a digital garden | find me at kitty.town

The Never Ending Fedi Guide (pt 4)

In the first chapter of the Never Ending #FediGuide, I took time to define what the Fediverse is, give examples of the variety of types of sites that federate, and dove deep into the Mastodon portion of the Fediverse to explain what features are, and how to use Mastodon. In the second chapter, I took some times to talk about general #Fediquette, and the importance of picking a good server and knowing how your server is run. The third chapter covers customizing your experience—covering user preferences, filters, post deletion, and more in the many menus of Mastodon.

In this chapter continuing the #TechGossip topics, I hope to break down with a little more information and detail: finding a server, hosting options, and block lists.

I will briefly cover some of the aforementioned information throughout, for anyone unfamiliar with the terms used in this post.

“The Fediverse is the name given to a group of computer servers that host social networks in a peer-to-peer way. Each of these servers are able to talk with each other to make one gigantic web of social networks. This is similar to if Twitter users could see posts from Facebook users, and Facebook users could see posts from Twitter users. Its name is a combination of the words “federation” and “universe”.

Most instances of the Fediverse make use of free, open source software. … To contribute content to the Fediverse you can either host your own server instance, or join an existing one as a user. …

Many of the Fediverse networks aim to provide a free, open and decentralized alternatives to an existing commercial products.”

Copied from the “Simple English Wikipedia” page on the Fediverse

Finding a server (often called an “instance” and the two will be used interchangeably here) on the Fediverse can be daunting, because there are so many different federated alternatives that all interact. First, you should think about what you are looking for, and what you want to post.

If you want to post mostly pictures, if you want to post videos, if you want to write long-form posts, or short form micro-blogging... Most places involved in the Fediverse can handle all of these options, but some are dedicated to certain media forms or styles of interactions, and therefore their storage may be more, or their upload quality or length may differ.

For most popular social media sites or popular social tools, there is usually a federated or free and open source alternative attempting to serve a similar function. New federated sites similar to Reddit have started to pop up—but some bugs are still being worked out with how they connect with the rest of the Fediverse. Sick of Zoom? There’s a FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software) alternative called jitsi. Jitsi isn’t a federated site, but it is popular among federated folks.

There are many different ways to access the Fediverse, Mastodon is just a popular one. If I was not already on Mastodon, it is unlikely I would mention it by name given the poor moderation and behavior their admin / developer has shown. There are federated suggestions I could name in the above paragraph, but given the poor moderation and behavior of their developers or admins, I have chosen to forgo most names. However, if you are interested: Here is a site to show the variety of federated sites.

Hometown, GoToSocial, Glitch-soc, FediFox (experimental), and a few others are forks (copies) of federated alternatives, with some things changed. The exception being GoToSocial, which is it’s own project built from the ground up—meaning it is not a fork. These specific projects I know are being developed by people who have shown to be more trustworthy. If you understand git things, feel free to look into these (usually more light-weight) alternatives and host your own server, or even provide hosting for others!

Now, back to the topic at hand: finding and picking a federated server.

Finding one to join, as previously stated, can be difficult and daunting. There are many servers that are open—but is it a good one? Do they block servers that house literal nazis? Do they block the servers known to house people who harass others? How do they handle large, poorly moderated instances like mastodon dot social? What is their Code of Conduct? These are all things to consider when looking to join an instance—make sure you know your moderation team and what they stand for.

For any server, check their /about page, and their privacy policy if they have one. This will tell you much of what you need to know. How do they moderate? What is expected of members of their server? Do they have a mod team, and who are they? How can I support the server financially? What servers do they block, and why?

Not all servers have their block list public, but this is not an inherently bad sign. Unfortunately, severs who had gotten blocked by many people started harass people who shared their block list publicly, including making bots to search through the fediverse and post when anyone blocked their server or someone on it, to incite harassment.

By far, the best way to get on a server with good moderation is to get an invite. However, I am happy to suggest tools to look at instances:

Instances.social is a tool to look through many public servers. It does not contain all servers, but it does contain ones I would never recommend and have suspended from my own server. It is certainly not a perfect tool, regardless, you can use it to search and find a server you may be interested in. Unlike the “official” server list that the founder of Mastodon runs, this one allows anyone who runs a server to add their server to the list.

Fedi.Garden houses another more curated list of “nice, well run servers”. You can also report instances that do not meet the standards for removal, which is great.

If you’re looking for furry spaces, Furry Fediverse is for you!

