The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Setting Up Mastodon Server, Using an Outside Service or on Our Own?

Trying to get up to speed on Ice Age technology.


I'm still thinking about setting up a Mastodon account (in addition to, not instead of, our Twitter feed), but I'm hesitant about setting it up on an existing Mastodon server.

Some of them have Terms of Service that I'd prefer not to sign on to: I don't personally think, for instance, that any of my posts involve "racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, or casteism," "incitement of violence or promotion of violent ideologies," "harassment, dogpiling or doxxing of other users"; but who knows what those terms mean these days? Will someone decide that expressing skepticism about certain forms of immigration "xenophobia," or questioning whether transgender athletes should compete on women's teams "transphobia"? Will someone conclude that arguing for broadening the scope of permissible armed self-defense (or of permissible conduct during war) is a "violent ideolog[y]"? Will someone label identifying the name of someone who would prefer to remain anonymous, something that news outlets often do in the right circumstances, "doxxing"? Plus given how many people view a vast range as "structural racism," does it follow that people who defend them (and perhaps fight the premise that racially disparate impacts are "racism") are therefore themselves engaged in "racism"?

To be sure, I can probably in good faith just interpret the terms my own way; I don't think I'd be lying if I agreed to them. We auto-feed to Facebook and Twitter, after all; all of us have to reconcile ourselves to the world as it is in many ways. But I'd prefer not to, if possible, and I would think that in principle it would be possible here. (That's especially so since the blog has some funds to pay a reasonable amount for the hosting or similar services.) [UPDATE: I should add that, if a site simply says "Here's what we could expel you for," rather than asking me to agree not to post such things, I'm more open to that, especially since (as I understand it) switching Mastodon servers isn't that difficult, though still annoying. I'm more concerned about having to make promises about such things.]

I thought that maybe some university systems would have Mastodon servers that are less interested in content restrictions (cf. this story as to Zoom), but a quick search for university mastodon chiefly revealed the Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons. And in any event, I'm not inclined to count on many universities these days, either.

Plus while of course anyone who doesn't like our posts should certainly feel free to unsubscribe from them or block them or what have you, my understanding is that one form of content policing on Mastodon is server operators blocking whole servers. This makes me reluctant to join others on a server, both because then maybe our posts won't go through to some users because of some other account's posts, or because maybe others' posts won't go through because people are upset with us. (Please correct me if I'm misunderstanding this.)

I was therefore wondering if I should sign up—again, I'm willing to pay a reasonable amount—with some service that can provide me with my own Mastodon server, where we can operate all by ourselves; then others can block us or not as they prefer, based solely on what they think about our posts. (Of course, that has to be a service that likewise doesn't impose broad and vague content restrictions on me.) Or perhaps I should try to run my own server on my home computer (which runs Windows), if that's not too hard.

Any suggestions? I realize that sometimes one has to rely on the tolerance of business partners, and I'll do that when needed, especially when I trust those partners. (I've had nothing but the best of experience with Reason, for instance.) But in this day and age, I'd like to minimize such reliance, to the extent possible—especially on entities that are particularly likely to react to pressure if someone wants to pressure them to pressure us. I'd love to hear what others who know more about Mastodon can tell me about this.

UPDATE: Apropos hosting services, commenter Kenneth Almquist mentioned (though it's all full for now) and's policies, though, illustrate my concern: They appear to require one to agree to Terms of Use that exclude, among other things, "Racism," "Alt right, including under the disguise of freedom of speech," "Gender-critical," "Sex and gender discrimination," and "Transphobia," whatever exactly those would mean. I'm pretty sure I can't honestly promise that all our posts will comply with those terms, especially as to "gender-critical"—I'm not sure what the right answers are on transgender issues, but I'm very likely to at some point have some posts (whether guest-posts or others) that may take a "gender-critical" perspective. Indeed, I suppose Prof. Doriane Coleman's posts criticizing (in some measure) transgender athletes' participation on women's sports teams may well be viewed as "gender-critical" and "transphobic" by some.

On the other hand, I was pleased to see that the "Terms of Use" link at yields an Error 404 (this page could not be found). Might be just what I need.