Quick Thoughts

The Case for Journalists and Mastodon

Unless you've been disconnected from the world for the past few days you've likely heard something regarding Elon Musk banning some journalists from Twitter. And some news agencies have even gone so far as to post articles regarding how to sign up for Mastodon in response. But I think this banning of journalists' accounts might end up being one of the best things that ever happened. For Mastodon, that is.

Journalism and the "Big News" organizations, whether they be TV or print media have always wanted to control where their content is seen. This is done mostly to monetize it. You don't really see CNN content on YouTube for instance - you have to go to CNN's website for that. Once there, watching any clip will likely result in ads and more importantly for CNN in this case, ad revenue. The same can be said with the dreaded paywall most of the folks reading this actively try to avoid.

But in the social media world, this gets challenging. News outlets have to go where the people are and where are the people mostly? Facebook and Twitter. So all the news outlets have a presence there. But the goal is still the same: post enough content to get you to leave your social media site and go to theirs.

But what if Mastodon reached what I call "critical mass"? That's the point where you're joining because that's where your friends are. Now how could news outlets use Mastodon to their advantage as well as the advantage of all users?

By creating their own instances.

Imagine it. Being able to go to mastodon.washingtonpost.com and seeing every post from all their reporters in one place. To me, this solves the number one problem with Mastodon - verification. By its very nature (i.e. being federated) it's really impossible to know whether the account claiming to be a journalist from the Washington Post really is. Oh sure, you can do the URL verification but that would be a nightmare for the journalist trying to get the IT folks that run the site to add their line of HTML code for their mastodon.social account to the website. With a local, in-house instance, this problem is fixed. And from a branding perspective, you'd know without a doubt that the account you're following really is from the Washington Post because it would be right there in the account name.

There are other benefits too. With the news outlet running their own instance, the Freedom of the Press is restored. I mean, what outlet is going to ban their own reporter? Running their own instances might also allow the news organizations to do more hard-hitting, investigative journalism as they wouldn't be worried about being blocked or banned from social media sites for sharing such stories.

But what if a reporter leaves? Well, Mastodon solves that too. The reporter would just migrate their account to the instance of their new news organization, bringing all their followers with them automatically.

Another benefit for the fediverse is all the accounts are in the same place. So if you ran an instance and wanted nothing to do with a particular news organization for whatever reason blocking their instance would be a single act that would prevent anything from their organization getting into your users' timeline. Users could also take this action a la carte as they please, just like now.

I really can't understand why some big news organization hasn't taken this step yet. Maybe it's just to resource intensive to get something stood up. Maybe they don't know how. Whatever the reason, I believe that in the end it will only take one. One outlet to stand up a server and then everyone else will hop on board as well. And I think if that does happen, it'll be a big win not just for journalism, but for Free and Open Source Software as a whole.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Use the "Follow me!" button at the top of the page to find me on Mastodon and tell me what you think.