Since billionaire Elon Musk took over Twitter in late October, many users have left the social media site to find refuge on Mastodon, the open-source microblogging software created in 2016 by German Eugen Rochko.
Since billionaire Elon Musk took over Twitter in late October, many users have left the social media site to find refuge on Mastodon, the open-source microblogging software created in 2016 by German Eugen Rochko. The 29-year-old programmer has been delighted to see an “unprecedented” rate of new users. From 400,000 in mid-October, the network has grown to more than 1.3 million active “mastonauts” by mid-November.
Once a Twitter user, Mr. Rochko quickly took a dislike to its pyramid-structured management. At the age of 24, fresh off a degree in computer science from the University of Jena in Thuringia, in former East Germany, he launched his own alternative, non-profit social network called Mastodon, where people post messages called “toots.” The software relies on a decentralized system counting 4,600 independent servers. That way, “there’s no longer one person making top-down decisions. It’s more democratic,” Mr. Rochko explained.
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Born in Moscow into a middle-class Jewish family, Mr. Rochko emigrated to Germany with his parents at the age of 11, with the hope of “a better future, far from Putin’s Russia” in mind. As a child, he started using drawing to express his creative spirit. “I gave up because I was too impatient. I was unable to draw a straight line, I only made irregular lines,” he said. In Thuringia, he discovered high-speed internet and lines of code and put his pencils and frustration behind him. “With programming, the reward was immediate: Changes appeared instantly on my screen,” he added.
During his high school years, he created several websites, including the virtual art market Artists & Clients, which he sold for $2,000. Alongside his studies, he put his computer skills to work for various companies. He was an exception, developing his studies and career far from the prestigious American Ivy League and Silicon Valley.
He is an advocate of an open-source philosophy, which is based on collaboration and accessibility, and has made it the cornerstone of Mastodon. “Believing that people should be able to see, study, modify and redistribute the code of the software they use means taking a political stance. The goal is to give power back to individuals,” he said.
“Hate speech limits the freedom of expression of others,” said Mr. Rochko, who opposes Mr. Musk’s policy of absolute freedom of speech. In 2014, he was struck by the controversy around “GamerGate,” a massive international campaign of online sexist harassment that targeted female developers. He wanted to make Mastodon a “place free from this kind of abuse.”
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While Mr. Musk is considering making Twitter verification fee-based, Mr. Rochko wants to promote an entirely crowdfunded platform that does not rely on advertising or algorithms.
Translation of an original article published in French on lemonde.fr