Tŵt Cymru and Threads

What is Federation, What is ActivityPub?

Tŵt Cymru operates a range of communications services that use an open, decentralised social networking protocol called “ActivityPub”. ActivityPub provides a method for software services to enable creating, updating, and deleting content, as well as delivering notifications and content.

The Fediverse is the collection of social networks and applications that can communicate with each other using ActivityPub, while remaining independent. Users on different communities, social networks and apps can send and receive updates across the network, creating an open, social web.

Mastodon is one example of a service that uses ActivityPub, but is by no means the only one. Mastodon accounts can follow or be followed by accounts on other Mastodon servers, but can also follow and be followed by accounts on a wide range of other services including Pixelfed, an image-sharing platform, Wordpress, a blogging platform, or Lemmy, a reddit-like platform, to name a few. Each of these platforms offers a way for users to create accounts and federate their content using ActivityPub. Apps like Flipboard also use the protocol, curating content-rich feeds from and to the broader network.

The various platforms of the fediverse, as well as other federated networks, visualised as a tree

In January 2018, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published the ActivityPub standard as a Recommendation, meaning that it is a standard that can be used by anyone to ensure their service or content can be transmitted across the network of services that use the same standard. The W3C develops standards and guidelines to help everyone build a web based on the principles of accessibility, internationalization, privacy and security. W3C standards define the open web.

Tŵt Cymru | Toot Wales

Tŵt Cymru was created with the intent to be part of the open web, a social network that relies on published standards, as opposed to closed networks that tie their users to specific apps and platforms. By creating a network based on open standards, Tŵt Cymru established itself as a proponent of the open web, with the belief that interpersonal communication should not be beholden to a particular corporation or platform.

Thanks to ActivityPub, Tŵt Cymru is connected to tens of thousands of other services and millions of accounts, enabling our members to interact with people all around the world using many different apps. While any of our members can block any individual or any server themselves, the Tŵt Cymru team sometimes make the service-level decision to allow or deny federation with third-party services based on their activity or content. The toot.wales denylist contains over 800 servers that are suspended or limited from interacting with our network.

A visualisation of toot.wales network connections

The reasoning that governs the decision to block a server is guided by our Federation Policy which describes the various steps that can be taken in response to content and conduct violations arising from third-party services. Our moderation team routinely reviews our policies, which are created to support our mission to provide an independent, non-profit, community-led social network for Wales and the Welsh, at home and abroad.

Federating with threads.net

With the increasing use of ActivityPub by large web corporations like Meta, Mozilla, Automattic and others, an increasing number of third-parties are being exposed to our services, and our members are similarly exposed to these services. threads.net, an ActivityPub-enabled service from Meta’s Instagram platform (“Threads”), is a specific concern, as many users of ActivityPub do so expressly as a way to avoid using services from Meta.

The question then becomes, to federate with the people on Threads who want to use the open web to communicate beyond the walls of Meta’s garden, or to defederate the entire service because the parent company has a history of terrible outcomes?

The decision taken by the Tŵt Cymru team is to initially allow federation with threads.net, working toward a positive outcome where users of a monolithic service can now interact with people using different apps and platforms, while carefully monitoring the safety and privacy of our members. Having a walled garden like Meta use the open web is a desirable outcome, and advances the explicit aims of operating open web social network systems like toot.wales. As with any third-party server, the option to limit or suspend federation remains available.

It is true to say that Threads may become a vector for harassment and abuse. We deal with this on a routine basis, from many existing ActivityPub-enabled services. We also understand that Threads is an Instagram product, and that Meta would not be enabling federation without some business objective. We believe the business objective is to comply with European law regarding the interoperability of its services. Instagram has stated they are a year away from full roll-out. We support the EU’s approach to regulating the harmful business practices of the major tech gatekeepers, and we believe the future of social media is ActivityPub. We believe that while Meta is a dominant gatekeeper currently; services like ours offering pathways of connectability to demonstrate the freedoms and options enabled by ActivityPub outweigh the anticipated harms. If we are wrong, we will revisit the decision.

We know that Threads, like many other ActivityPub services, houses a number of accounts we would not allow on our service. Tŵt Cymru moderators routinely suspend individual third-party accounts for violating our code of conduct, blocking that account from all toot.wales members, and we will continue to respond to all reports made by toot.wales members.

We understand not all members will be happy with this decision. We firmly believe everyone has the right to defederate anyone else, at any time, for any reason. Freedom to associate includes freedom to not associate. Work continues on improving the network and protocol to offer enhanced safety features, but there remains much to be done. Participating in an open social web implies a level of publicity or exposure to audiences that not all wish to be part of, and we will help any member who needs assistance moving their account to the server of their choice.

Frequently Asked Questions

This decision raises numerous questions, and the following list will be updated as new information becomes available. This list will cover Mastodon, additional updates will cover Tŵt Cymru’s Pixelfed and WriteFreely services.

Some additional reading on Threads joining the Fediverse