Defederation, Threads and You ( )

A lot of us are pretty new to the fediverse and we've arrived just in time to grapple with what is easily the biggest federation/defederation controversy ever to hit it. I've put this thread together to hopefully help communicate some of the more complex ideas that we're trying to get our heads around.

What does federation do?

On a basic level, federation is offering an agreement and ability to share your content with other services. Being part of the fediverse means that the content from your instance (e.g.,, can be requested by anybody else. It's a system of requests and responses, where you freely hand over your content to other services who ask for it. When there's a bunch of services doing the same thing, you can request the content from their servers, too.

For a weird interpersonal analogy, it's like your group of friends show up to a street party in-progress carrying a big thing of candy beans and you announce to the party, "We brought candy beans for everybody!" You place them down on the table with all the other snacks, and grab yourself a tasty assortment of the things everybody else brought. You don't eat everything; that sketchy dude over at the side brought a fondue pot and it looks kind of gross. In turn, some people come over and eat your candy beans and some people don't. Even more people will arrive to the party after you, and even though you technically didn't offer them your candy beans, they can have some too because they're for the party. Importantly, nobody is force-fed anybody else's snacks.

In this analogy, the party is the entire fediverse. The friend groups at the party are instances, and the snacks are all the posts, comments and other share-able interactions.

What does defederation do?

Defederating another server means your instance will stop requesting content from that server. For a real-world example, several instances have defederated, meaning that they have stopped asking that instance to share its content with them. Those other instances still request content from most other parts of the "threadiverse" (which is, let's just say it, the Reddit-like segment of the fediverse), but they no longer ask for or receive content, whether that's posts, comments, upvotes or anything else. That's defederation.

Let's go back to the party analogy. Remember that gross fondue pot? Your friend group gets in a huddle and you all agree: you don't want anything to do with that fondue. You all have a great night at the party, trying all kinds of tasty and interesting foods, some of which you've never had before but none of which are fondue. It doesn't take long before you forget the fondue is even there. Nobody even tries to offer you any. At worst, somebody asks what you think of the fondue and you tell them you're avoiding it because you don't like the way it's furtively bubbling away in the shadows.

The dude who brought the fondue is an instance that you've defederated from, and the fondue is his content which you find objectionable. Maybe it's racist, transphobic fondue. Your group of friends (instance) decided not to see, respond to, think about or otherwise deal with that content.

What doesn't defederation do?

Defederation is about what data comes in, not what goes out. Your instance is still part of the fediverse, so if somebody comes asking for your instance's content, it gets handed over as normal. This is true even if the request comes from a server your instance has defederated. Defederation doesn't make you invisible, it doesn't block anybody else from seeing you, it doesn't protect your content, it only means you never have to see their content.

Let's head back to the party. Here's the crazy part: that weird fondue guy is allowed to eat your candy beans even though you're not eating his fondue. This is just how parties work. When you bring something for the party, it's for everybody who showed up, whether they're you're friends, your friends' friends, total strangers, or some creepazoid who everybody seems to be avoiding. As soon as you start guarding the table going "Not you! You get the f— away from my f—ing candy beans!", it's not a party any more. Don't do that.

As an open protocol, the fediverse is a street party. Anybody might turn up (start an instance), including people who bring fondue (people or groups you find objectionable). You can choose not to eat the fondue (defederate them), but they will still be able to eat your candy beans (request your content). This is just how street parties and the fediverse operate. You get to decide what you eat, but not what anybody else eats.

How will Threads joining the Fediverse affect the threadiverse?

Up to this point, I've mostly been talking about the fediverse as a whole, but on Lemmy and, to a lesser extent, /kbin, our primary concern is with the threadiverse: the part of the fediverse which revolves around discrete communities made up of discussion threads. Microblogging (like Twitter, Mastodon and Threads) as a type of personalized short-form content is not the primary focus of /kbin, and not part of Lemmy at all.

