right away.


You can choose an Instance by language, moderation policy, political views or any other criteria. Anyway, the more you feel at home on your chosen Instance, the better it is.

A well-run Instance will have its policies clearly written on its homepage and also publish the list of blocked or silenced Instances.

Mastodon servers

Mastodon is not a single website. To use it, you need to make an account with a provider -> servers that lets you connect with other people across Mastodon.

Getting started is said to be easy. I myself found it a bit hard. Mostly because there are so many servers, which causes confusion to many. Read more about How To Get Started here.

Copy rights

Every Instance is completely independent and has its own policy and terms of service. Therefore, when you publish something on Mastodon, your content is saved on your Instance’s server and every Instance will manage it in a different way, depending on its own rules.

If you want to use Mastodon to promote your art or, for other reasons, you want to have certain specific guarantees for your content, you should choose an Instance specialized in that.

Anyway, due the federated nature of Mastodon, your content could be boosted also on other Instances that could manage it in different ways.

For the same reason if your Instance admin removes one of your posts, a copy of it can still be present on other Instances.

ps. Many new users believe that their username is only the @name part but that part alone is unusable, like an email address without what’s written afer the @.

If you mention someone on Mastodon only by @name, the software usually assumes that the contact is on the same Instance you are currently logged into. Therefore, if that person is on a different Instance and you don’t write the @instance part, clicking on @name will either result in a broken link or bring you to somebody with the same name on your Instance.