If you find the possibilities too overwhelming, you can also host your own instance if you have the knowledge, time, technology, and money needed. Alternatively, if you have the money, you can have someone host your server for you, and they handle the code-side of things. If you do not have any moderation experience, please do not plan to host people on your server. Single user servers are pretty common and an acceptable alternative.

Masto.host is one of the more popular hosting services, and one I have personally used and can recommend. As the name implies, they host Mastodon servers. Other hosting services include: Fedi.Monster, and Spacebear Federation, but here is a site listing many hosting options of not only federated alternatives, but much of the free software sphere. As many of these hosting services are one person to a few people, they may limit the amount of servers they host.

Just like with finding a server, finding a host with similar values should be important so that you do not end up being hosted by someone who hosts and supports literal nazis. As stated previously: many of the developers of these tools are not trustworthy. For instance: Soapbox is a fork developed by GAB, a far-right social media site, and anyone offering hosting or running Soapbox should be viewed with suspicion, to say the least.

Now that you have an idea of what your server will be, setting up an account is relatively easy. Registration is found either on the home page, or an invitation link will send you to the right place.

After setting up your account—find some people to follow! My recommendation would be to search through hashtags of topics you like or might participate in, or to just look at the federated timeline every once in awhile to see if there are any folks you find interesting enough to follow. Make a post introducing yourself, and use the hashtag “introduction” or “intro”, but also other hashtags of interests or hobbies so it will be more widely seen!

There are some directories of people you can use, but as users can sign themselves up on these directories, malicious people can be added to them. The directories I am aware of include: Fedi.Directory, Trunk, and Fediverse.Info.

Speaking of malicious people, if you are on a server that may not block many other servers, you as an individual user can curate your own block list. On an individual level, you can also “suspend” domains, but it is actually a silence since actual sever level domain blocks can only be done by your moderator team. Now, the word block is used, but unless a certain feature on your server is turned on, blocked (AKA suspended) or limited (AKA silenced) people and domains will still be able to access your posts. This feature on Mastodon is called Authorized Fetch, but it can cause federation issues and many do not use it, plus the latest update even changed how it works so it may not be as secure as it used to be. This feature is likely called something else on different federated sites, if it exists at all.

Before you block, please submit a report in case your instance does not know about the specific person or instance that you have come across. You can report a post or a user by clicking on the elipses (…) and choosing “report”. Do not choose the “I don’t like it” option, as that just throws your report away, because the developer does not moderate his own server so he thought to extend that option to everyone.

When reporting you can select posts to include, but you can also simply copy/paste any relevant links, screen shots or archived posts, and type any details that you think might be necessary to understand the context of the report. You will also have the option to forward this report to the offending servers moderation team—this is done anonymously, with just the reporting server name attached, your username will not be mentioned.

If nothing is done from the offending server, either your moderation team will take action on their end, or, if they don’t, you should potentially find a new server that will moderate properly.

There are many, many admin teams that publicly host or post their own block lists, some lists include why they have blocked the individual or entire server.

Weirder.Earth, a server on the fediverse hosts a public list of suggested instances to block.

Tenforward.Social is another server on the fediverse that hosts a public list of servers to block.

Seirdy also hosts a tiered block list for download, which can be uploaded to your server.

The Bad Space is a database of bad actors and instances that allows for download and upload to your server.

The Garden Fence is a block list which allows for downloading and uploading to your server. While mastodon dot social is a poor example of moderation, many of the other servers sharing their block list to make the Garden Fence have higher standards of moderation.

Here is a list of the top 500 most defederated (blocked) instances. The vast majority of the instances on this list should be blocked, with very few exceptions. The server kinky.business is not one I would recommend blocking, nor botsin.space if you want some cool bots on your timeline, but those are really the only ones I could vouch for.

FediBlock, a hashtag started by Artist Marcia and helped instituted by myself, is a tool used by many to more widely report individual bad actors or entire servers to the public. It was started in response to waves of racist and sexist harassment towards individuals on a primarily Black server that now no longer exists, due to the continued harassment and threats their team faced. You can still find some of their team scattered throughout the Fediverse.

Because it is a hashtag, it often gets spammed by bad actors or instances, or people use it for false claims. Your moderation team on your server is responsible for investigating these claims and deciding who, if anyone, should be suspending or limited if they use this tool. FediBlockMeta should be used for discussions of FediBlock happenings, while the main tag should consist of posts with someone or something to block.

If you need help, ask for it! The fediverse is generally ripe with knowledge, and although you may get some reply guys, you will often also get helpful information. Take a chance on a non-corporate social media who will not steal your data and use your content without your permission.