Digital sovereignty: Switzerland creates its instance on Mastodon

Estimated read time 6 min read

The mastodon, mascot of the social network Mastodon, by its creator Eugen Rochko (under GNU AGPL license, Wikimedia Commons)

While Twitter, which has become X, is bumping with the modifications decided by its whimsical owner Elon Musk, the search for other communication channels continues, on the side of competing social networks as well as users. On Mastodon, which is both free software and a decentralized network – and not a company – you can either join an existing server, or “instance”, or create your own. This is what Switzerland has just done, reports the Swiss online media Watson.

“Escape the control of a single company”

The Confederation has published a press release announcing this one-year pilot project: “The body created by the Federal Chancellery as part of its pilot project on Mastodon is named” “. It is at the disposal of the Federal Council and the departments to host official accounts. Users with an account with the other instances of the network can follow the accounts of and read the contents, in accordance with the rules and uses of Mastodon. (…)

Some features of Mastodon make it attractive for government communication. Its decentralized organization and the absence of recourse to a central server, allow the platform to escape the control of a single company or state censorship. Mastodon is respectful of data protection, because it is the operators of the instances who decide the fate of user data. They are mostly transparent in this regard, limiting the collection of data to the minimum necessary for exploitation and explicitly excluding the sale and trade of data. The instance of the Federal Chancellery will also be managed in compliance with data protection.»

“The project will last one year and will be followed by an evaluation which will determine the follow-up to be given to this experience.»

The information officer of the Federal Chancellery said: “What interests the Federal Chancellery is to know to what extent this platform differs from the others in terms of government communication,” reports Watson. The Swiss website indicates that “in addition to the Federal Chancellery and the government spokesman André Simonazzi, there are currently the accounts of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the Federal Department of the Interior and the Department of Economy, training and research”.

Master your communication

The Swiss state does not abandon its presence on other social networks, but in the case of Mastodon, there is a clear stake, notes Watson: “It is digital sovereignty that is at stake here. This is in any case the opinion of Florian Siegenthaler. Administrator within the FairSocialNet association, which manages in particular an important Swiss body” “: “I see a very big advantage in the sense that they master their communication”.

The Waldensian recalls an episode in 2020 when the Federal Office of Communication (OFCOM) had its four Twitter accounts closed overnight without any explanation.»

He reminds that each body defines its own rules – the Swiss state therefore does not risk being blocked following the umpteenth fad of a billionaire, for example, as we saw for a time on Twitter for journalists displeasing Her Majesty. Watson recalls that “Switzerland is not the first state to try its hand at Mastodon’s ‘toots’ (the equivalent of tweets). Germany has already taken the plunge in 2022, by also creating its own instance,” “, which hosts a hundred accounts at the moment.

The European Union launched around the same time with the body “ “. There are about twenty representatives of European institutions such as the European Commission, with 90,000 subscribers, or the European Union Agency for the Space Program (EUSPA)” (3,100 subscribers).

A network still less than one hundredth of Twitter users

Mastodon still remaining tiny (2.1 million active users in July according to its creator Eugen Rochko) compared to X (255 million active in November 2022 according to Elon Musk), the accounts mentioned here are not the same size: on X, 18,600 subscribers for EUSPA and especially 1.8 million followers for the European Commission (main account, in English).

In May 2022, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS, or EDPS in English) announced the launch for the European institutions of an instance, EU Voice, on Mastodon, as well as its installation (EU Video) on PeerTube, free alternative to YouTube. With arguments similar to those now used by Switzerland:

“With the pilot launch of EU Voice and EU Video, we aim to offer alternative social media platforms that prioritize individuals and their rights to privacy and data protection. Concretely, this means, for example, that EU Voice and EU Video are not based on transfers of personal data to countries outside the European Union and the European Economic Area; there are no advertisements on the platforms; and there is no profiling of people likely to use the platforms. These measures, among other things, give individuals choice and control over how their personal data is used.»

“Free, out of the GAFAM system”

In November 2022, the Ministry of National Education, in turn, created its own instance for teachers: mastodon.mim-libre now indicates 246 active accounts.

Another example of a public service on the social network, the Isère city of Echirolles announced in February its arrival on Mastodon: “It is a social network in accordance with the digital strategy of Echirolles: free, outside the GAFAM system, and which therefore does not endanger the personal data of agents and users. Positioning yourself on a server hosted in France is also a guarantee of compliance with national and European laws and regulations (CNIL, GDPR, etc.).

It also means participating in a non-profit network, and therefore without advertising.»
“The SITPI (Intercommunal Syndicate for telematics and IT services), of which Échirolles is a member with Pont-de-Claix and Fontaine, has created a server only in France:, reserved only for agents, services and elected officials of French territorial authorities who would like to create an account on Mastodon.»

The director of strategy and digital culture of Echirolles, Nicolas Vivant, has devoted several articles (including this one on the Framablog) to the degooglization policy of his community.

Read also

Free and open source express: National Education on Mastodon, Smile and Europe, Red Hat, Nonfiction – November 1, 2022

The European institutions are coming to Mastodon and PeerTube, alternatives to Twitter and YouTube – May 8, 2022

Mastodon: the social network that could supplant Twitter – April 5, 2017

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