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Democrats join Twitter alternative Mastodon in protest of Musk
A growing number of Democratic officials are exploring open-source social network Mastodon as a potential alternative to Twitter as they protest Elon Musk’s takeover of the company.
At least a dozen Democratic lawmakers and two congressional panels the party leads in the past month have joined Mastodon, which has emerged as a top destination for users fleeing Musk-led Twitter, according to a review by The Technology 202.
The trend highlights the mounting opposition from liberal leaders to Musk’s overhaul of the social network, which has included restoring the account of former president Donald Trump, firing scores of content moderators and vowing to bring back a flood of banned accounts.
Several of the lawmakers, who verified the authenticity of their new accounts either publicly or through spokespeople, directly cited Musk as their reason for taking up Mastodon. Others said they did so to snatch up their user handles or test out the site, but were not actively using it.
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), who joined Mastodon earlier this month, said she is “exploring new platforms where misinformation is not actively embraced by the leadership of the company.” Pingree blasted Musk’s “anti-democratic worldview” for turning Twitter into “a pay-to-play platform where anyone with $8 can impersonate a public official.”
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said that “growing concerns about content moderation and [the] overall stability of Twitter” factored into his decision to join Mastodon.
The House Budget Committee and the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, which leads the party’s messaging efforts in the chamber, also launched Mastodon accounts, though representatives for the panels said they did so to reserve their usernames.
Despite their complaints, so far none of the lawmakers have said they plan to leave Twitter, which has a far larger user base and serves as a key conduit to constituents.
Aaron Fritschner, Beyer’s deputy chief of staff, said in an interview that many congressional offices are in “wait-and-see mode” regarding their use of Twitter amid fears the site could soon be flooded with hate speech, misinformation and harassment — or that it could collapse. But he’s yet to be a part of any discussions about quitting the platform altogether, he said.
Fritschner, who runs communications for Beyer, said he’s not sure that Mastodon will emerge as a true alternative to Twitter. Still, he said, Democratic staffers are making contingency plans.
“It's hard to imagine anything taking the role that Twitter has come to occupy, but we're at a point I think where … you just really have to start making plans,” he told me.
While Twitter has hundreds of millions of monthly active users, Mastodon, just recently crossed into the millions.
Daniel Schuman, policy director at the left-leaning advocacy group Demand Progress, said part of Mastodon’s appeal to lawmakers, despite its smaller size, is that it’s already drawing in Twitter power users, including prominent policy leaders, academics and journalists.
“Members of Congress feel the desire to go wherever people are … it doesn't matter what the platform is. They want to go where they are going to be influential and be seen,” he said.
He said he expects many more Democratic lawmakers to join the Mastodon bandwagon. “I think this is the tip of the iceberg,” said Schuman, who works on digital communications issues.
Beyer echoed the sentiment, saying that it “seems likely that many more may follow.”
Mastodon isn’t the first platform lawmakers have flocked to in protest of Twitter.
For years, Republican lawmakers have promoted a slew of alternative right-leaning social networks including Rumble, Parler and Gab in response to their allegations that Twitter and other platforms are biased against conservatives. The trend gained steam after Twitter initially banned Trump.
But like Democratic lawmakers now speaking out against Twitter’s direction under Musk, GOP tech critics continue to routinely post on the platform despite their complaints. And the other platforms are still dwarfed by Twitter.
It’s unclear if any Republican lawmakers have yet to join Mastodon, a “decentralized” platform that lets users host or join their own digital communities called servers.
Of the Democratic lawmakers who have confirmed they have launched Mastodon accounts, most are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the liberal wing of the party.
Fritschner said he hopes the trend does not transform the site into a home only for users on the left, however, or into a counter to conservative havens like Parler and Rumble.
“To me, the goal is to reach everyone, right? … If you're only in a positive feedback loop or an echo chamber, I think the value is greatly diminished,” he said.
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Republican lawmakers gained Twitter followers after Musk acquisition
Republicans gained an average of 8,000 followers and Democrats lost 4,000 followers in the first weeks of Elon Musk’s leadership of Twitter, Gerrit De Vynck, Jeremy B. Merrill and Luis Melgar report. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) each gained more than 300,000 followers, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats, lost about 100,000 Twitter followers.
“It’s difficult to tell exactly why follower counts go up and down, and the counts are often affected by Twitter banning bot accounts en masse,” they write. “Not everyone following a specific politician is a supporter.”
But the pattern suggests that the demographics of the site could be shifting under Musk’s ownership. That would be in line with a trend from earlier this year, when Musk announced his plans to buy Twitter.
Sam Bankman-Fried courted Washington and the CFTC
Before cryptocurrency exchange FTX collapsed amid allegations of fraud, Sam Bankman-Fried, 30, tried to build ties with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and CFTC Chairman Rostin Behnam, my colleagues Tory Newmyer and Peter Whoriskey report. Both Bankman-Fried and Behnam pushed for a bill to largely put the CFTC in charge of exchanges like FTX.
Critics like Better Markets President Dennis Kelleher are calling for an investigation into “how FTX ended up having so much influence at the CFTC.” Kelleher said the CFTC missed FTX’s red flags.
CFTC spokesman Steve Adamske said Behnam’s “years-long advocacy for expanded authority for the CFTC is driven solely by the fact that digital commodity asset investors and customers remain vulnerable to fraud and manipulation because these markets are unregulated.” A CFTC official speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a company the agency regulates said the agency didn’t have the authority to probe FTX or most of its affiliates under existing law.
FTC expected to try to block Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision
The Federal Trade Commission hasn’t yet met with the companies’ lawyers or decided whether to file an antitrust lawsuit to block the deal, Politico’s Josh Sisco reports. But the expected lawsuit would be the FTC’s most significant move so far to counter Big Tech under FTC Chair Lina Khan.
“Central to the FTC’s concerns is whether acquiring Activision would give Microsoft an unfair boost in the video game market,” Sisco writes. “Microsoft’s Xbox is number three to the industry-leading Sony Interactive Entertainment and its PlayStation console. Sony, however, has emerged as the deal’s primary opponent, telling the FTC and regulators in other countries that if Microsoft made hit games like Call of Duty exclusive to its platforms Sony would be significantly disadvantaged.” The FTC declined to comment to Politico.
Microsoft spokesperson David Cuddy told Politico that Microsoft “is prepared to address the concerns of regulators, including the FTC, and Sony to ensure the deal closes with confidence. We’ll still trail Sony and Tencent in the market after the deal closes, and together Activision and Xbox will benefit gamers and developers and make the industry more competitive.”
Inside the industry
- Deputy national security adviser Anne Neuberger, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), National Institute of Standards and Technology Director Laurie Locascio and other officials speak at the Quantum World Congress in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday.
- A Senate Finance Committee panel holds a hearing on the digital economy’s trade policy opportunities and challenges on Wednesday at 3 p.m.
- Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Rostin Behnam testifies at a Senate agriculture committee hearing on lessons from the collapse of FTX on Thursday at 10 a.m.
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Cats will be cats.. 😂 pic.twitter.com/VSktKC9E2G— Buitengebieden (@buitengebieden) November 27, 2022
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