Mastodon 102: How to Follow (or Unfollow)

Mastodon 102: How to Follow (or Unfollow)

After leaving Twitter completely, as I shared in “Me and Social Media“, I have had time to explore (where 🙌 is in my username if you can see it), (💜),, and some of the other instances that talk to them.

I’ve also poked through articles and sites offering help in using these services. One article on The Verge frequently comes up in searches. I think it’s one of the better written articles about Mastodon from a commercial media source, but Barbara Krasnoff ‘s “Mastodon 101: how to follow (and unfollow) other accounts” can be no less misleading.

Here are a few of the things I’ve discovered that aren’t quite correct and a few instructions that build off of what Krasnoff did well.

It doesn’t matter that much which instance you first join.

This is wrong for at least of couple of reasons.

  1. Each instance has its own set of rules, or terms of service. Joining an instance where your interests are against everyone else’s is frustrating. If this hasn’t happened to you, then imagine trying to set everything up while your posts are being deleted by the admin, moderators are telling you to stop doing what you signed up to do, or your account is suspended without a direct warning. The culture of Mastodon instances can vary considerably from what people are used to on Twitter, Facebook, or WordPress. Even though the moderators are usually trying to make better spaces than what many of their followers were used to, the meaning of better can vary. That might mean the instance was created for sharing beach photos while you really want somewhere to share infographics about poverty in desert metro areas; you and the photographers around you will all be unhappy. As you probably want to avoid unexpected clashes that can prevent you from exporting your posts and follow list for a move, read the About (or equivalent) page for the instance you’re considering. Take all the guidelines seriously.
  2. Instances aren’t connected to each other the same way. Each instance chooses how it connects (or federates) to other servers running Mastodon and related services. Servers running Mastodon aren’t all talking to each other. So while you’re on the About page of an instance you’re considering, look for a list of instances it blocks, has suspended, or silences. If your friends or fans are on those restricted instances, you’ll likely have trouble finding and being found by them from the instance you’re considering.

Hashtags Are Your Friends.

Yes, but… watch for how hashtags are used on your instance. The expectations vary across Mastodon and the rest of the Fediverse. Your admins might want you to put your hashtags at the end of the post. They might want you to not to that, because it’s actually frustrating for low-vision or Blind users of screen readers (which can typically turn off the reading of the word “hashtag” but not skip over a block of tags).

Don’t sweat it.

Sure, and to me, that means accept the difficulties.

Understanding how federation works and doesn’t work isn’t easy for anyone, not even the instances admins. (Although, many are gracious in trying to answer questions about why basic features don’t seem to work!)

Not everything will work as described. Mastodon is complex and constantly changing. My advice here is to ask questions, share what you can, and keep an open enough mind to relax while learning.

That said, please remember to take breaks when it’s too frustrating. Chances are good that figuring out how to use Mastodon is not a life-or-death concern.

How to (un)follow many people at once

You’ve decided to move to a new instance. You might want accounts on multiple instances.  Whatever brings up the question, what do you do when you have more than a few people you want to follow in a new instance?

Or, what do you do when you want to unfollow a bunch of accounts?

Let’s take on both of these questions at the same time.

Navigate the search. The slow way is to find search out each account one by one. This is the same process typically described for following (see the Verge article), so you you’re likely already familiar with it.

Export-Edit-Import. A faster way for large numbers when you know the names—for example, when you’re setting up another account on a separate instance or experienced a problem—is to go to Preferences and download your list of who you’re currently following. That list will be on a spreadsheet in .csv format.

Image showing steps to download Follows. 1- Go to Import and Export. 2- Ensure "Data export" is selected". 3- Go to "Follows". 3- Select "CSV" to download.

If you need to modify the list: Open the spreadsheet in LibreOffice Cal, Microsoft Excel, Zoho Sheet, or another app/program that will read it. Combine lists from your multiple accounts or delete lines for accounts you no longer want to follow. Save the spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet can then be imported. The default action is likely to merge your record into an existing one. The “Merge” option is what you need if you’re adding followers for the first time. To unfollow from a pared down list, choose the “Overwrite” option instead.

Screenshot of Import on Mastodon.

(Note that not all the same options are available in every instance or when using a non-browser app. You might need to ask around for a different process.)

Take evasive action. There are two ways to do this when you want to unfollow many accounts at once.

  1. Import a block list. Choose the “Blocking list” import type to not only unfollow the accounts but block them from pulling up your posts.
  2. Block the instance. This is an extreme option that I’m guessing is useful as an unfollowing method in very rare cases. (Maybe you followed all the accounts from before developing botphobia. I don’t know.) The point is you as an individual (as in, not for your instance) can block an entire instance. That’s the fastest way to unfollow everyone from the same servers if you’re willing to block everyone from there.

Trust a little extra when following

The last tip I want to share in this post is about looking at account profiles. This is an area currently causing me minor frustrations.

Mastodon users (or, if you like, people on Mastodon) frequently respond to an increase in follow requests by tooting advice: add profile info and post publicly a few times before following others. That’s good advice! Who else except the people who are already your friends or fans will know what type of posts to expect from you in their Home timeline if they can’t see examples?

The problem is with the assumption that if you can’t see anything, the other person has shared nothing (publicly). That’s a problem because it’s untrue.

I don’t understand why yet—despite asking around and reading dozen of advice pieces over the past several weeks—but it’s now certain that servers won’t show all the expected posts or updated profile information to everyone when they look at the “original page”. I have doubts my untagged posts are so much as going to the Local or Federated timelines on my own instance.

Someone watching in the public areas for my name likely won’t see it. Going directly to my profile page won’t show everything. Not only that, you might see nothing except for the first avatar image I uploaded and my initial profile bio. In one test of, less than 5% of my posts on come up. Those might be the posts with URLs that had been copied and pasted in the .lol search. The invisibility of all the other posts, older and newer, was regardless of interactions between my .art account and multiple .lol accounts.

You’d have to be curious enough to follow my account to see more of my posts. That should at least give you my future posts if not any of what was published before you followed.

What you see (elsewhere) isn’t what you get (in your timeline), and what you get might not be what you supposed to be visible to start with.

So, maybe, follow and unfollow readily and often to see what you want.


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