The quest to answer that question was motivated largely by Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter in October 2022. Before that, we had witnessed the slow erosion of trust that social media users experienced with Meta platforms (Facebook, Instagram & WhatsApp). We wondered how long Twitter would take to join the existing corporate social media graveyard of discarded spaces like Friendster and MySpace.
As migration from Twitter to Mastodon began, we wondered if the answer could be found with federated servers with community-driven motives. Can social media platforms exist without the resources that profit-driven corporations provide? As social media becomes less and less viable for corporations, will they continue to invest?
With some help from Gunner at Aspiration, Janet Gunter and I invited people involved with the communications side of non-profits to join us in a series of online discussions to consider just that: Given the steady decay of Corporate Social Media, what should non-profits do?
The answer was “loads”.
How did we get here in the first place?
See this comic from The Oatmeal.
Corporate social media provides an inexpensive and easy way to reach our audiences. The public was drawn to these spaces to better connect with those and the things they loved. Since our audiences were there, our presence became necessary for survival. Many nonprofits realised that it allowed for more accessible two-way communication, and they could broadcast easily along with active listening. They could better understand what worked and what didn’t in their messaging by looking at their stakeholders’ interactions with the content they posted.
However, the dark side soon emerged. Communicating within a large group meant that some individuals found a compulsion for negative behaviour, and trolling became a thing. It turned out that the corporate profit-driven model directly conflicted with our organisation’s community-building values. The people running corporate social media realised they made more money by allowing people to argue online. They were lax in setting up mechanisms that discouraged online abuse, and it quickly proliferated.
The profit-driven model also created an environment where those controlling corporate social media looked the other way as third-party corporations accessed and misused personal data. Scandal after scandal emerged where data was misused. With algorithms designed to prioritise engagement over societal and mental health, corporate social media users were manipulated to act against their best interests.
Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg continually apologises for his company’s actions. Governments struggle to create meaningful regulations. And as non-profits and civil society staff found a more hospitable home on Twitter, any pretence of it being a safer space flew out the window with its acquisition and subsequent actions by Elon Musk.
Through all this, we’ve learned that privately owned platforms will not prioritise public well-being, directly contradicting the aims of many nonprofits and civil society organisations.
What are ‘Questions to Ask Frequently (QAFs)’ by Non-Profits?
We asked our participants to consider what questions they should ask in moving forward with their tactics in using social media. Here’s what they told us.
- How do we live by our organisation’s core values in the constantly changing landscape?
- What standards do we need to determine our threshold regarding the social media channels we use?
- Systemically, can we work with the digital rights movement to implement accountability and transparency measures for corporate social media?
- how can non-profits learn about pivoting their comms strategy from those who work in complex settings – e.g. have some social media blocked – what do they use?
- How do logic models/theory of change practices account for your communications strategy assumptions?
- how can we build on shared comms tactics as a network?
- how can nonprofits help triage change/ comms together when platforms fail us?
On Sustainability and future-proofing
- Is this internally sustainable? Do we have the capacity to add more channels?
- What are the limits placed on our comms by corporations/platforms? +1
- Do we need to be on this social media channel, or are we there because others are?
- Are we adding to the “noise” or making a meaningful contribution to the conversation? (Additionally: am I just feeding my echo chamber?)
- Put your oxygen mask on before you put on someone else’s. Are you doing this with your comms choices?
- What is our responsibility to our stakeholders?
- What are the resources implications for sustainable responses?
- How much budget does your “free” account actually cost?
- What is the risk of taking this action – and what is the risk of NOT doing it? ⚖️
- What controls are in place that might keep me from moving to another system that better fits my communications/values?
- Do we risk just creating a new tool that we are over-dependent on?
- What business model does this platform use, and what is the product? Is that product me and my data?
On Data stewardship
- What data is being created by our followers, comms, and org?
- What kind of access and control do we have over data?
- Why are you collecting data, and what it’s for? How do you know the data/approach is doing what you think you want it to do?
- Do I need to track that data? What happens if I don’t?
- When did we last request a backup of our account data? Who has access to it?
- What security is in place to protect my/my supporters’ data?
On Inclusion, safety and discoverability
- How accessible is our content? and – can I increase its accessibility?
- What is your idea of intersectionality, and how is it reflected in your platform environment?
- How do we protect our supporters online?
- What does community moderation look like in social media? Whose community? How can we, as nonprofits, be involved?
