Any platform that supports free speech should have a content warning system pretty much like the one Mastodon offers. I bet Musk won’t implement it, though, because his snowflake fans would find this kind of free speech upsetting (and he’s afraid of them).
Mute People For a Little While
Sometimes a person you enjoy following gets in a mood. You don’t want to unfollow them, but you also don’t want to deal with whatever they’re currently yelling about. Maybe they’re endlessly discussing a movie you will never watch. Maybe they’re live tweeting a sporting event, or maybe they’re working up about something political. On Twitter you don’t have many options—you can unfollow them, mute them, or block them. All of those changes are permanent, though.
Mastodon allows you to mute people for a set amount of time—anywhere from five minutes to seven days—enough time for the person to work through whatever has them posting so much at the moment. It’s a great compromise, and Twitter should add it.
A Simpler Verification Process
The purpose of Twitter’s verification system, at least in the early days, was to confirm that a given account was actually run by a given politician, celebrity, journalist, or organization. The system for getting the checkmark was opaque, though, which led to the checkmark becoming somewhat of a status symbol. Having said that, Musk’s early attempts at “reform” mostly just created a spammer’s paradise.
Mastodon, meanwhile, has a system that allows for quick verification without any overhead. Basically, if you link to your Mastodon account with the tag “ref=me” on your website, Mastodon will highlight that you control the site on your profile. This gives people a quick way to confirm your identity without creating a lot of work for moderators. Twitter could do worse than copying this strategy for “official” accounts. Elon Musk won’t implement this, though, possibly because he wants to make you pay for verification while calling it democratic.
A (Free) Edit Button
Twitter users want an edit button. They can get one if they’re willing to pay $8 a month. Mastodon users get an edit button for free. Elon won’t offer this, though—probably because he likes money more than he likes you.
Actual Support For Third-Party Clients
The best way to use Twitter used to be third-party clients, which generally offered a much smoother and customizable experience than the official Twitter app and website. TweetBot, for example, is a much nicer way to use Twitter on a Mac than anything built by Twitter. The problem: Twitter severely restricted its API a few years ago, which limited the kinds of things third-party clients could do. You can’t get notifications for likes or retweets. Polls are just broken. I could go on.
Mastodon doesn’t have this problem. Third-party clients can do everything—and in some cases, more—than the official website and applications can do. It’s refreshing, and something that Twitter should reward its power users. It won’t, though. Because…
On Twitter, you can follow accounts and search for hashtags. Mastodon allows users to follow an entire hashtag, so that all related posts show up on your home screen. I don’t know if Twitter should add this, but a lot of people like it, and it’s a really great way to find people who regularly post about the subjects you’re interested in.
No Ads or Subscriptions
Town squares are open to everyone. They don’t charge admission, and they’re not covered with ads. Sure, there may be a business or two adjacent to the town square, and there may be a few walls covered with flyers for punk concerts, but for the most part a town square is primarily a non-commercial space. Twitter, if it was truly a town square, would be like that. Mastodon already is. There’s no company involved with Mastodon—it’s an open-source program owned by a nonprofit. The network is run by volunteers who set up servers for their friends and communities. Anyone can set up a server and connect to all of the other ones, and moderation is done by volunteers.
Now, I don’t think Elon Musk is going to make Twitter free and non-commercial. It’s a business, and he’s a businessman—not an engineer, not a free speech advocate, and not someone who actually cares about the community at the end of the day, regardless of his public statements. He’s a money person who likes money and would like to have more of it (even though the money he currently has is clearly not doing much for his mental and emotional health).
And that’s the problem: A town square, by definition, can’t be a business. It needs to be a space owned by the people. That’s what an Elon Musk Twitter can never be, and what Mastodon already is. I wrote about how to get started with Mastodon, so check that out if you’re curious.