Mastodon - Twitter Alternative - Social Media - Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) - Federated - Decentralized

Twitter Alternative Mastodon Deserves a Closer Look

Intro

Mastodon is a Twitter alternative that deserves a closer look. One may assume it’s just another Gab, Parler, or Truth Social, but this isn’t the case.

Mastodon is decentralized, federated, free and open-source software (FOSS) that anyone can use. There are many servers you can choose from to host your account, but if you don’t want to go that route, you can also self-host. This is the way social media should be. Mastodon is also part of a larger Fediverse through it’s implementation of ActivityPub, which is underappreciated and has great potential. We explain what this means for users, why it matters, as well as the pros and cons from our experiences.

If you’re already a Mastodon user, follow us here. Otherwise, you can sign up and follow us here to restore free speech and experience the internet the way it’s supposed to be.

The Guardian article we reference in this episode is here: Facebook reveals news feed experiment to control emotions

Podcast

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Hey everybody, welcome back to the Bigger Insights Technology podcast where we’ll help

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you stay ahead of the curve.

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We’re very excited about this episode because we’re going to be talking about Mastodon,

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the notorious Twitter killer.

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But first, this episode is brought to you by Twitter.

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Do you want a proprietary social media service that shadow bans people they don’t like and

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constantly shows you that “something went wrong” error? Then come on down to Twitter and don’t

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forget to buy your blue check mark for $8 a month.

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Alright, just kidding everybody.

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We have no association with Twitter and we have no sponsors as of the time of this recording.

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But in all seriousness, if you spend any significant amount of time online, you’ve probably heard

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about Mastodon by now.

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I’m ashamed to admit that when I first heard about it, I didn’t take it very seriously

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because I thought it was just another Gab, Parler, or truth social.

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That’s not a criticism of this other platforms.

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It’s just an unfortunate reality that any for-profit social media platform that relies

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on advertising is going to have a lot of drawbacks for users because the customers are the advertisers

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and the users are the product.

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The critical detail that I was missing was that Mastodon is not just another ad-driven

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social media platform.

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It’s free and open source software (FOSS).

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If Twitter is Windows, Mastodon is Linux.

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Or if Twitter is the US dollar (USD), Mastodon is Bitcoin (BTC).

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Do you see what I mean?

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Now we’re going to talk about how it works and what it’s about.

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Then we’ll wrap it up with some pros and cons later on.

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Also bear in mind that we do produce video content for each episode as well, which will

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show some screenshots of what we’re talking about.

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You can watch this on our website, BiggerInsights.com or on Spotify.

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But there might be some delay in producing the video because we’re having some issues

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with our editor at the moment.

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However, even if you’re only going to listen to the audio version, the purpose of this

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episode is to get you interested in at least looking into joining Mastodon.

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This isn’t intended to be a how-to guide or anything like that,

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so audio should be sufficient.

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Mastodon is federated, which is a concept that’s a little hard to wrap your head around until

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you’ve worked with software or services that are obviously federated.

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What this means is that anyone can run an instance of Mastodon on their own server and

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still interact with other Mastodon servers.

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This is just like email.

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Email is a federated protocol.

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You can run your own email service, which we don’t advise for most people for security

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reasons.

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You can also get an account with Proton, Tutanota, Gmail, Outlook, and so on.

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What makes this federated is that all of these parties agree to implement the email protocol,

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which is key because this is what allows Gmail users to email Proton users, for example.

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It’s the same thing with Mastodon.

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If we host our own Mastodon instance, you can seamlessly interact with us from your

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own Mastodon host.

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But try not to let this intimidate you.

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We want to make it clear that you don’t need to run your own Mastodon instance, just that

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anyone can.

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And this is important because this is one of the things that gives Mastodon its decentralized

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nature.

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There is no single Mastodon service to attack, fail, or rely on.

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This gives Mastodon a high degree of resilience that other platforms don’t have.