Threads is entering a space in the fediverse which is dominated by Mastodon, so it's Mastodon and other fediverse microblogging services (including, to some extent, /kbin) which will most heavily feel the impact of Threads. It is currently possible for microblogging platforms like Mastodon to interact with the threadiverse, but it is not optimized for this type of content, with non-linear threads sorted by recency and user voting. Mastodon and other "microblogging-side" fediverse users have mostly just signed up for Lemmy/kbin accounts, because stuffing a link aggregator through a blog-shaped hole is a terrible experience. How many Mastodon users have you noticed in your time on the threadiverse?

Threads as it exists currently is even less optimized to interact with the threadiverse than Mastodon, with no support for accessing groups (which it would need to see Lemmy communities/kbin magazines) whatsoever. If Threads were to start federating today, without any way to navigate the threadiverse, the only way to interact with our threads would be to visit a Lemmy/kbin instance directly in order to find a thread they're interested in, then copy the address to that thread, paste it into Threads to load it up as if it was a Twitter/Mastodon/Threads timeline, and finally start interacting with it. Consider that this is too much effort for the average Mastodon user–will Threads users be even more dedicated to posting on Lemmy/kbin than Mastodon users are now? Probably not. It's possible Meta will implement groups support in Threads before they start federating, but that still places them where Mastodon is now: such a poor way to interact with the threadiverse that nobody bothers.

Party analogy: The threadiverse and the microblogging fediverse are two different parties, a couple of street apart. Occasionally, somebody from one party will wander over to see the other one, but everyone's speaking some foreign language they don't understand, so they get bored and wander off again.

Why are people worried about federating with Threads?

Many fediverse and threadiverse users are concerned that Meta's Threads joining the fediverse will be harmful to the rest of the fediverse, for a number of reasons. This will not be an exhaustive list, but some of the causes for concern people have stated include the following:

  1. Meta wants to attract the fediverse's users to leave their respective instances and join Threads instead

    The idea here is that Meta is specifically targeting the current fediverse userbase and desires to have them on their service

  2. Meta wants to embrace, extend and extinguish ( competing social media so that they have all of the users in perpetuity

    This is similar to the above, in that Threads will make proprietary improvements to their instance which make using alternatives an inferior experience so that people naturally prefer Threads, but with the end goal being that competitors die off so that future users have no choice but to join Threads

  3. Meta wants to access all of our data in order to use it against us for marketing or other creepy data-hoarding purposes

    This one's pretty self-explanatory.

  4. The large userbase of Threads (currently at 104 million registered accounts, compared to 12 million fediverse accounts) will overwhelm the culture and moderation of the fediverse

    Before anybody starts: yes, there's that many Threads accounts. Meta has reserved accounts for all one billion+ Instagram accounts but there is no indication that they are counting those as registered Threads accounts, which you can see for yourself by considering which number is bigger out of 104 million and 1 billion.

Some of these concerns have more merit than others, so let's address that next.

How will defederating from Threads protect us from the above?

Necessarily, some of the below are just my opinions since it's what I imagine Meta's motives are and how they relate to the goals of the threadiverse. While Meta may well be hostile to the fediverse, how it will impact the threadiverse is a different question.

  1. Meta wants the fediverse's current users

    Firstly, the fediverse is a drop in the ocean compared to Threads (104 million registered [note: not active, we don't have those figures] users). Obviously, Meta wants everybody, but their specific goals in terms of user-poaching are far more likely to center around the ~350 million active Twitter users than the ~12 million fediverse users (~3.5 million active). The threadiverse is smaller again, at something like 100,000 active users. We're not even in the same medium as Threads and the current size of our userbase is not a threat to Meta or anybody else's dominance in the social media space.

    Defederating prevents us from being exposed to the handful of Threads users who are dedicated enough to figure out how to post to the threadiverse via the Threads microblogging interface. They were unlikely to convince us to move to Threads in this manner, so defederation doesn't do much here. 100,000 threadiverse posters are not a high priority for Meta, who are currently gaining about 4 million Threads users per day.

  2. Meta wants to EEE the fediverse so that it never becomes a threat in future

    This is plausible, but again more of a concern for the microblogging side than the threadiverse. Threads could extinguish the entire microblogging community and we'd still be over here upvoting articles about how Meta just caused mastodons to go extinct for the second time in history.

