On Federating With Meta


Meta and Google are existential threats to the continued existence of Mastodon (and friends).

An existential threat is a threat to a people’s existence or survival. - The Brittanica Dictionary (editorial)

The best way to guarantee the death of the things we love about Mastodon (and friends) is to allow Meta or Google to gain a toehold in the Fediverse.

If you’re an instance admin who feels similarly, please add your name to the Anti-Meta Fedipact.

An explanation

I see no future in which Meta or Google embracing the Fediverse will not result in eventual “extension” and “extinguishing”. There is more than enough history to go on.

If you have not read it already I’d strongly recommend you read “How to Kill a Decentralized Network (such as the Fediverse)”. Its a story by a Google employee who worked with them when they adopted XMPP (Jabber). If you don’t know already, it was a relatively popular federated messaging service that had a reasonably decent install base but hadn’t taken over the world yet. It supported group and direct messages. Mastodon, meanwhile, is a federated messaging service with group and direct messages and a reasonably decent install base that hasn’t taken over the world yet. The definition of “group” may be a little different but you get the point. Google embraced it, slightly extended it, and then killed it.

Email is a federated messaging service. Unlike Jabber or Mastodon it pretty much had taken over the world before Google made GMail. It’s too entrenched to kill off entirely, but they’ve done a very good job of coming close. Google “embraced” email, then they “extended” it by creating their own modern API that developers could use instead of IMAP or POP to communicate with their servers. IMAP and POP are both terrible to work with by modern standards. People who care enough about email to write an app for it quickly realize that using the GMail API will not only be way easier but also give them better results, and access to millions of potential users.

The end result is that all the cool new ideas that people come up with get implemented in a way that only works for GMail. Because all the cool new things you want to use only work with GMail everyone - even businesses - start signing up for GMail accounts. If it wasn’t for Microsoft - and thus Outlook - being so entrenched I’m convinced email as we know it would be dead.

It’s already started

The leaks from the secret (contents under NDA) meeting between admins of large / significant Fediverse servers and Meta suggest that:

  • Some large server admins will be offered financial compensation for federating with Meta
  • Meta would get to set the moderation policy if admins agreed to compensation
  • Fediverse admins would have the option of including Meta advertisements in their federated feed and receive a cut of the profits from those.

There is no possible way this ends up being good for the Fediverse.

  1. Meta’s moderation policies are crap.
  2. Meta’s ability to moderate is crap.
  3. Meta refuses to provide care for the mental health of the moderators they pay to go through an endless stream of horrific images (torture, pedophilia, rape, etc.) and incredibly cruel words. This article describes just what a terrible job it is.
  4. We explicitly do not want ads in our feeds.

The only good thing is financial support for server admins who need it because Mastodon is horribly inefficient and people are not good about actually supporting their server admins financially. Its understandable since we’ve had services like this for free for so long - because we were the thing being sold.

Going Forward

The only real solution to this is a truly distributed system. Not federated, but distributed. Unfortunately there are no good (IMNSHO) distributed solutions available right now.

Right now, the Fediverse is our best option. We have a very slim chance to ward off the colonizers.

If we want to have any hope of protecting our communities from fascism, racism, and simple advertising we have to do three things:

  1. Refuse to Federate with Meta.
  2. Refuse to Federate with Google.
  3. Financially support our server admins if we can afford to.

What if they do get a toehold?

If Meta or Google get a reasonable toehold in the Fediverse we’re doomed. It’s just a question of how quickly.

First people will connect with friends and family who’ve been stuck in Facebook. Social bonds will be (re)formed. As time goes on those bonds will strengthen, and it will be harder for admins to get away with defederating from those servers without massive uproar from their users. Especially on large servers where the users specifically don’t care about finding a good community of like minded people online.

But what about [insert company here]

Tumblr has promised to add ActivityPub support. They’re not small, and I don’t care at all. There is no evidence to suggest that Tumblr’s adoption of ActivityPub will result in an “embrace, extend, extinguish” strategy or a flood of terrible content. Tumblr seems to be a good actor overall.

Micro.blog added Fediverse support a while ago. Even if we ignore the fact that they’re not big enough to follow that strategy, they’re being really good community members. They’re not forcing their ideals on anyone, they don’t push ads, etc.

Vivaldi (web browser) set up a mastodon server for their users, and integrated it into the browser, making it easy to get online and start participating. But that’s it. It’s just another server. They’re not going to try and warp the Fediverse it into something they can control.

From my perspective, there’s nothing inherently wrong with companies providing Fediverse accounts for their users. Yes, they’re prone to having large numbers of users which means no community and no real ability to moderate, but that’s true of every large mastodon instance regardless of who owns it.

The problem is companies who are strongly motivated to try and control it and have enough users to make that a real possibility.