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There’s no one for the state to push around and make them do their bidding.

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And this isn’t just some startup with a questionable business model that can just disappear overnight.

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So if you’re on Mastodon and you’re on an instance or a server that you don’t like for

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whatever reason, perhaps you just don’t like the admin’s policy or maybe they’re shutting

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it down due to some lack of funding or something, you can just migrate your account and data

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to another instance.

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Contrast that with something like Twitter or Fecesbook, where they can just shut

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you down at any moment for any reason and your account and data just go to cyber heaven.

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When you make a Mastodon account, you choose a server where you want your account to be

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hosted.

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There are many servers to choose from, which vary by region, policies, legal structure,

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and so on.

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The administrator can set some policies like content moderation, for example, which you

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can review before you join the server.

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So if we take our server, for example, there’s a policy against harassment, dogpiling, or

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doxing of other users, which is fair.

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But again, if you don’t like the server’s policies, you can just find one that you do

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agree with.

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And if you don’t want to join someone else’s server for whatever reason, you can host your

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own server and have full control over it.

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Some of the businesses that we follow actually do go this route and host their own Mastodon

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server.

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Once you choose a server, the process is pretty much like any other service.

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You’ll set a handle, an email address, a password, you know, the usual stuff.

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Once you create your account, the profile setup is similar to Twitter in that you can

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set an avatar, a header image, and a short bio.

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Mastodon also gives you four profile metadata fields, which you can use to list information

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like your website, contact information, or whatever else you want.

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One of the things that’s interesting about that is Mastodon has a self verification

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process, which is free, and you don’t need Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg’s permission

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to do it.

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The way it works is if you put your website’s URL in your profile, and then you put a specific

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Mastodon URL and attribute in your website, when you save your profile, Mastodon will

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look for that URL and attribute in your website.

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If it finds it and your website is protected with SSL, it will add a green checkmark and

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highlighting to the URL of your website in your Mastodon profile.

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We’ll show some example images of that in the video for this episode.

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It sounds complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple.

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It only took us a couple of minutes to figure out.

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And what this does is it helps users differentiate legitimate accounts from impersonators.

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So if you’re interacting with an account that claims to be Bigger Insights on Mastodon,

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and you don’t see that verification checkmark next to our URL, BiggerInsights.com, it’s

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not us.

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Now, obviously, if you want to do this, you need to have a website, at least for now,

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I think I read a while ago that they may be considering other options, but it’s still

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better than nothing, and it’s free, and it’s permissionless.

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So that’s pretty much it as far as making an account is concerned.

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Once you make an account, we would encourage you to turn on two factor authentication (2FA),

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which you can do under settings.

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I feel like an idiot for this,

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but when I made our Bigger Insights account, I couldn’t find the two-factor authentication

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page at first, it’s under account.

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But what tripped me up was you don’t see it until you click account, which expands some

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options beneath it,

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and one of those is two factor authentication.

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So it’s pretty easy to miss, but it is there.

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As of the time of this recording, I see authenticator apps and security keys as your options, which

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is good because those are good options by themselves, and email and SMS just aren’t very secure.

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You should also generate the recovery codes in the 2FA section, in case you lose your

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2FA options.

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After that, you may want to just poke around in the various settings and preferences pages

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to tweak the experience to your liking.

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You can do things like show or hide sensitive content, show or hide your followers, and

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so on.

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And, you know, one would think that with this being free and open source software (FOSS) that it

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would kind of suck, but I have to say we’re actually quite impressed with how fully-featured

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it actually is.

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Other than the interface and some of Twitter’s newer features, Twitter and Mastodon are actually

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pretty 1:1 as far as core features are concerned.

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And in addition to self-verification, there are other things that you can do on Mastodon

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that you can’t do on Twitter, but we’ll go over that in the next section.

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Let’s switch gears and go over some of the things that we like about Mastodon.

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In short, we like almost everything about it.

