The Viral Toot

The viral toot, or the nearest thing I have ever had to a viral toot, was a humorous comparison of Windows, MacOS and Linux labelled “How To Fix Any Computer” which I posted on 4 Aug 2023.

The Toot

The joke leaflet image was something I found many years ago. And, recently whilst searching my image library for something else, I stumbled across it again. So I put it up on Mastodon.

joke leaflet - see full text in the blogpost

The Alt text is:

How To Fix Any Computer

Windows – Reboot.

Did that fix it? No? Format hard drive. Reinstall Windows. Lose all your files. Quietly weep.

Apple – Take it to an Apple store.

Did that fix it? No? Buy a new Mac. Overdraw your account. Quietly weep.

Linux – Learn to code in C. Recompile the kernel. Build your own microprocessor out of spare silicon you had lying around. Recompile the kernel again. Switch distros. Recompile the Kernel again but this time using a CPU powered by refracted light from Saturn. Grow a giant beard. Blame Sun Microsystems. Turn your bedroom into server closet and spend ten years falling asleep to the sound of whirring fans. Switch distros again. Abandon all hygiene. Write a regular expression that would make other programmers cry blood. Learn to code in Java. Recompile the kernel again (but this time while wearing your lucky socks).

Did that fix it? No? Revert back to using Windows or a Mac. Quietly weep.

The Response

Within a couple of hours, my post had already exceeded 40 interactions on Mastodon. About a month ago I discovered that stops reporting more than 40 notifications and just says 40+. This is the best example I can provide right now, just imagine it says 40+ and not 26.

a mastodon info panel reporting 26 notifications

I also learnt that when you have a viral toot your timeline becomes tediously unmanageable. A few dozen replies, a few hundred boosts and a few  hundred more favourites. The first handful of replies (mainly from people I already know in real life) where in character with my humorous intent. Once you have many interactions it actually becomes difficult to scroll down the page, spot the ones with text rather than boosts of the image file, and read them all,

The Fallout

Then over time, the replies increasingly went toxic! As if I alone was singlehandedly responsible for the entire ecosystem of computer operating systems and the adverse effects that it has on some users.

Around 24 hours after posting I gave up examining any of the responses. And the comments, the boosts and the favourites continued at quite a pace. This screenshot from my mobile phone shows more than 1,000 interactions in the first 5 days. Some of those 45 replies have still not been read and never will be.

screenshot of a mobile phone - as at 9 Aug 2023 - showing the toot with 45 replies 473 boosts and 696 favourites

What I did learn is that popular people with Mastodon accounts (like Stephen Fry) will simply not have the time to check all the interactions, and (assuming the responses become toxic) will not even want to. That has been my experience.

Here’s another example:

screenshot of a Stephen Fry toot promoting the play Bleak Expectations

As soon as I saw that toot I booked tickets. Two weeks later my family and I had a splendid night at the theatre, with Stephen Fry and others.

Later on, back on Mastodon, I scrolled through some of the replies to Stephen’s toot. The 3rd reply and the 9th are basically “Oi, Stephen, Alt text, do the Alt text!”

Yes, it’s nice to have Alt text. I have been building websites since 1997 and I use Alt text. However, on social media platforms the ability to add Alt text is a relatively new innovation. Give us time to adjust please! Especially older folks like me and Stephen Fry. In any case, the text in Stephen’s toot largely explains the image file, and that’s acceptable to the Mastodon community on GitHub. If the toot already tells the user what’s in the image, then users who have screen readers do not need to hear the same thing said twice.

Neither Stephen Fry nor I need brutal replies. We’d like to contribute more to social media in general, Mastodon in particular, and make it a nicer place. Not a toxic swamp like the one that bird site has become.

The Result

On 31 Dec 2021 I stopped using Twitter (18 months ago). More recently I gave up on LinkedIn (mid July 2023). I had been posting to LinkedIn roughly once per week (business tips, health and fitness tips, etc) and I was getting toxic replies. I don’t need that! I deleted all my LinkedIn posts and I won’t be adding any more.

The next time I have a viral toot (assuming I ever have another viral toot) I will stop checking the interactions. Human nature made me do it the first time. Those toxic interactions have ensured that I will now carefully pick and choose the intensity of my online communication. I want Mastodon to be a better experience than the others.