    Defederating doesn't really do anything here. Until Meta decides to launch a Reddit-like (which could happen), any extension and extinguishing they do will be of software that's in the same microblogging arena as they are. Nothing indicates that they are currently trying to compete with link aggregators.

  3. Meta just wants our data

    The fediverse (including Threads in future) doesn't really get our "data" via ActivityPub in the way people generally think about it. ActivityPub doesn't share our IP addresses, email addresses, click tracking, etc. Only the public interactions we make are shared (posts, comments, votes), and we already know we're sharing those because we're posting them on the Internet. More importantly, defederating changes literally nothing about how much of our content Threads can see. Remember the street party: defederating means we're not eating Meta's fondue. They're still eating our thing of candy beans.

    Defederating does literally nothing to prevent Meta accessing your data.

  4. Threads will overwhelm the fediverse with their inferior content and culture

    Like the EEE fears, this one is legitimate but once again something that will primarily be felt by microblogging providers (/kbin included). Toxic users, advertisers, etc. can push garbage into feeds all day, but they will largely not be targeting the threadiverse because there's some 100 million sets of eyes to put that crap in front of on the microblogging side and it will be difficult-to-impossible for them to push that content into Lemmy/kbin threads from their interface that was never made to interact with the threadiverse.

    Defederating will again have a minimal impact, because Threads content is not coming to the threadiverse in the first place.

In short, these fears, for the threadiverse specifically, are mostly misplaced and not addressed by defederation anyway. Some of these concerns are valid for the microblogging softwares like Mastodon and to a lesser extent, /kbin, since microblogging is where Threads will be interacting with the fediverse and have the most opportunity to cause damage. While it's different for microbloggers, threadiverse instances defederating Threads is more of an ideological choice than a practical one, which is fine. I am passing no judgment on anybody who makes that decision.

Is there any chance Meta has good intentions?


But it might have intentions that are both self-serving and fediverse-neutral.

The absolute best intention I can possibly ascribe to Meta is that joining the fediverse is a CYA (cover your ass) mechanism to head off regulations, especially in the EU, where the newly-applicable Digital Markets Act regulates "gatekeepers" of Core Platform Services like online social networks to prevent them from using their popularity to hinder other providers becoming or remaining available.

The EU has not released their list of who they identify as "gatekeepers" currently, but it is expected to include all of "Big Tech": Alphabet, Amazon, Meta, Apple, and Microsoft. By joining the existing fediverse community, Meta may hope that this allows them to claim they are not in control of the social network and so not subject to DMA regulations, or failing that, that it proves Meta are playing fair with other social media providers since Threads is graciously allowing services like Mastodon to exist. This becomes even more likely when considering that direct Threads competitor Tumblr is also planning to join the fediverse.

The fact that Threads doesn't support federation yet and is also not available in the EU yet is probably not a coincidence, since in their current state there's no indication that they're trying to accommodate other social media providers as they would likely be required to do. Some of the obligations under the DMA are that social media "gatekeepers" must support communication with other social media platforms and portability of user accounts across different providers.

Let's have a look at Meta's big introduction of Threads (I'll quote you the good bit so you don't have to actually visit Facebook):

Compatible with Interoperable Networks

Soon, we are planning to make Threads compatible with ActivityPub, the open social networking protocol established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the body responsible for the open standards that power the modern web. This would make Threads interoperable with other apps that also support the ActivityPub protocol, such as Mastodon and WordPress – allowing new types of connections that are simply not possible on most social apps today. Other platforms including Tumblr have shared plans to support the ActivityPub protocol in the future.

We’re committed to giving you more control over your audience on Threads – our plan is to work with ActivityPub to provide you the option to stop using Threads and transfer your content to another service. Our vision is that people using compatible apps will be able to follow and interact with people on Threads without having a Threads account, and vice versa, ushering in a new era of diverse and interconnected networks.

(Emphasis mine.)

If you read past all the marketing jargon, this is almost word-for-word just checking off the terms of the Digital Markets Act one by one and very publicly drawing attention to that fact. "Hey, look at us, we're doing all the things. You don't even need to regulate us, look how good we're being!" This doesn't mean "You should trust Meta," but it does offer one possible explanation for why they want to join the fediverse which is not "to destroy the fediverse."


