A Mastodon server that offers a safe haven for LGBT individuals and allies is one of over 150 groups to block a similar Mastodon server that has found favor with mainstream journalists.
The number of servers — or “instances” — blocking the journalism group, journa.host, has nearly quadrupled since the Columbia Journalism Review first reported on the issue in last month.
Mastodon is a decentralized social network that offers features similar to Twitter. The service has seen a significant increase in new users following tech mogul Elon Musk’s acquisition of — and rule changes at — Twitter in late October.
By default, Mastodon servers allow users to follow, message and otherwise interact with those who have accounts on other instances. But the operators of each Mastodon server are allowed to set ground rules for acceptable use and behavior. If they feel that users of a particular instance could cause a problem, server operators can limit their interaction with members, or block them entirely.
Journa.host quickly found favor with mainstream reporters, editors and other newsroom workers. The instance was established by Adam Davidson, the creator of a popular NPR podcast, and has already received significant financial grants and donations from journalism schools and media advocacy groups.
But almost from the start, journa.host was mired in controversy. Allegations soon began to spread across the Mastodon universe — which it calls the “fediverse” — that members of journa.host were replicating some of the same problematic behavior that caused issues on Twitter.
Chief among the complaints were that most journalists were simply using Mastodon to amass followers and promote their own work. Others accused journalists of joining Mastodon in order to continue their “surveillance capitalism” — looking through posts for story ideas that they can turn into clickbait articles.
A few server administrators expressed concern that journa.host was allowing specific individuals with a history of “doxing,” or posting personal information in a public space. One administrator took issue with comments made by Davidson that journa.host — which he claims is associated with a not-for-profit organization — was looking at venture capital-like monetization plans in order to generate revenue from the instance.
“These people can be expected to collect, search through, and misinterpret anything you say with the goal to share this publicly to an as big audience as possible, enabling hate and harassment to anyone as long as it gives them clicks,” the administrator of a Mastodon instance wrote. (The server, ilja.space, contains many posts from conspiracy theorists.)
The criticism of journa.host has come from within as well, with some former members saying they’ve switched instances because Davidson and his team of moderators are not doing enough to uphold the rules.
“[Davidson’s] decision not to take action on anti-trans content isn’t inspiring confidence and I totally understand why other places are doing instance-level blocking,” Parker Molloy, a journalist and Substack writer, wrote after administrators refused to take down a post that included a link to a New York Times column.
“Banning someone for posting a link to an NYT article sets a precedent that we really need to work through,” Zach Everson, a journa.host administrator, wrote in response to Molloy’s post. Molloy was later suspended from journa.host after switching her account to a different instance.
Others have criticized journa.host for blocking some verifiable journalists from joining the server, while allowing writers with a history of publishing conspiracy theory content to participate.