The new data protection officer of the state of Baden-Württemberg advises ministries and other authorities to say goodbye to the social media platforms Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) in the long term. “As a data protection officer, I like it when ministries are not only on Twitter, but also on Mastodon and continue to expand this presence in order to move there in the future,” said Tobias Keber of the German Press Agency in Stuttgart. Mastodon is an alternative platform to X. It is not a uniform service, but consists of a decentralized network of different servers.
“Arbitrarily governed, monopolized spaces of discourse”
Both Facebook and Elon Musk’s social media platform X are not unproblematic in terms of data protection. “In addition, it is fundamentally problematic when public discourse spaces such as Twitter or now X are heavily monopolized and then governed completely arbitrarily. This development is to be seen with concern,” said Keber, who has been the Baden-Württemberg State Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information since July.
Musk bought Twitter for around $44 billion last October and is rebuilding the service according to his ideas. In July he changed the name of the platform to X. Among other things, the platform, directed by the entrepreneur known for his right-wing political views, is more lax about conspiracy theories such as the corona virus. He also laid off more than half of the employees – which, from the point of view of industry observers, was partly responsible for some disruptions and failures in the past few months.
Mastodon not comparable in range
But he can also understand why the state government is active on Facebook and X, said Keber. “I have a certain understanding that ministries also have to do public relations work. These are tools that have a strong reach.” He is also a realist and knows that the ranges on Mastodon are not comparable.
Ministries and other authorities in Baden-Württemberg do not initially have to prepare for a ban on their social media activities if they want to switch to Mastodon in the long term. “For this interim phase, it is currently not my top priority to prevent the presence of the state government on Twitter and Facebook,” said Keber, who taught as a professor at the Stuttgart Media University before being appointed data protection officer.
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It is a good development that most ministries already have a mastodon appearance. According to the data protection authority, more than 90 public bodies are currently active on the Mastodon server operated by the authority, including many state ministries, some cities, universities and state museums.
At the federal level, there is currently a legal dispute over the question of whether authorities should be active on Facebook. In February, the Federal Data Protection Commissioner Ulrich Kelber instructed the Federal Press Office to stop operating the Federal Government’s Facebook fan page. He is of the opinion that the operation of a Facebook fan page is not possible for an authority in compliance with data protection. Kelber refers to investigations by his authority and a short report from the data protection conference, in which the state data protection officers are also represented. The federal government is suing the ban.
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