Defederation is about what an instance allows in, not what an instance allows out. Defederation stops you seeing the defederated instance's content, but it does not stop them seeing your instance's content.

Threads poses some danger to the fediverse, in particular the portion of it centered around microblogging (mostly Mastodon, but also Pleroma, parts of /kbin, etc.), but very little risk to the threadiverse.

The worst thing about the fediverse is all the fondue, but you don't have to eat it.

What's your problem with fondue?

Honestly nothing, I've never even had it. I just hate what the fondue represents.

smallpatatas , (edited ) avatar

A few things here.

The first one that comes to mind is that defederation DOES stop your posts from going to Meta's platform when combined with the AUTHORIZED_FETCH server setting, while a simple user-level block may not. Depending on your server's settings, your posts may or may not be available on the open web where Meta could scrape the data - but this is still very different from them appearing in the feed or search results of, say, the transphobic, racist, or antisemitic groups that call Meta home.

This has serious implications for user safety and should not be overlooked. In fact, user safety is one of the biggest issues I have seen people mention when advocating for defederation.

Second: it's not yet clear if threads will allow their users to follow people on Lemmy or Kbin servers. But if they do, their users - including, for instance, the millions of followers of some big celebrity or politician - would be able to uprank posts and influence what you end up seeing. You might have LibsOfTikTok tell their users to brigade any posts critical of them, who knows. Meta's own algorithms could end up surfacing certain posts to their users, making the post rankings here largely a reflection of what Meta wants their users to see.

In other words, there's a lot more to the story than just 'blocking their content' when it comes to why you would want full defederation.

Here are a couple of blog posts that go into more detail around some of the data & privacy issues with federation: discusses why defederation is much better than user-level blocking when it comes to protecting yourself from Meta discusses the things that Meta can learn about you via federation that they can't otherwise.

fancysandwiches , avatar

The whole line of thinking where we don't need to bother with defederating because your data can still end up over on Threads is not entirely correct. Yes, you can still grab data via RSS, yes you can still scrape data, but from an AP standpoint Threads users will not see or be able to interact with your content if you are on server that does not federate with Meta, and that is key. If the threads app can't see your data, and users there cannot follow or interact with your posts, then Meta cannot gather intelligence on you in relation to their users, which is completely different than scraping your data and viewing it in a vacuum. Your content is more valuable to Meta in relation to the content of their users and how they interact with you.

Yes, you can learn a bit about someone by observing them from a distance, but you learn so much more if you are interacting with them directly.

0xtero , (edited ) avatar

Finally someone who has a clue. That was well written and easy to understand. Thank you for all the work you put into that post!

Defederation is about what an instance allows in, not what an instance allows out. Defederation stops you seeing the defederated instance's content, but it does not stop them seeing your instance's content.

As a final, tiny little point of interest - there is a setting called AUTHORIZED_FETCH (Secure mode) which will force the requesting instance to authenticate. This can be used to stop the data from flowing out.

Of course enabling this is somewhat problematic as it tends to break other things. But it's there.

LedgeDrop ,

Thank you for the clarification. I was also confused by that quote (ie: if you can control who’s data your reading… you should be able to control who has access to your data. Of course, this doesn’t include mirroring content and other shady practices, but I don’t think Meta would go down that path to avoid being defederated)

mrbitterness , avatar

On Mastodon at least, neither authorized fetch, nor "disallow unauthenticated API requests" really stops the outflow. it does in an ActivityPub sense, however, I have both flags activated on my instance, but Mastodon has an RSS feed for every account, by just adding .rss to the profile URL, and anyone can pull that without authentication.

The option to turn off .rss feeds for accounts doesn't exist in a standard mastodon install. the Hometown fork of Mastodon has the option to disable it.

So while the flags above will help prevent random discovery/propagation by others on the Fediverse, there are still open doors for accessing the data, at least on Mastodon. I can't really speak for the other projects.

Roundcat , avatar

What is with Lemmy's obsession with beans?

