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Mastodon Research Event (CFP): June 2023

Call for Presentations

Mastodon: Research Symposium and Tool Exploration Workshop

Date: 22nd and 23rd of June, 2023

Place: University of Warwick, UK + online (hybrid event, GMT time)

Submission deadline: 14th of April, 2023 (Register hereLink opens in a new window)

Although established in 2016, Mastodon grew rapidly in the second half of 2022. From an estimated 500,000 monthly active users (MAUs) it reached an apparent peak of 2.5 million MAUs in December 2022 before settling back to a reported 1.4 million as of late January 2023. The rise of Mastodon cannot be separated from the tragi-spectacle of Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover, and this raises new questions about the relationship between social media platforms and their alternatives. How should we understand the significance of Mastodon, both as an alternative to Twitter and in its own right?

We know Mastodon has long appealed to users invested in the infrastructural politics of open-source and federated architectures. But less is known about Mastodon’s forms of sociality and how its infrastructural characteristics shape this sociality. Can Mastodon sociality scale without the viral dynamics of algorithmic feeds? Should we even evaluate Mastodon based on its potential for growth on the scale of the commercial platforms? Are its new users simply on a Twitter sabbatical? How has the influx of users altered the dynamics of Mastodon?

Mastodon users are spared from the advertising-derived attention economy, but ads are relatively low down on the scale of undesirable interactions on social media. How is Mastodon handling racism, trolling, and content moderation? Is there a specificity to the violence and abuse experienced on Mastodon as compared to its commercial counterparts? Mastodon introduces a novel level of social media governance, the instance, whose structures of authority can take various forms, from mini-chiefdoms to more deliberative collectives. What do we know about how different Mastodon instances handle governance and the exercise of their ‘instance-power’? Conversely, which tactics have malicious users developed to circumvent moderation or blocking? If platform politics emerges through the unique affordance of a platform, what might we expect from the federated architecture of Mastodon? Finally, Mastodon’s architecture presents new challenges and opportunities for digital research. What kinds of research do the existing tools (such as the R package “rtoot”) enable and what other tools and software might we want to develop? Could Mastodon be used to explore more conscientious ways of doing API-style research? This event seeks to take the pulse of current Mastodon research. It will involve a one-day symposium featuring research presentations and a plenary address by alternative social media researcher, Robert Gehl. This will be followed by a one-day tool exploration workshop exploring the RToot package and other research tools. The symposium will be a hybrid event based at the University of Warwick. The tool exploration will be in-person only. If you would like to participate in this event, please submit an application via the following website by the 14th of April:

You will be asked for the following:

  • a 300-word presentation abstract
  • either a URL link to your research profile or a 150-word biography
  • an indication of attendance mode (in-person or online)
  • an indication of whether you wish to participate in the tool workshop (in-person only)

Possible topics might include:

  • Mastodon governance
  • Mastodon feature analysis or interface criticism
  • Cultural studies of Mastodon
  • Black Mastodon
  • Mastodon sociality and/or community dynamics
  • Platform migration
  • Mastodon and Twitter relations
  • Mastodon apps
  • Instance politics
  • Cross instance research
  • Methods and tools for studying Mastodon
  • Novel use cases of Mastodon instances

If you have any questions, please get in touch with n[dot]tkacz[at]warwick[dot]ac[dot]uk.