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What is the 'fediverse' and why can't we fully access it in Europe?

The 'fediverse' is a new way of open social networking.
The 'fediverse' is a new way of open social networking. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Anna Desmarais
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Thread users everywhere except the EU will now see their posts deeper in the so-called "fediverse". We take a look at this new more privacy-focused way of being on social media.

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Thread users everywhere will now see their posts deeper in the so-called "fediverse," Meta announced this week. Except, that is, those who live in the European Union.

Before this, users would have to go to Mastodon or Bluesky to see any replies to their Thread posts that were syndicated there, meaning you’d have to bounce from app to app, but now users won’t have to. 

The announcement is part of Meta’s wider expansion of a "fediverse" to over 100 countries; a significant move from its initial availability for users in the US, Canada, and Japan only. 

But what is the fediverse? Short for "federated universe," it’s a group of "interconnected but still independent social media servers," according to Meta. 

How does it work?

Meta wants users to think about the fediverse "like an email" being sent between a Google and a Yahoo account. That’s possible because email accounts use a universal set of rules to communicate across the Internet. 

That’s what Threads’ integration into the fediverse proposes: users will now be able to interact with people using other social media platforms without having to switch between their accounts. 

"Unlike email, your 'fediverse' conversations and profile are public and can be shared across servers," Meta said in a Threads/Instagram carousel explaining the new initiative. 

"Imagine posting on Threads and having people see your post on Tumblr or Flipboard". 

ActivityPub, not Meta, is the decentralised social networking protocol that makes the fediverse work. The protocol, standardised by the World Wide Web consortium, lets its users send messages, operate control rooms, and sync messages. 

Mastodon is the largest social media platform in the fediverse, with 15 million accounts and roughly 871,000 of them active monthly users, as of June 27. The social network popped up in response to Elon Musk’s acquisition of X, formerly Twitter. 

Other social networks in the fediverse are PeerTube, similar to YouTube, and popular website creator Wordpress. Tumblr, a popular microblogging site with millennials, is also working with ActivityPub to get in on the fediverse. 

Why are EU citizens excluded?

Last December, Meta launched Threads in the EU, six months after the platform’s initial launch in over 100 countries including the US and the UK. 

The platform now reaches over 150 million users after 100 million new sign-ups in its first week. 

Media reports at the time widely blamed the EU's new Digital Markets Act (DMA) for the delay, because Meta would’ve had to seek permission from the bloc over the app’s privacy provisions. 

While Meta did not confirm this directly in media reports, the Guardian newspaperquotedAdam Mosseri, the Head of Instagram, as saying there are some "significant complexities" to launching Threads due to new laws. 

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The EU actually had a presence in the fediverse, until recently. 

In 2022, the EU through the Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) launched EU Voice and EU Videos, two social media channels in the fediverse that they described as a way of testing "alternative social media channels".

They closed the accounts on May 18 to "review the data" of their project. 

By the end of the project, EU Voice and EU VIdeo hosted a combined 46 accounts dedicated to the public service, including EU members of parliament and the commissioners, which made them “the largest group of public bodies present on the Fediverse globally,” according to an April statement. 

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“[The pilot project] proves that community-driven and decentralised social media platforms may prioritise users’ fundamental rights to privacy and personal data, and foster the EU’s digital sovereignty,” the statement continued. 

The EDPS said they’re committed to "exploring innovative solutions," on how to use the fediverse "following the success of this pilot project". 

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