Ignacio , avatar
onceuponaban , avatar

You'd think it would be kbin that would be obsessed with beans, going by the name.

shamus , avatar

What if I really like croutons but don't care about the rest of the fondue .. but my node has defederated the entire fondue? Am I left crouton-less?

digitalgadget ,

You can create accounts across as many instances as you want, it's just less convenient if you have to separately visit the crouton table.

hiyaaaaa23 ,

Well said. I’m personally of the opinion that while meta may only have self serving intentions, they could also actually help the Fediverse grow. Either way, the whole idea of the Fediverse is that anyone can set up an instance. Including meta. This is not a bug, it’s a feature.

livus , avatar

I feel smarter having read that!

Seriously, this is a really good write up. Thank you for posting it!

I still think EEE has the potential to damage us all but you make good points.

Glatorius , avatar

@vaguerant Thanks to this article, I learned that defederation does not do what I thought it does.
Important to know within the Threads-discussion context.

426UpgradeRequired ,

This provides a lot of value for us beginners even outside of the threads issue at hand. Federation is a complex idea and lemmy its my first “real” exposure. Great write up

ircnode ,

Thanks for the time and effort writing this. It’s good to have an objective view and informed opinion about this topic. How it would look in threadiverse if it federated with Threads which is a more of a microblogging plafform (according to your explanation) than a forum-like structure like lemmy? Will the content in Threads be dumped into its own ‘community’?

vaguerant OP , avatar

For the most part, Threads content just wouldn't appear on Lemmy at all. It's like how you can't see Mastodon users' timelines on Lemmy. e.g. Jeri Ryan from Star Trek is on, but you can't read her blog from Lemmy because it just doesn't display microblog content, only stuff that's sorted into groups (communities).

The one exception is that Jeri Ryan can track down the equivalent group on her Mastodon instance and "microblog" directly into the group. Mastodon has some hacky tweaks to do things like reading the first sentence as a heading, the second line as a URL, and the third line as the post body, so if you're especially dedicated you can post to Lemmy from Mastodon. If Threads cares enough, they could add similar functionality to Threads to make it technically possible to post to Lemmy as long as you try hard enough, but just regular people's blog posts on Threads won't display on Lemmy at all.

ReCursing , avatar

on kbin all non-threadiverse content that is not swept up by other magazines via hashtags ends up in /m/random

melmc , avatar

@vaguerant The word "transphobia" is hate speech to Christians. We don't fear transvestism. We just have moral objections to it because it's condemned by Scripture. My experience has been that the threadiverse is predominantly inhabited by Marxists who condemn everything they disagree with as "fascist".

ReCursing , avatar

Oh look a troll. On the off chance you're not a troll, the idea that you took the word "transphobia" as an attack on you personally says a lot more about you than anything else. Please go and read what Jesus actually said, or the closest we can get (by which I mean read the Gospels minus the apologetics)

Kichae , (edited )

I keep seeing people say that defederating from a server means your site will still send content to that server, but I don't actually see that happening in practice.

It also doesn't really make sense from a systems point of view.

If I have a server block list, that list is really only acting locally. Any site I put on that list doesn't know its been blackballed. Instead, I just refuse to accept content from it. Importantly, this is a refusal of delivery, not a stop request. When receiving content from remote sites, your site isn't actively making update requests. You basically just add yourself to a mailing list, and you and your instance get sent anything that you've signed up for. So, stuff keeps getting sent even even after your instance has defederated, it's just being filtered out before it reaches you.

But if I've blocked communications with another website, I've blocked communications with them. That should mean incoming and outgoing. If this isn't how Lemmy treats their block lists, that's kind of bizarre.

It's also not how I've seen things pan out in practice. Communities hosted on beehaw, for instance, are totally out of sync with the mirrors hosted on sites they've defederated from. Those sites do not appear to be getting updates from beehaw. There are a few breakthrough posts here and there, but from what I've seen they're few and far between, and it's possible they're arriving via third party.

I don't think the potluck analogy is a great one here, unfortunately. In the potluck, as described, all of the food gets placed in a central location, and people from all over can come and pick what they want from the table.

But there is no table here. There's no central location where instances go to pull content in from. Everything is passing back and forth from each other.

Instead, at this potluck, you carry your beans around with you all night, and sometimes people let you know that they'd like some beans. Thr fondu guy is also lugging his pot around, and sharing with people who ask.

