7th Dec 2022


Editor's weekly digest: So we're on Mastodon now

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Last week I wrote that Mastodon was shitty, and for the second time in the very short life of this newsletter, I'm going to have to eat my own words.

As the clown show at Twitter intensified over the past week — with Elon Musk even saying that bankruptcy might not be out of the question — I decided EUobserver should at least check out what all the fuss is about, and have some sort of backup if Twitter does go under.

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We were far from the only ones. Monday morning (7 November), the morning we joined, Mastodon's CEO and lead developer announced the platform had reached the milestone of 1 million active monthly users.

I'm not going to get into the weeds of explaining how Mastodon works. Pretty much every publication has done that this week, so just Google it and pick your poison.

We joined the instance/server/community, because it seemed appropriate. It's a small (just over 500 users) and "privately owned Mastodon instance for the EU policy bubble," as the about page states, moderated by four individuals.

After being verified (not Twitter verified, just the process of admins accepting one's application to join a server), we posted our first 'toot'.

I used the platform all of this week, and it has honestly been a very refreshing experience. First of all, because Twitter has become basically unusable because I tend to follow too many people, making it completely random who I see. Second, because it's a given that the things we post go out primarily to a group of users who probably care about EU policy.

Being there gave the sense of a fresh start, not only in who to follow, but also in how to post.

One of my pet peeves has been lamenting the way that most social platforms have become more of a method of distribution rather than a place of connection. It's a megaphone for broadcasting content, opinion, or whatever, in the hopes it reaches a large group of people, rather than a platform for interaction.

Where many Twitter migrants just pick up where they left off (including many men who changed their expertise from immunology to warfare to now Mastodon etiquette, calling people out on their incorrect use of 'content warnings'), I'd like to use our presence there to hopefully roll back on some of the emergent flaws of publishers on social platforms.

Basically, publishers just use social media as a one-way street to put out content and generate traffic. To create visibility and provide easy access, but not much else.

The instance we're in, and the followers we've gained, seems to include people with terrific expertise in all kinds of areas, from human rights to tax law to digital surveillance. What I'm hoping for is to make more of a relationship with them.

First, by hopefully learning to master Mastodon etiquette, but also by encouraging constructive discussions and debate on the articles we post. This would not only be an interesting use of our journalist's expertise and research on a topic to answer questions, but also a way for readers to share information with us that could lead to more reporting.

I believe a new platform (for many of us joining the party lately, Mastodon has been around for years by now), also creates the opportunity for a new culture with new habits, manners and etiquette. A culture that's hopefully less toxic, less status-driven, less clout-grubbing and less conducive to the 'braindead microphone', as George Saunders put it.

Anyway, if you're interested in following our attempts at doing something new, follow us on And bare with us for any stupid or cringy mistakes we (I) might make.

Onwards to the articles you should not have missed this week:

Russia on 'irreversible' path to clash with West, France says

"The rupture introduced by the war and the irreversibility of Russian strategic choices make it necessary to anticipate a confrontation with Moscow," the French Secretariat-General for National Defence and Security (SGDSN) said Wednesday.

"The Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Baltic area, the Balkans, the North Atlantic, but also Africa and the Middle East offer prospects of prolonged confrontation coupled with risks of potentially escalating incidents."

Read it.

EU Commission pitches loosening fiscal rules for 'new reality'

The EU Commission on Wednesday (9 November) presented long-awaited proposals on redrawing fiscal rules for the bloc — after a decade of austerity left European countries exposed to the new challenges of energy and price hikes.

The fresh rules, seemingly inspired by the Covid-19 recovery fund structure, would have governments negotiate a four-year debt reduction path with the commission and then have EU ministers give their green light to it.

Read it.

Can Mastodon be the first big social network 'Made in Europe'?

"If Mastodon thrives, many will hail it as a new European tech player.

But the platform holds a more valuable promise — the establishment of a more democratic social network that can be used by anybody, everywhere in the world, without being manipulated by big money, the whims of billionaires or repressive governments."

Read it.

Europol given 'blank cheque' to do what it wants, say critics

"We see a big risk for the rule of law," said Chloe Berthelemy, a senior policy advisor at the Brussels-based European Digital Rights, noting a general trend towards predictive policing that largely relies on vast data collection.

This in turn leads to mass surveillance and bulk data analysis, via algorithm-processing, based on pre-determined criteria such as country of origin, migration status and gender, she said.

She said predictive policing restricts rights, including the presumption of innocence, right to privacy and non-discrimination.

Read it.

Phone spying scandal exposes 'impotent' Europe, says lead MEP

"Democracy in Europe is being undermined by alleged government-led spyware on citizens, journalists and politicians, says a leading MEP.

"When it comes to defending the most important thing, democracy and freedom, Europe is weak and impotent," said Dutch liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld on Tuesday (8 November), who is demanding an "immediate moratorium" on the software throughout the EU."

She also accused the European Commission from "shying away from enforcement".

Read it.

Erdoğan to Sweden: Extradite newspaper editor, or no Nato

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has turned the thumbscrews on Sweden by personally naming who he wants Swedish judges to extradite in return for Nato membership.

"It is crucial that Sweden extradites terrorists sought by Türkiye, including senior FETÖ figure Bülent Keneş," Erdoğan said.

Keneş is an exiled Turkish editor, who used to run the Zaman newspaper, and who was once jailed for tweets deemed insulting to Erdoğan.

Read it.

Post-2008 austerity has made EU citizens €3,000 per year worse off

"As a result of austerity policies, European governments are now spending €1000 less on public and social services per person than they would have without these cuts, as recent research by the New Economics Foundation and Finance Watch showed.

Austerity has contributed to European citizens being nearly €3000 a year worse off and made us less resilient to economic shocks, like those resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine."

Read it.

As always, thank you to all new subscribers to this newsletter, and also as always, my various inboxes are open for feedback, suggestions, tips, leaks, ideas and gossip — now also on Mastodon.

See you next week,


Editor's weekly digest: Pushback pushback

The Olaf report on Frontex published in full this week highlights once again one of the cruelest euphemisms used in talking about people wanting to cross borders.


Autocrats make us all less secure

How should democratic states co-operate with authoritarian governments in the future? My organisation, Democracy Reporting International, has studied the security strategies of 13 democratic governments to understand how they see this relationship.

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