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More Journalists Banned by Twitter: How to Find Them on Mastodon

Reporters locked out of their Twitter accounts have turned to alternative social network Mastodon. Learn how to use it.

A phone with the Mastodon home page on its screen that is held above a computer keyboard
Several journalists who have refused to delete certain tweets remained locked out of Twitter.
SOPA Images/Getty Images

For most of the two months that Elon Musk has owned Twitter, the social media site has been embroiled in controversy. Musk laid off thousands of employees, rolled out a botched blue-check verification system and then suspended the jet tracking account he claimed he'd never suspend.

On Dec. 15, Twitter reached a boiling point when the site suspended several journalists who report on or have been critical of Elon Musk. Twitter reinstated some accounts, but other reporters who did not delete certain tweets are still locked out of the site two weeks later, and more have joined them.

A tweet from San Francisco Chronicle reporter Gil Duran reading, The official @joinmastodon account is suspended. Earlier, it noted that the banned Elon Jet Tracker still enjoys freedom on Mastodon. Is tweeting about a banned account now prohibited? How about tweeting about an account that was banned for tweeting about a banned account?
Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

Today, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Gil Duran reported that he's been banned from Twitter for more than 10 days for tweeting a question about the other suspended reporters: "Is tweeting about a banned account now prohibited? How about tweeting about an account that was banned for tweeting about a banned account?" 

For several of those journalists formerly on Twitter, you can now only read their full stories on Mastodon. 

Learn more about Mastodon and how to find the accounts of the reporters who've been locked out of Twitter. You can also find a step-by-step process for creating a Mastodon account and participating on the growing social network. For more about social media, here's how to delete your Twitter account and how to download your Twitter archive before you do.

Which reporters and accounts were suspended by Twitter?

On Dec. 14, Twitter suspended @elonjet, a bot account that tracked the private flights of Elon Musk. It's run by University of Central Florida student Jack Sweeney, whose personal account and other bot accounts were also suspended. Musk had criticized Sweeney's account but also pledged not to ban it in a now infamous tweet from Nov. 6.

To justify its suspension of Sweeney's accounts, Twitter updated its private information and media policy on Wednesday to prohibit "live location information, including information shared on Twitter directly or links to 3rd-party URL(s) of travel routes."

The following day, the official Twitter account for Mastodon was suspended, apparently for sharing a link to the Elonjet account on mastodon.social.

Later in the day on Dec. 15, around 4:30 p.m. PT, several technology reporters found their Twitter accounts had been suspended. Some, but not all, of the accounts had posted links to the Elonjet account on Mastodon. 

In response to news of the suspensions, Musk tweeted, "Same doxxing rules apply to 'journalists' as to everyone else." Suspensions of other reporters who tweeted about Musk continued through the evening. Musk posted two Twitter polls asking when the journalists should be allowed back on Twitter, and the "Now" response won both polls. Several, but not all, journalists had their Twitter accounts reinstated after deleting certain tweets. Others have refused to delete tweets, and others yet have been suspended for uncertain reasons.

Most of the major Twitter accounts that were suspended on Twitter have created accounts on the decentralized social media network Mastodon, with differing levels of participation. Here are the links to their official accounts on Mastodon:

Other famous Twitter accounts that are now on Mastodon include:

How can I follow someone on Mastodon without joining?

Almost all Mastodon servers allow public posts on the network to be viewed by anyone, regardless of whether you have a Mastodon account. You can simply point your web browser to any user's profile and scroll through their posts.

If you want a centralized way to track multiple Mastodon users, the easiest way is to join a Mastodon server and follow people as you would on Twitter or any other social network (see more below). However, if you really don't want to join Mastodon, you can also follow accounts using an RSS reader.

Every account on Mastodon automatically publishes an RSS feed that can be followed, For example, you can see an RSS feed of my original Mastodon posts at mas.to/@peterbutler.rss

How do I join Mastodon?

Unlike Twitter, Mastodon is not a single website: It's a decentralized network made up of thousands of websites talking to each other. To start posting on Mastodon (which until quite recently was called "tooting") and following other people, you'll need to create an account on a specific Mastodon server or "instance."

To start following people and posting messages on the Mastodon social service, you begin by joining one specific instance. Each server (if open for registration) has its own sign-up process, but the majority only require a username, email address and password.

Once you've joined a Mastodon instance, however, you're not limited to just following people and posts on that server. You can follow, favorite, reblog or reply to any Mastodon account that's connected to the larger Fediverse.

How do I choose a Mastodon server?

The Mastodon organization provides a partial list of servers -- about 100 -- on its joinmastodon.org site. You can filter the servers by geographic region, language, topic registration process and whether or not they're hosted by individuals or organizations. All servers on the official Mastodon site have agreed to follow the best practices of the Mastodon Server Covenant.

If you're just testing Mastodon out, you might consider one of the official server instances run by the Mastodon organization. The first and biggest -- mastodon.social -- has been inundated with new users and has spawned a second mastodon.online server to pick up the slack. 

If you want a bigger list of Mastodon servers to review, your best bet right now is instances.social, which offers a sortable list of more than 17,000 Mastodon servers, as well as a wizard-style app that helps you choose a server that fits your requirements.

The site provides useful data about each Mastodon instance, including number of users, number of "statuses" (posts), server uptime percentage and which versions of the Mastodon software it is running. It also lets you filter servers by language; minimum/maximum number of users; and prohibited/allowed content such as nudity, pornography, advertisements or entertainment spoilers. You can also click any instance name -- fosstodon.org, for example, a server devoted to open-source software -- to read a brief description of the community.

Once you're actually on a Mastodon site, you can learn about the instance from its "about" page, browse community users on its "explore" page or view recent posts on its "public" page. 

You should read the server rules for each Mastodon instance to make sure it's a good fit, but don't worry too much about which server you join. You can follow users on other servers and join and leave as many Mastodon servers as you'd like. If you do move around, Mastodon allows you to migrate all of your followers and lists with you.

How do I join a Mastodon server?

A screenshot of the Mastodon sign-up form

Joining a Mastodon server only requires a few personal details.

Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

Each Mastodon instance will have its own sign-up process, but the vast majority are the same. You provide a username, email address and password, check the box agreeing to the terms of service and server rules, and click "Sign Up." 

You'll then see a notification asking you to check your email for a verification message. Click the "Verify email address" in that email message, and you're done. You can now start posting on your Mastodon server and follow anyone in the Fediverse.

Because of the increased traffic to Mastodon servers since Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter, some of those registration emails are taking a long time to show up or never arriving at all. 

When I registered for the mas.to server, I got a confirmation email in about 15 minutes. Be patient, and try a new server if you can't complete the registration for another.

After you verify your email address, your Mastodon account should be up and running. You can start posting or following people, though it will take a while to build up your feed. Web tools like Debirdify and FediFinder can jump-start the process by helping you find your Twitter contacts on Mastodon.

While most Mastodon servers offer the quick registration process described above, other, more private instances will ask that you apply for an invitation to the instance, which requires a manual review and longer registration time.

If you do decide to register on a Mastodon server and make it through the process, come visit me @peterbutler@mas.to to say hi.

For more, learn how social media could be hurting your mental health.