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This is the social media tool that we’ve been searching for ever since Fecesbook came

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along, but we just didn’t know it.

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If you really sit down and think about it sometime, virtually all social media platforms

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suffer from the same core issues: Centralization and an ad-driven business model.

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This is a very toxic combination that results in the following issues: 1. Abusive content

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moderation and free speech suppression. 2. Banning and shadow banning people for sketchy

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reasons. 3. Harvesting and monetizing a tremendous amount of user data. 4. Sharing

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private user data with governments and law enforcement and allowing those entities to

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suppress users and content that they don’t like. And 5. Using algorithms to manipulate

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users’ behavior, emotions and hook them on the platform.

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That last point isn’t a joke.

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Social media companies use addictive techniques from casinos, for example, to keep users hooked

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on their platform for as long as possible, to generate as much ad revenue as possible,

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despite the fact that this can be very harmful for users’ relationships, productivity and

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mental health.

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If you’ve ever worked in an office, you’ve probably noticed many employees sitting on

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the toilet for 30+ minutes at a time.

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Chances are what they’re doing is scrolling through Fecesbook, Instasham, Snapchat, or

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TikTok.

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Fecesbook actually ran a study to see if they could manipulate users’ emotions by

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making tweaks to their algorithm.

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I’m going to read a few passages from an article on The Guardian about this.

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They said, “It has published details of a vast experiment in which it manipulated

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information posted on 689,000 users’ home pages and found it could make people feel

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more positive or negative through a process of emotional contagion.

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In a study with academics from Cornell and the University of California, Facebook filtered

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users’ newsfeeds, the flow of comments, videos, pictures, and web links posted by other people

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in their social network.

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One test reduced users’ exposure to their friends’ positive emotional content, resulting

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in fewer positive posts of their own.

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Another test reduced exposure to negative emotional content, and the opposite happened.

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The study concluded, “Emotions expressed by friends via online social networks influence

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our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive

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scale emotional contagion via social networks.”

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Lawyers, internet activists, and politicians said this weekend that the mass experiment

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and emotional manipulation was scandalous, spooky, and disturbing.” And we

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agree with that.

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And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being treated like a lab rat, but that’s

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exactly what you are when you use a service like Fecesbook.

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This is the first thing that we like about Mastodon.

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There’s no algorithm manipulating what you see or don’t see, and there’s no group of

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people there to manipulate you in the first place.

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Of course, the admin of the server you’re on could do something that you disagree with.

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But again, you can always move to another server.

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This leads to the second thing we like, Mastodon is decentralized.

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Centralization suffers from internal and external threats.

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Internally, a centralized service is liable to impose its will and morals on users and

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presents the risk of employees doing naughty things like shutting people down for no good

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reason.

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We’ve seen content moderators suppress content just because they disagree with it politically,

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as well as employees being paid to delete users’ accounts.

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Externally, centralized services are problematic because they’re larger targets for criminals,

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governments, and law enforcement.

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Let’s say, for example, that you were a government and you wanted to bury a story, or let’s say

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you’re a hacker and you want to compromise millions of accounts and either hit the company

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up for ransom or the users.

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In either case, it’s a lot more efficient to go after the centralized service because

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there’s a single point of failure.

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In the case of the government, that could be something like one National Security Letter (NSL)

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and a gag order sent to the company.

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Mastodon addresses these problems by allowing users to host their profile on whatever server

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they want.

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The third thing that we like is that Mastodon is permissionless.

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This is a byproduct of its decentralized nature, but it’s very refreshing to be able to run,

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verify, and secure an account without someone else’s permission.

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For example, I once had a Twitter account that got suspended.

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When I asked them about it, they said it violated their policies, but of course, they wouldn’t

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tell me which one.

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I read their policies and didn’t see a single one that I violated.

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The only thing that I can think of was I hadn’t signed into this account for a while, but

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this is the kind of BS that you deal with with a centralized service. And this issue

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is much deeper than most people realize.

