Social media

We tried to run a social media site and it was awful

A few months ago, FT Alphaville thought it might be fun to host a Mastodon server. Boy, were we wrong!

It is therefore with relief and regret that we announce the shutdown of, this blog’s completely unofficial home on the Fediverse. Our reasons are listed below in full but, to summarise, Mastodon has proved more hassle than it’s worth.

If you signed up via then moving to an extant server should be straightforward. We intend to give everyone three months to vacate (as the Mastodon Server Covenant suggests) though if traffic drops to zero we reserve the right pull the plug earlier.

Meanwhile, for the benefit of needy billionaires and/or Morgan Stanley’s Distressed Debt & Special Situations team, here are a few things we learned about why taking responsibility for a social media site is a bad idea:

  • Compliance, security and reputational risks are substantial and evergrowing in unpredictable ways. Though largely hypothetical, these risks were judged serious enough to exercise management at the highest levels. Those people have better things to do than to clean up our mess.

  • The legal side is all that again times a thousand. Take, for instance, the UK Investigatory Powers Act 2016. Diligent people have spent years figuring out how its imprecise wordings apply to media organisations. Do these same conclusions hold for a sort-of-but-not-really decentralised silo of user generated content? Dunno. The only place to find out for sure would be in court, and we’d really rather not.

  • Do Mastodon server owners wear any responsibility for their users’ defamations? It’s unlikely but, because libel involves judges, not impossible. Again, the value in finding out is outweighed by the cost of finding out.

  • Mastodon administrators have access to everyone’s direct messages by default. FTAV has no interest in sliding uninvited into anyone’s DMs and the best way to prove it is to remove all opportunity.

  • Everything above is written from a UK perspective but lawyers are literally everywhere. There’s probably one behind you right now.

  • What about GDPR? Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedowns? Electronic Commerce Regulations? CAN-SPAM? FTAV treats user data with a combination of disinterest and uninterest, but that’s not enough to guarantee compliance with all relevant global laws and regulations.

  • For obvious reasons, we can’t use big-tech’s trick of concentrating lobbying efforts by putting all our servers in Luxembourg or Ireland.

  • Responsible ownership of a social media network necessitates daily backups, layer caching, downtime monitoring, load balancing, and a bunch of techy stuff that probably wouldn’t trouble a person who doesn’t own a social media network.

  • None of the things just referenced are fun.

  • Cloud services work on the Hotel California principle: it’s easy to get started but as soon as you’re in, you’re stuck. After just a month our barely visible Fediverse presence was taking up 160 gigabytes and each mandatory server upgrade had an exponential effect on the cost, measured either by cash or carbon. Nuking really does seem the only way out.

  • Using third-party software builds and cloud services means trusting their terms and conditions, which demands actually reading them.

  • An interest instalment on our syndicated debt is due as soon as the end of January and we can’t sack staff or win back advertisers, having neither.

  • This headline:

As we said back in November, was an unofficial thing that would live or die on its own merits. Turns out it’s “die” — but as failed experiments go, this one hasn’t cost anyone $44bn. That’s something, relatively.


Business Asia
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