Mastodon loves journalism — and even Threads is warming to it

A glimpse into a possible social media future for journalism.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Social media’s evolution can leave an ecological niche behind it. The recent Reuters Institute Digital News Report emphasised that many of the biggest social media platforms are evolving towards video, under Darwinian pressure from TikTok. But what of the niche that they left behind?

What of people who want to find interesting conversation, and interesting things to read that spark those discussions? Those people do exist, and they make up a substantial chunk of the potential audience for journalism. Even ever-evolving Meta seems to have acknowledged that, in part, with Threads. But even there, corporate worries about the platform becoming infested with politics have led to them suppressing newsy links in the algorithm.

However, some of the other post-Twitter challengers are much more open to the spread of journalism, and Mastodon in particular seems to be embracing it. They’ve pushed out a small change that might, in the medium term, prove important: clickable author bylines.

Yup, no matter who shared the link, there's a little button that allows you to follow the jorunalist's fediverse account. Here's how they explain it:

To reinforce and encourage Mastodon as the go-to place for journalism, we’re launching a new feature today. You will notice that underneath some links shared on Mastodon, the author byline can be clicked to open the author’s associated fediverse account, right in the app.

And this is what it looks like in use:

A Mastodon post showing clickable author bylines

It’s a small touch, but it could be huge in starting to build relationships between writers and audience on the platform. It's not about traffic, it's about relationship.

Yes, but…

Now, there are a lot of caveats I need to apply here. Firstly, Mastodon is still small. Some sources suggest that there’s only circa 1m active users — a number that’s fallen in recent months. Others put the figure up at 1.8m, but that’s still small beer compared to the platforms of old, or even Threads.

Moreover, currently this new feature only works for users on the instance, and only if they’re using the official app on their phones. But that will change over time, as other instances upgrade their software, and developers of other apps (like my favourite Ivory), catch up with the API additions.

And lastly, right now, your publication needs to be approved for this. You need to add some code to your site that puts the author’s Fediverse handle into the page metadata. It looks like this:

<meta name="fediverse:creator" content="" />

That’s trivial for single author sites — I implemented it here in under a minute — but more complex on multi-author sites. And then, once you’ve done that, you have to be approved for this display by the server admins:

… the feature will only show up for links to moderator-approved websites. In the future, we would like to make the feature available to all without a manual review process. For now, if you’re part of a news organization, please reach out to us at so we can enable it for your website.

But with all those caveats, isn’t it nice to see at least one social network actively encouraging journalism?

The Threads factor

An elephant and a roll of thread, united by their love, represented by a thready heart.

And, with Threads building out its Mastodon integration, this platform could soon become one of the more significant challengers to the established players. Casey Newton’s interview with Threads (and Instagram) head Adam Mosseri to mark a year of Threads, makes it clear developing out those fediverse links remain important to the company:

But we're committed to it, and we're making progress. We have some announcements coming soon. We just gotta get the basics out. You’ve got to be able to not only post to the fediverse, but to get your replies in the app. Ideally, you should be able to follow accounts from the fediverse in Threads, not just follow Threads accounts on Mastodon servers or clients. So there's still plenty of work to do. But I do believe the world is going to become more open over time. And we should lean into that. And if it takes time, it takes time.

It’s also notable that in the same interview, Mosseri walks back some of his opposition to seeing news on the Threads platform:

Particularly for some of the niche verticals we talked about — it'd be great to go to Threads and see what's happening during the NBA finals, during the Super Bowl, during the Met Gala if you're into fashion, during the Grammys, or the Emmys. So we do need to be a place for news. I just don't think that it's our place to be showing you political takes from people you don't follow. I think that's fundamentally going to create more problems than it solves.

My experience is that, right now, Threads is very far from living up to that idea. But hopefully, they’re moving in the right direction.

What should we do now?

So, what can you do about this now?

For most people reading this, nothing. We’re getting a glimpse of a possible future of social media that might be years away from coming to fruition. On the other hand, if you’re running a multi-author title writing for a tech-savvy audience, and you have a responsive dev team, this is almost certainly worth playing with…

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.