But if you're not on speaking terms with the fondu guy, if he asks you for some beans, you're just going to say "no".

He can still get beans, though. And this is where I think things get hazy and difficult to interpret based on observed communities. Because if Iask you for some beans, and you give them to me, I can see that fondu guy doesn't have any, and I can share some of them with him.

He doesn't need to talk to you to get your beans. That doesn't mean you're actively handing them out to him, though. And he's at the mercy of other people who may be willing to share those beans.

And if everyone at the party decides they don't want to share with him?

Well, then he goes beanless, no matter how open he is to receiving beans.

stu , avatar

Yeah, the defederation metaphor falls apart as you described because subscriptions to communities requires two way communication, which isn’t going to happen because beehaw isn’t going to acknowledge subscription requests from instances it’s blocked. Instances blocked by beehaw would probably have to do the same type of thing Threads or Mastodon users would have to do to bring in Lemmy content by manually bringing it in via searching the federation link.

Track_Shovel ,

I just hate what fondue represents

Lmao. I mean, I feel you. There is a fondue restaurant by my house. Who wants to pay to cook their own food?

Ashyr ,

Fondue is great. You can do multiple courses with a cheese fondue as the appetizer, oil and proteins as the entree and chocolate and fruits as the desert. It’s a slow process and you hangout with friends or family and just chat as you inhale vast quantities of food.

Collin93 ,

Very well-written explanation, thanks for sharing!

vaguerant OP , avatar

Thanks, I appreciate it! It took a stupidly long time. :V

On some level, it's probably not that important that people understand all this stuff, but I think the most dangerous thing is people believing that their data will be protected if Threads gets defederated. Any other confusion is basically harmless, but that's the one thing where people have a false sense of security, because Meta has exactly the same access to your data whether or not they get defederated.

Chozo , avatar

On some level, it's probably not that important that people understand all this stuff

Maybe not the average user. But the ones who are very vocal with their outrage should definitely have an understanding of what these processes actually entail. Thanks for taking the time to write this, I hope people actually take the time to read and understand!

HeartyBeast , (edited ) avatar

I think the most dangerous thing is people believing that their data will be protected if Threads gets defederated.

... or that their personal data is at risk if Threads is federated.

PabloDiscobar , (edited ) avatar

Install threads ffs and be done with it.

Also I didn't see any mention of the volume of data that threads represents. Have we forgotten how IT works here?

vaguerant OP , avatar

No, I don't want to? Weird take.

PabloDiscobar , avatar

Even in the event of threads opening for federation, our instance will never be able to endure the load of the constant traffic induced by 100 millions users.

I wish more people opened a computer to understand how it works. Because philosophy and essays only bring you so far.

matthieu_xyz , avatar

@fediverse @PabloDiscobar @vaguerant
This is not how federation works. You only get the content from the people you follow. If you run a single user instance and you follow 5 people you only get the content from 5 people. If they're all in the same server it can even be grouped as a single request to the shared inbox.

Meta can have 100M, 1B, 5B users it change nothing for rest of us. Unless one of the local users really want to follow a million of accounts.

PabloDiscobar , avatar

I don't see a world where this works, the numbers just don't add up. Anyway meta will never allow you access if you don't sign a ToS with them. No ToS, no service, the lawyers will see to this.

matthieu_xyz , avatar

If I install Threads I need to signup. To signup I need to sign their ToS and give up all my rights. Then I need to install an app that will spy on my phone and send them a ton of info about me. And private info, not just the content of what I post. And they can resell and datamine that info because I gave them the right to do it.

matthieu_xyz , avatar

@matthieu_xyz @fediverse @vaguerant @PabloDiscobar
If I use mastodon. I don't need to signup or install anything. I can just get the content for free. They get minimal info about me (less metadata than in an email even!!) and I gave them no authorization to datamine anything! I'm also free from their terrible algorithm. It's like all good content in my inbox at no cost.

(And OP is right. Posting from mastodon is a pain in the ass)

PabloDiscobar , avatar

You don't really believe that they will allow you to use their platform without forcing a ToS on you, right?

Do you have the slightest idea of the ramifications of allowing anyone to use their platform just like that?

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