There’s a sub-segment of Twitter that I used to really enjoy. It still exists, and it’s called #FrogTwitter. The frog being referred is Pepe, infamous for his memetastic association with the elusive alt-right. This cartoon character was absurdly condemned as a hate symbol by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, as well as the Anti-Defamation League.
#FrogTwitter could be called reactionary, but I tend to interpret the posts as absurdist lampoons of modern life and dominant leftist politics. I’m an outsider, so I can’t chronicle #FrogTwitter particularly well, but its sensibilities come through in the essays and stories published in The Casper Review.
Sure, there are racists among #FrogTwitter. I don’t personally consort with them, but it’s useful to be able to access what they think. One of the reasons why I love the internet is that it exposes me to so many more viewpoints than I would see otherwise. Often I want to communicate with people whose politics are orthogonal to mine, or at least to observe them.
Perhaps you noticed: I said that I used to enjoy #FrogTwitter. I haven’t lost my taste for heterodox shitposters, but Twitter keeps banning my faves. @menaquinone4 was knocked out of the sky. I don’t want to link to his current account — both because I’d rather not see him torpedoed again, and because I have no way of knowing whether the current iteration of Mena is run by the original Mena. I never followed @BronzeAgePervert, but he’s another community figure who has been suspended (although not banned… yet… as far as I know).
The Fediverse doesn’t have these problems. Well, it doesn’t have these problems if you’re willing to branch out beyond the walled gardens of mastodon.social and other instances that block big chunks of the preexisting Fediverse. (I don’t have a problem with admins blocking other instances, as long as they’re transparent with their users, and as long as they don’t unfairly or inaccurately malign the other instances. The latter requirement is apparently a lot to ask! Either way, I personally eschew “safe space” instances in favor of “free speech” instances.)
In other words, for me the killer feature of the Fediverse is freedom of association. I don’t accept the assumption that my placement on the political compass should determine who I’m allowed to communicate with. It’s easy for me to individually block overt white supremacists and Nazis — since that’s my preference — without worrying about having to sacrifice controversial posters who get conflated with those groups.
I’m delighted to have discovered a community-controlled alternative to corporate social media. The structure of the Fediverse grants me more agency. Even if the admin of my current home instance decided to block an instance that I wanted to communicate with, I could just export my following list and move, or roll my own instance and federate with everyone.
I’m a pretty mainstream type of person. You could say that I’m a run-of-the-mill Blue Tribe coastal elite! But I tend to gravitate toward the social fringes. I like people who are outgroup to almost everyone but themselves. I feel more comfortable with those people, because they tend to be nonjudgmental and open to exploring surprising ideas.
Don’t mistake this for a radical commitment: I’m still clocking way more hours on Twitter, in part because it’s an important part of my professional life. Also, most of my friends haven’t duplicated themselves on the Fediverse. But I know that I’m going to stay active in the Fediverse — it’s a lifeline to the wonderfully weird diversity of the web. Restricting myself to a sanitized space optimized for #brands is a a no-go.
Sonya Mann is a tech journalist at Inc. who happens to be fascinated by subcultural politics. She maintains a personal website, runs a cyberpunk newsletter called Exolymph, and posts on the Fediverse via @email@example.com.
Also published on Medium.