Mastodon’s “Eternal September”

Posted on Fri 30 December 2022 in Web

The Eternal September, when AOL opened the proverbial floodgates and allowed anyone to access the Usenet newsgroups. A time that many from the era still hold against people due to how much it disrupted the culture found on many of those newsgroups. It was a turbulent time for those who relied on it for information and discussion, especially with the sheer amount of trolls and spam that soon followed.

And now, Mastodon and the Fediverse are facing their own Eternal September. I wasn’t there for the beginning of the Fediverse, but I was there for its predecessor. Laconica, Identica, StatusNet, now GNU Social, it was an earlier alternative to Twitter, and just like Mastodon, it was federated. And like Usenet, it had its own culture.

Mastodon too had its own culture, different from Twitter. But once Twitter started its downward spiral at the hands of a rich idiot, people began to migrate to the Fediverse. And they started bringing—and in some cases forcing—Twitter culture onto the Fediverse.

I won’t lie, it’s kinda irked me since the early migrations, especially around the time of the Indian Exodus in 2019, where many of India’s Twtter users left due to political persecution. At least with a vast majority of those new users, they were willing to adapt to the existing culture on the Fediverse, using Content Warnings to help people filter posts properly and such.

This latest wave has been quite a bit harsher. Many see Content Warnings as a form of censorship (for some reason), and will constantly try to evade other users filters with misspellings and the like, much like on Twitter. Discussions become much more heated, callout culture is beginning to show up again, and much more of the very reasons that many early Mastodon adopters lieft Twitter, all being put to use in a place that had been punishing users for such behavior.

I may not fully agree with the animosity toward new users on Usenet, but Mastodon’s recent growth has shown me why that animosity started. That switch flipping from “niche” to “mainstream” is jarring, like an outright invasion of refugees. How those refugees react to their new surroundings—adapting to the culture, or forcing it to adapt to them—is what determines whether they’ll be welcomed with open arms, or open hostility.

So far, it’s been a mix, but time will tell whether this will be a bright new era, or another Eternal September.