Spotted Arrow


Indigenous Fediverse

With the recent purchase of the bird site by a tech billionaire, many have migrated to Mastodon, one of the more popular instances of the Fediverse with hundreds of thousands of users, including myself. Although it is a bird site alternative it is not directly the same, which has been written about extensively so I encourage you to learn those differences. But I am optimistic about the prospects of the Fediverse and I’d like to lay out my reasons why.

Unlike the proprietary bird site, the Fediverse is free and open-source software (FOSS). This means that the software can be duplicated, changed, and re-distributed all without repercussions. However, this reasoning is scoffed at when you tell someone: “You can deploy your own instance.” Instead of people feeling empowered, marginalized people feel burdened because the bird site has things that allow them to feel empowered in a space that is largely taken up by colonial peoples and norms. It gives them an opportunity, through things like quote tweeting, to call out injustices and problematic perspectives. I understand this perspective but it leads to points below about how we spend our time and how impactful these forms of protest are for us internally.

Without a doubt, social media has changed the way we interact with one another. Some practices don’t align with Indigenous peoples. For example, if you dislike someone, you talk behind their back and not to their face. Of course, people have always done this and people will continue to do this, but what this demonstrates is that human interaction is not trivial. It’s not as easy as quote tweeting someone to ratio them or calling people out to make assumptions about their intentions. However, even without considering how we harm one another, has social media made other more important human experiences trivial? Has it maybe hampered our ability to organize, find like-minded people to discuss and share ideas with, and come up with ideas to change the status quo? Has social media helped people to think they are empowered, however trivially, without them questioning their impact? I understand some are doing both so I don’t want to discredit people on the ground doing the work. I just want to question how effective our work is when tweeting is the primary means of changing norms and how we might want to consider alternatives to enact change. I want to suggest that people have more power working together than tweeting apart.

I think Fediverse is an opportunity for like-minded Indigenous peoples to work together in a safe space, discuss ideas most pertinent to us, and express ourselves authentically. One thing I’ve wanted to see with social media is for bios to be more reflective of the many different indigenous cultures that exist. Having a first and last name is very colonial. It’s not how Native people identify one another. We talk about our families, communities, bands, clans, etc. They are different and varied. Some cultures are matrilineal, some are patrilineal. These nuances aren’t reflected in social media. We conform to colonial norms as opposed to enforcing our norms on our terms. Of course, some would rather not share these things and that is fine too. The difference is choice and currenlty we don’t have that choice with how social media is set up without regard for our cultures, languages, and practices. This doesn’t have to be the norm nor should it be. Creating our own instance is a path toward figuring out what social media means to us when it is built by us.

Although protesting is effective in some forms on the bird site, it does not address the many issues Indigenous peoples face with technology. If you are an Indigenous person in the Americas, for example, can you go to any site in your local area, or a site owned by your Nation, and be able to read it in your language? If not, why not? The answers you find are probably not satisfactory but the work needed to get the site translated into your language is not something that can be summed up in a tweet or done in a few minutes. These are issues of infrastructure, access, historical trauma, and identity. However, having your site translated into your language is a form of protest, of power, of sovereignty. It is also something internal to your community that is probably best discussed in Indigenous circles with people who understand the nuances of the topic. As much as the world needs to change there are things our communities and Nations could be doing to nation build and I think that should take us out of a mode of thinking in terms of “dunking on someone” and more in the mindset of solutioning for how we can positively impact our people.

We have to understand that nothing is free. The bird site is a marketing app and data harvester first and foremost. It has its terms of service and privacy policy that you’ve probably never read. There is a cost to using it, whether it’s the individual profile that’s created about us and sold to other ad companies, or the endless doom scrolling that occurs that takes us out of reality for a few minutes or hours. We pay these costs whether we like them or not but I get the sense we are so enthralled with the conflict that is on the site that we forget we have our own lives and things important to us. Where we could be devoting time, we spend scrolling, teaching the algorithm more about us so that we spend an even greater amount of time on it.

The Fediverse is much slower than the bird site. It’s not so much about real-time updates as it is about connecting with people you know. There is no algorithm so you end up seeing what those you follow post. This pace further reinforces what I say above about cultural norms. Let’s slow down, have a discussion, think critically, and figure out how to solve problems that impact us and our communities, and a little less time on how to change the hearts and minds of colonial peoples.

This also has its downsides. As I mentioned earlier, the bird site enables marginalized people to speak truth to power through things like quote tweeting. This allows marginalized people to have their ideas noticed by colonial bystanders, to question their thought process, and hopefully change their minds about how their colonial kin are treating others. What this demonstrates is that there needs to be proximity to power to effect change. And for that reason, I think the bird site allows that. What I want to see in addition to that is Indigenous peoples increasing proximity to one another, working together, and having thoughtful discussions about how we affect change. If the bird site is the town square, then Fediverse can be the meeting room, arbor, or long house, in which we talk through ideas.

Fediverse is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It is a solution that needs modifications and changes for it to truly serve Indigenous peoples. The difference with the bird site is that Mastodon has enabled this through free and open-source technology. I think it’s time we Indigenous peoples start to shape it for ourselves, carving out a part of the web that is ours, and making it our own.

This article has Webmentions