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Permission isn’t just about having an account.

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It’s also about visibility.

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After all, having an account is pretty meaningless if no one else sees it.

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One of the dirty tricks that social media companies use to suppress users without telling them

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is called shadow banning.

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I actually had a Twitter account once that was shadow banned, at least to some degree.

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Searching for the account wouldn’t produce results anywhere – not on Google and not in

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Twitter itself.

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As far as I can tell, I didn’t violate any of their policies or say anything remotely

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offensive.

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The only thing I could think of was I didn’t give them a phone number for privacy reasons,

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but they don’t require a phone number.

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So in other words, they “permitted” me to have a Twitter account, but not really

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because they were secretly making sure that it never saw the light of day.

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You don’t have to deal with garbage like that on Mastodon.

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There aren’t secret rules that suppress accounts that some small group of people don’t like

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for whatever reason.

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You see other users, and if you don’t like them, you can block or mute them yourself.

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It’s that simple, and that’s the way that it should be.

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The fourth thing that we like about Mastodon is the lack of advertisements.

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There are no ads per se, although there’s nothing really stopping anyone from posting

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content that promotes a business or, I don’t know, something else that you would consider

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to be an ad.

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It’s hard to even define what an ad even is these days, but you won’t see ads like you

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will see on Fecesbook because Mastodon isn’t an ad-driven business.

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The fifth thing that we like is that we’ve seen virtually no garbage accounts on Mastodon.

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We obviously disagree with some of the posts we’ve seen, but to date, we haven’t seen

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any illegal content, obvious misinformation, scams, doxing, harassment, racism, sexism,

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or other issues.

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Of course, your mileage may vary, but this is what we’ve seen so far.

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And again, if you see anything you don’t like, you can always mute or block somebody.

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The fifth thing that we like about Mastodon is it’s part of the Fediverse via its implementation

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of ActivityPub.

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We may go into more detail about this in a future episode, but the Fediverse is an ecosystem

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of federated servers and services that can communicate with each other.

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What this means is that Mastodon is much bigger than just Mastodon because it integrates with

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other participants in the Fediverse.

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For example, in your Mastodon account, you can follow Pixelfed users.

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Pixelfed is a federated alternative to Instasham in case you’re wondering. And we’re not doing

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this justice, but this is pretty amazing.

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This would be like being able to follow and interact with Instasham users from your Twitter

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account.

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We don’t see things like this very much in the centralized services because they want

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to lock you into their walled garden.

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They don’t want you spending time interacting with other users on other platforms.

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But for FOSS Software like Mastodon and Pixelfed, this kind of behavior is welcome.

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This is a very interesting development which has the potential to be a very, very big deal

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in the future.

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Now let’s go over some of the things that we don’t like about Mastodon.

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The biggest issues we have aren’t really with Mastodon itself.

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The first is a lack of users.

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This is unfortunate for us in particular because we also provide financial services and produce

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the Bigger Insights Finance podcast.

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As a result, we follow a lot of people in finance, but I can’t think of a single one

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00:19:29,400 –> 00:19:31,000
that’s on Mastodon.

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They’re all on Twitter.

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However, don’t let that discourage you from joining for a few reasons.

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1. Mastodon is growing, which has accelerated in recent years due to people starting to

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wake up to the reality of how toxic Fecesbook and other platforms are.

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2. Getting in early can be advantageous.

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We may get more visibility from real, engaged users, and there’s a greater chance that your

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00:20:00,160 –> 00:20:03,080
desired handle is still available.

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3. Not joining due to a lack of users is a self-fulfilling issue.

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If we want the internet to be a better place, we need to make that happen.

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If we don’t, we have no one to blame but ourselves and shouldn’t complain when we get screwed

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by companies like Fecesbook and Twitter.

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4. Joining is a quick process.

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We’re going to put a link in the description of this episode.

