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Twitter reply guys were bad, but Mastodon is no better

Sophie Koonin

Mastodon has often been touted as some kind of grassroots utopia compared to the bro-niverse that is Twitter. But in my experience it's exactly the same: full of sanctimonious reply guys.

Before the great Twitter exodus I'd amassed quite a following through a carelessly curated campaign of shitposting, and occasionally a post would go viral. Some really quite nasty things happened sometimes.

Storytime: back in my purple hair days, I posted a picture of my hair and makeup colour-matching my IDE, next to a screenshot of some janky wireframe HTML I'd written to throw a webpage screenshot together for a talk. You may have seen it reposted on some content farm.

Most of the replies were harmless and many were nice, but a few people "helpfully" commented that the code wasn't accessible. I was at the pub by this point, a few beers in, and posted an annoyed response that people should stop commenting on the code because that wasn't the point. (It absolutely was inaccessible; but it absolutely didn't matter because it was just garbage code for the purposes of a screenshot.)

A tweet from @type__error that says 'Rule #1: Always colour match your IDE', with two pictures side by side: me with purple hair and eye makeup, and some HTML in an IDE with purple background and pastel coloured code.
(Side note, I miss that hair, but I don't miss the upkeep or the damage.)

Then a well-known tech dude who should have known better took a screenshot of my tweet and reply (not just a RT!) and posted it on his Twitter. I got bombarded with replies: one dude said "but accessibility is important". Correct, it is, but that wasn't the point of the post. I replied: "You know what else is important? Not being that guy who jumps into a woman's tweet replies to correct her code when she's not even posting about the code and has not asked for any feedback on said code". Immediately the replies came in: WHY IS GENDER ANYTHING TO DO WITH IT WAH. Some guy tweeted at my employer to tell them that I was being sexist (I had to message our head of social to ask him politely to disregard that).

All the shitty replies I got were from men though. Just saying.

I like men very much. I work with many men (as well as a good amount of women, considering the industry average) and they are lovely indeed. I am married to a wonderful man. But in my experience, I do not get anywhere near this level of shit on the internet from women, or at least users that are visibly female/non-binary.

Perhaps these men reply like this to everyone on the internet, regardless of the OP's gender. Being an indiscriminate knobhead doesn't change the fact that you're being a knobhead.

The screenshotted post surfaced on Reddit and even 4chan (shudder) a few times over the next few years causing me to have to lock my Twitter account temporarily each time. I know I could have avoided this entire debacle by not engaging a few beers in, and just muting or locking the thread, but also people didn't need to be dicks about it.

I locked my Twitter and abandoned ship in November 2022 when it was looking like it was sinking. A lot of folks are still on there, but it seems like even more of a hellhole. So, like many folks, I migrated to Mastodon. It's... fine? I do actually miss the algorithm, but I follow some cool web folks and I like to see what people are up to. I don't engage nearly as much as I used to with Twitter, which can only be a good thing, really. My relationship to social media has changed a lot.

But every now and then, something I post will go... Mastodon viral, I guess. And there's this special kind of reply guy on Mastodon who I hadn't seen before. The person who will take some kind of personal offence to your post because they do not personally relate to it. I posted a link to the Millennial CAPTCHA because it's amazing, and the sheer number of replies I got explaining that it was Bad, Actually for reasons including:

  • nobody knows who Michael Cera is (they absolutely do, he is very famous, this is a you problem)
  • nobody knows who Sufjan Stevens is (you don't need to know to complete the test)
  • it's impossible if you're European (I'm English – we may have left the EU but last time I checked we were still in Europe)
  • generational politics are stupid
  • Gen X can do these things too, but nobody ever talks about Gen X!

Honestly, it makes me want to not post things. My Mastodon app (Ice Cubes) hasn't implemented thread muting yet, and I really wish it would hurry up (I have to do it via the browser and hope that the app picks up the setting). I also wish there was a kind of "circles" feature where you could post things that are only visible to a defined list; I know you can post to followers only, but I don't want to have to restrict my followers.

This certainly isn't the first time I've had frustrations like this and it won't be the last. I posted my feelings about AI song generators (they make me sad) and got a few replies explaining – you guessed it – why I was wrong, actually. One guy said it's just like how photography came along when before there was only painting. The mind boggles.

Just imagine if you could see a post and think “hm, I don’t really get this, I guess it’s not for me!” and then go back to whatever you were doing. Imagine!