On The Fediverse, No One Knows You're A Liar

One of the reasons I'm still on the original Mastodon.social instance is that I am vain. I joined shortly after the project was announced and, as a consequence, I have a "joined" date of 2016 and a user ID of under 10,0001. This doesn't make me an "elder statesman" and is rarely useful beyond bragging rights.

If I moved to a different server, my "birthday" would be irrevocably lost 😢

But… what if I moved to a self-hosted Mastodon instance? Why! Then the database would be under my complete control and I could put whatever data I wanted in there. I could even lie about things!

Surely no one would be that silly though?

The other day I was chatting with someone whose follower count was so high that it temporarily broke my client.
Screenshot of the Mastodon interface. It claims the user has 97 million posts, follows 97 thousand people, and is followed by 97 billion accounts. Its join date is March 1997.

To be clear, the account @admin@mastodon.adtension.com is being deliberately provocative here. I don't think that they expect anyone to believe that they have more followers than the entirety of humanity, nor that they started using Mastodon last century.

This isn't a problem limited to Mastodon and ActivityPub. Twitter controls its own database and could, if it wanted to, inflate follower numbers for insecure people.

And, before you get too excited, this isn't a usecase for BlockChain! In theory, multiple servers could write statistics to a ledger (1,000 people on example.social follow @edent@whatever.social) but they have no way of verifying each others' statistics. So a determined user could have multiple fake instances writing fake data to the chain.

Chasing status is a mug's game. Anyone can hire a sports car for the afternoon and rent a fancy suit - that doesn't mean they're a celebrity. Similarly, anyone can lie on the Fediverse and make you believe they're a social media superstar.

Don't believe the hype!

  1. Anyone else remember Slashdot? 

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5 thoughts on “On The Fediverse, No One Knows You're A Liar”

  1. @Edent Ha, I never even noticed it tracked that kinda thing.
    The only time I've run into something similar was on a Slashdot discussion thread a while back where I had people criticizing someone who disagreed with something I'd said purely because I had a low user ID number so I must be right. 🙃


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