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You don’t have to use that link, but if you do, joining and following us is quick and

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easy.

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And 5. This is the last shoe to drop.

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If we can get more people to join Mastodon, there will be virtually zero reasons left

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to use apps like Twitter.

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That’s really the bulk of what’s holding Mastodon back.

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If you really listen to what people say about Twitter and other apps, it’s not really the

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apps themselves that the people want, it’s the connections.

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The other issue that we have is that Mastodon is relatively politically concentrated.

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We’re not going to go into detail on that because we don’t want anyone to misinterpret

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what we’re saying, but you’ll pick up on that as well if you join.

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However, we don’t really see that as being a major issue for a few reasons.

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1. That’s not a technical limitation of Mastodon,

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so obviously this can change. 2. Seeing other opinions can be helpful, even if you disagree

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with them.

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3. If a user or a server is being particularly problematic to you, you can just mute or block

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them.

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And 4. We should see this as an opportunity to mix things up.

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No one wants an echo chamber.

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So be a part of the solution and join.

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The final issue we should mention is there are service interruptions from time to time.

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We’ve heard others complain about this, but from our experience, Mastodon has actually

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been more reliable than Twitter, if you can believe that. You know, we see that “something

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00:22:08,000 –> 00:22:12,360
went wrong” error on Twitter pretty much every other day.

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And we’ve only experienced a Mastodon outage, I believe one time over the past couple of

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months.

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So let’s give credit where credit is due. Before we or anyone else get to nitpicky,

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just bear in mind, this is a free, open-source service that we’re comparing to creepy proprietary

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services worth tens or hundreds of billions of dollars.

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But other than that, we’re very impressed with Mastodon.

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We should mention that we’re still somewhat new to it, and we’ve only used the web app.

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So we don’t claim to be an expert on Mastodon and may not be aware of certain issues.

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If there’s anything major that we missed, please let us know.

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You can contact us on Mastodon, obviously, which we’ll put the link in the description.

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There are several other ways that you can contact us like Signal, Session and Matrix,

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which we detail at BiggerInsights.com/contact.

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00:23:11,440 –> 00:23:15,300
So to wrap this up, we really like Mastodon.

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We think it has a tremendous amount of potential and that all of the critical functionality

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00:23:20,600 –> 00:23:21,840
is there.

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The only major limitation at this time is the lack of users.

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We strongly encourage everyone to join Mastodon, even if you’re neutral about it, so that

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we can address this problem.

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It takes five minutes, people. Just make an account and share your link with others.

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If it doesn’t end up working out, that’s not a big deal.

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But if it does, we’re confident that the world will be a better place if Mastodon replaces

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centralized apps as the place or the public to connect.

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And just to be clear, we’re not asking anyone to stop using other services like Twitter,

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00:24:00,320 –> 00:24:02,920
just to join Mastodon.

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Believe it or not, you don’t have to stick with one thing.

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00:24:06,040 –> 00:24:10,560
So if that sounds interesting to you, click our invite link in the description to get

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00:24:10,560 –> 00:24:11,760
started.

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00:24:11,760 –> 00:24:17,520
We don’t get anything out of that, except I think if you use our link, it’ll have you

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00:24:17,520 –> 00:24:20,000
automatically follow us or something like that.

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00:24:20,000 –> 00:24:24,680
But you can just go to Mastodon directly if you don’t want to use our link for whatever

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00:24:24,680 –> 00:24:25,680
reason.

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All right, that’s everything for this episode.

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We may produce additional Mastodon episodes in the future,

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so let us know if you’re interested in that.

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We are once again asking you to subscribe and share this podcast so we can help as many

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00:24:39,680 –> 00:24:41,640
people as we can.

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00:24:41,640 –> 00:24:43,200
Thanks for tuning in.

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00:24:43,200 –> 00:25:13,040
Go join and follow us on Mastodon and have a great rest of your day.

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