Mastodon, the upstart anti-Twitter that everyone is talking about has one glaring problem.
You can't delete your account.
In reality, Mastodon has many issues, including this one. For example, it's a distributed social network, so there are clusters of users living on different domains. That means not everyone can find and talk to each other. Some consider this a plus, since it allows for whole topic-based Twitter-like communities where people needn't worry about being bothered by off-topic conversations or topic trolls.
Multiple servers also means that creating one account for yourself on one instance or domain does not mean you have that handle locked up for all of Mastodon. Anyone can swoop in a create an account with your name.
Even verification is fake. There is no Mastodon verification, but users created one and now green checks are growing like weeds across the platform.
For all these reasons, you might want to delete your Mastodon account. Yet, as hard as we looked across multiple nodes/instances/domains and in one of the best Mastodon apps, Amaroq, there simply is no way to do it.
Actor, author and social media star William Shatner told me on Thursday that, after joining a few days ago, he has deep concerns about the platform and the inability to delete his account. He voiced many of them in message to the owner of his Mastodon node, Adam Thurlow. In the note, Shatner takes issue with what he perceives as a lack of security checks and balances for all the myriad nodes:
Anyone can create a node by taking the open source code and placing it on a server.
If a public persona then creates an account on that server under the misconception that it is a secured site; then private conversations, passwords, email addresses could all be made public by an unscrupulous node admin.
As a public figure, Shatner is often beating back fake accounts on various social media networks. The situation on Mastodon, he wrote, could be worse:
In addition there can be a WilliamShatner account on every node. So a troll could set up an account in my name and start saying or doing acts of harm that will get attributed to me. Then I have to defend myself and try to get the world to understand that @WilliamShatner@badnode.com is not the same as @WilliamShatner@mastodon.club.
Shatner wants off of Mastodon, but he may, like a growing number of other Mastodon users, be stuck:
For these reasons I want to delete my account; yet that seems impossible to do. I was wondering what steps I have to go through to delete it?
According to other Mastodon users, account deletion as a feature is in the works. It is listed as open issue #109 on Github. In the meantime, Mastodon users, you can't delete your Mastodon account, but your node or instance admin can. That will kill the account for that node, but not other instances. You must contact each admin to do that.
The other option is to individually delete each post, essentially empty your account.
These options feel like a step back from current, modern social networks that give users control over this most basic privacy and security function.
Shatner, by the way, did get a reply from Thurlow, who more or less deleted Shatner's Mastodon account on the .club node. Unfortunately, Thurlow could not guarantee that other instances are also gone:
"Due to the nature of federation, we cannot tell other instances that have already federated your public data to delete it on their servers. Only on your home server, where all references now kaput."
Shatner was less than comforted, especially since it's clear that his profile remains on Mastodon.club, but no one can access or interact with it.
Thurlow also compared Mastodon and what users are calling the "fediverse" to email. It's an analogy I heard within Mastodon, as well:
I find a good analogy of the users around the mastodon fediverse is email. You can have email@example.com, but anyone can sign up for any other email provider with williamshatner@[yahoo|hotmail|badnode].com. It's the same here on mastodon, that you choose your trusted home instance and your communications are homed from that location primarily.
But Mastodon is not email, is it?
This is exactly why having a distributed social network can be such a problem. No one really owns their core handle and no one can effectively delete the ones they have created.
"It's a headache at best and a disaster in the making," said Shatner.