- How discoverable are we? Can discovery happen through other means?
We also asked our participants what principles and values might guide them as they tried to address the stormy waters of corporate social media.
- Be community focused and keep people safe.
- Human moderation over technical/automated solutions
- Always get consent: people should know how their data will be used.
- People should not need to subject themselves to hate to exercise their human rights.
- Keep it simple
- Assess challenges and changes for what works and what doesn’t
- Establish value and measure impact – know your mission, yourself and your ‘conversation.’
- Prioritise organisational communications goals over what is popular.
- Be prepared to confront coordinated, inauthentic behaviour.
- Quality engagement over quantity.
We also compiled lots of resources along the way.
Some “decay” context
- Wolfson, Todd, and Malav Kanuga. “When We Were the Media.” Logic Magazine, December 21, 2022. https://logicmag.io/pivot/when-we-were-the-media/.
- Must-read by Cory Doctorow “Social quitting” https://doctorow.medium.com/social-quitting-1ce85b67b456
- Also Chokepoint Capitalism for info on how SM platforms have created chokepoints to using them and how their businesses practices kill competition: https://chokepointcapitalism.com/
- What exactly *is* the Twitter that’s dying? https://socialmediacollective.org/2022/11/18/riptwitter/
- Will TikTok save us? Short answer: no https://blog.hootsuite.com/tiktok-stats/
- There is No Replacement for Black Twitter https://www.wired.com/story/black-twitter-elon-musk/
- Zara Rahman’s thoughts on who is leaving and who is staying on Twitter https://zararah.net/blog/2022/11/11/twitter-or-mastodon-community-activism/
- Blow-by-blow of the end – https://twitterisgoinggreat.com/
What to do about your Twitter account
- M+R’s solid guidance https://www.mrss.com/lab/update-guidance-on-post-musk-twitter/
- What’s the future like for nonprofits on Twitter? (NTEN Discussion) https://my.nten.org/s/question/0D58Y00009VvupYSAR/whats-the-future-like-for-nonprofits-on-twitter
Intro to the Fediverse
- A full mapping of the Fediverse (Mastodon is just one part) https://axbom.com/fediverse/
- Explainer about Activitypub, the protocol that is the backbone https://www.w3.org/TR/activitypub/#Overview
- Feditips – FAQs https://fedi.tips/
- On verification https://fedi.tips/how-to-use-mastodon-and-the-fediverse-advanced-tips/
- Does the Fediverse need a scheduler? https://midrange.tedium.co/issues/mastodon-post-scheduling-considerations/
- How to host your own server https://fedi.tips/running-your-own-server-on-mastodon-and-the-fediverse/#HowDoICreateMyOwnServer
Legal, social, environmental and ethical issues in Fediverse
- Legal compliance when running your own Mastodon server (UK focused, but relevant to EU)
- An informed view on EU statutory responsibilities of those running servers
- Finding a green server
- CAT Lab: Migrations in online spaces (raises good social issues)
- Thread with notes from recent workshop on “Trust and Safety in the Fediverse”
- Wikimedia’s post on the threat of the Online Safety Bill in the UK to community moderation https://medium.com/wikimedia-policy/deep-dive-the-united-kingdoms-online-safety-bill-b7020723dd39
Fedi best practices and tools
- A new-ish NGO server – https://mastodon.ngo/
- A most epic non-profit self introduction https://masto.ai/@vagina_museum/109314247600518409
- Example of a non-profit “official” bridge from Twitter https://mastodon.fightforthefuture.org/@team
- Example of a non-profit choosing a national, generalist server https://mastodon.ie/@LGBT_ie
- Example of a non-profit “verifying” and pointing to its staff https://mastodon.social/@openrightsgroup/109302437401292197
- Example of a non-profit running its own Mastodon server, for employees and projects https://mastodon.archive.org/explore
- German government Mastodon server https://social.bund.de/explore
- EU Mastodon server https://social.network.europa.eu/public/local
- Worst practice: Raspberry Pi on Mastodon triggers a wave of “defederation” https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/we-hired-a-policeman-why-the-computer-company-raspberry-pi-s-announcement-caused-a-social-media-firestorm/ar-AA156eYz
- Good presentation about Mastodon foccused on NGOs – ORG Mastodon Tutorial for UK NGOs and non-profits https://invidious.snopyta.org/watch?v=xTTF2TfEHdY
- Buffer adds Mastodon scheduling – https://buffer.com/mastodon