Mozilla is expanding its investment in the decentralized social media ecosystem Mastodon with today’s announcement that it is opening its own server — or “instance” in Mastodon parlance — to private beta testing. The company announced its plans last year to create and test a publicly accessible instance on Mozilla.social, with the goal of focusing on how it could help solve the challenges of “technical, experience and trustworthiness” in a federated social space. Now, it says, it’s ready to begin onboarding users from the waitlist.
The company clarified that its approach to the social network will not be one that fully allows for free speech. Instead, Mozilla says declaring a platform “neutral” is often used as an excuse to allow behavior and content designed to harass and harm others. This puts his approach to content moderation in apparent contrast to others, including Elon Musk’s vision for Twitter in particular.
“Our content moderation plan is rooted in the goals and values expressed in our Mozilla Manifesto – Human Dignity, Inclusion, Safety, Individual Expression and Collaboration,” read an announcement published on Mozilla’s blog. “We understand that individual expression is often seen, especially in the US, as an absolute right to free speech at any cost. Even if those costs cause harm to others. We do not subscribe to this view. We want to be clear about that.”
In addition, Mozilla notes that its new sandbox will include rules about how its users are allowed to interact with each other. It highlights that those rules may not be perfect from day one, but the project also includes an open dialogue with the community as things evolve.
Mozilla says anyone who doesn’t also share their views on content moderation and restrictions on free speech are “completely free to go elsewhere if you don’t like them.”
During this beta test, the instance is not yet generally available to the public. Interested users will first have to sign up for the waiting list, where they can optionally also share their existing Twitter or Mastodon handles. Currently, the instance has only 138 active users, the page shows. In total, the server now has 250 users.
We’re told that Mozilla intends to keep numbers intentionally small for now and prioritize the groups it contacts. Marginalized communities, publishers and journalists are given priority.
“The communities we’ve worked with before will get first access to the private beta, some of which will include people on the waitlist,” said Ted Han, director of product at Mozilla.social. He said the beta will be limited to about 1,000 users.
“We plan to open the beta in stages as we want to make sure we have a content moderation team and other tools that scale relative to the size of the user base,” he added. “We’re working to open the Mozilla.social beta this summer, but we’re in no rush, as we believe it’s important to be thoughtful when launching social media tools,” said Han.
The instance isn’t the only way Mozilla has invested in the Mastodon community. It also led the pre-seed funding round for a mobile app from Mastodon, better known as Mammoth, earlier this year. Originally developed by iOS developer Shihab Mehboob, creator of whimsical music app Vinyls and Twitter client Aviary 2, Mammoth was acquired by the company that now runs the project. The new Mammoth is led by Bart Decrem, who previously led marketing and business affairs at the Mozilla Foundation and worked on the launch of Firefox 1.0 and later joined Disney’s mobile games group through its acquisition of Tapulous.
One of Mammoth’s distinguishing features is that it aims to make joining Mastodon easier by adding users to a default server, moth.social. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if Mozilla’s own server got a more prominent place in the app later on. But for now, Mozilla said it’s not working directly with Mammoth on such integrations.