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Toot!

App review by
Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media
Toot! App Poster Image
User-run network less commercial, a bit confusing, mature.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Educational Value

Created for entertainment and not intended for learning.

Ease of Play

Less-than-intuitive interface, flawed functionality with base service (Mastodon), and complex Instance creation tools mean confusion for new users. 

Violence

No violence in the app itself, but user-created content could contain images of and/or references to violence. 

Sex

No sex in the app itself, but user-created content could contain suggestive or sexually explicit images and/or references. 

Language

No profanity in the app itself, but user-created content could contain profanity and inappropriate subject matter.  

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

No references to drinking or drugs in the app itself, but user-created content could contain images of and/or references to such things. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Toot! is a paid social media app connected to the Mastodon social media network, which is a user-run network that people can access via various apps. Like Twitter, it lets users make, like, and comment on posts, as well as follow and message one another, but rather than join one global server, users must request access to private servers (called “Instances”) run by individual users. With no corporation running things, content and member interaction is managed by Instance creators; creators also determine and enforce community guidelines. Both Mastodon and Toot! are meant for users over seventeen, and posted content reflects that, with frequent profanity, mention of drugs and drinking, and suggestive and/or sexually explicit imagery. The app contains some safety mechanisms including the ability to manually approve followers, block users, messages, and notifications, and add two-factor authorization to accounts. Users also have a range of privacy settings for individual posts: private, private to the user's followers, public within an instance, or public across instances. The developer has no set privacy policy since rules are set per-Instance by Instance owners, For details on how your (or your kids') information is collected, used, and shared and any choices you may have in the matter, you'll have to contact individual Instance owners and/or read their terms of use. 

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What's it about?

TOOT! is a paid social media app connecting users to the open-source Mastodon social media network. Created as an alternative to corporate-interest-driven services like Twitter and Facebook, Mastodon (and Toot!) employs a decentralized approach to social media that offers users a more custom experience driven by their own interests. Closed communities (called “Instances”) are created and run by individuals who manage and police them without corporate oversight. Users can join existing Instances or, if they're web-savvy enough, create their own. The app gives users access to these tools, as well as more common social media actions like timeline posting, liking and following users and posts, and private messaging. It also offers a range of security and content-management tools such as blocking users, setting privacy levels for posts, and two-factor account authorization. Built in tools let users easily migrate their Twitter friends over to Mastodon, and users get 500 characters for individual posts—nearly twice what they get on Twitter. 

Is it any good?

While refreshingly free of ads and lite on usual social media nastiness, this network is still best for teens and has a learning curve. Both Mastodon and Toot! try to initiate new users with a YouTube video describing the service, and while this helps convey the developer's philosophy and Mastodon's overall service model, it falls short of walking new users through the process of using the app. That's bad, because the app's three-column interface will feel alien to most social media users, and it's unclear at the start why you can't immediately start posting. Furthermore, once you realize you have to select an Instance before you can post, you're faced with yet another obstacle: having to request access to that Instance before you can post. Worst of all, the app's synchronicity with the Mastodon service is flawed and can often trap you in a frustrating loop of repeated registration submissions and email verifications.

If you want to skip all that nonsense, you can create your own Instance. The problem with that is, you have to be fairly Internet savvy. If not, the tools and instructions Toot! provides will read like a foreign language. They also support (and even encourage) users to create “bot” accounts, the sorts of accounts featured negatively in the news lately as having interfered with the 2016 Presidential election. 

Whether you join someone else's instance or create your own, (you can join as many as you like) you'll enjoy custom posting tools that let you determine privacy settings and set warnings to users about sensitive content or content that's NSFW. (This is useful when deciding to limit your posts to one specific Instance or allow users in all Instances to see them.) Better still, you can control your experience even further by blocking users, manually approving followers, and importing block lists from Instance to Instance. As intimidating as all this Instance talk might be, a benefit even the newest  social media user can understand is Toot!'s chronological timeline. Posts are displayed in the order they're made, not in some mysterious order designed to serve advertisers. In the end, that alone is reason enough for Toot! to outstrip Facebook for users over seventeen. For anyone younger than that, the app's mature content, flawed functionality, and complex Instance creation take Toot! out of the running.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about social networking pros and cons on the big, popular sites and on apps like Toot! How do the corporation-run networks differ from a network like Mastadon? 

  • Think about what bot accounts are used for. In addition to possible interference in the 2016 Presidential election, how else might bot accounts be used to manipulate information? 

  • Talk about access to mature content. It's relatively easy to find mature content in any social media app, but what are your family's biggest concerns?

App details

  • Devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
  • Price: 3.99
  • Pricing structure: Paid
  • Release date: October 22, 2018
  • Category: Social Networking
  • Size: 34.50 MB
  • Version: 1.2
  • Minimum software requirements: iOS 10.0 or later

For kids who love social networking

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