Mozilla expands its Mastodon investment with beta launch of its own highly moderated server
Mozilla is expanding its investment in the decentralized social media ecosystem Mastodon with today's announcement it's opening its own server -- or "instance," in Mastodon lingo -- into private beta testing. The company announced last year its plans to create and begin testing a publicly accessible instance at Mozilla.social, with the goal of focusing on how it could help solve the "technical, experience and trustworthiness" challenges in a federated social space. Now, it says, it's ready to begin onboarding users from its waitlist.
The company clarified that its approach to the social network will not be one that's fully permissive of free speech. Instead, Mozilla says that declaring a platform "neutral" is often used as an excuse to allow behaviors and content that are designed to harass and harm others. This puts its approach to content moderation in seeming opposition to others including, most notably, Elon Musk's vision for Twitter.
"Our content moderation plan is rooted in the goals and values expressed in our Mozilla Manifesto — human dignity, inclusion, security, individual expression and collaboration," an announcement published to Mozilla's blog states. "We understand that individual expression is often seen, particularly in the U.S., as an absolute right to free speech at any cost. Even if that cost is harm to others. We do not subscribe to this view. We want to be clear about this," it reads.
In addition, Mozilla notes that its new sandbox will come with rules about how its users are allowed to engage with one another. It stresses that those rules may not be perfect from day one, but the project will include engaging with the community in an open dialogue as things evolve.
Mozilla says anyone who doesn't also share its views on content moderation and limitations on free speech is "completely free to go elsewhere if you don’t like them."
The instance isn't yet broadly open to the public during this beta test. Interested users will have to first sign up for the waitlist, where they can optionally also share their existing Twitter or Mastodon handles. Currently, the instance has just 138 active users, its page shows. In total, the server now has 250 users.
We're told Mozilla intends to keep the number intentionally small for the time being and is prioritizing the groups it's reaching out to. Marginalized communities, publishers and journalists will be given priority.
"The communities we’ve worked with previously will have first access to the Private beta, some of which will include folks from the waitlist," notes Ted Han, Director of Product for Mozilla.social. He said the beta will be limited to around 1,000 users.
"We are planning to open the beta in phases because we want to ensure that we have a content moderation team and other tools that can be scaled relative to the size of the user base," he added. "We’re working towards opening the Mozilla.social beta this summer, but we’re not in a rush as we think it’s important to be deliberate about launching social media tools," Han said.
The instance isn't the only way that Mozilla has invested in the Mastodon community. It also led the pre-seed funding round for a Mastodon mobile app, known as Mammoth earlier this year. Initially developed by iOS developer Shihab Mehboob, the creator of a whimsical music app Vinyls and the Twitter client Aviary 2, Mammoth was acquired by the company now leading the project. The new Mammoth is headed by Bart Decrem, who previously ran marketing and business affairs at Mozilla Foundation and worked on the Firefox 1.0 launch and later found himself at Disney's mobile game group, by way of the Tapulous acquisition.
One of Mammoth's differentiating features is that it aims to make joining Mastodon easier by adding users to a default server, moth.social. It wouldn't be surprising if Mozilla's own server was later given a more prominent position in the app, however. But for now, Mozilla said it's not working directly with Mammoth on any such integrations.