The umbrella organization Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) is working with the ict co-op for education SURF on a pilot on Mastodon, an alternative to Twitter. With the pilots, UNL and SURF want to “reduce dependence on big commercial tech platforms.”
SURF and UNL want to create an environment on Mastodon where students and employees of Dutch educational institutions can share messages. Mastodon is an open-source, decentralized microblogging platform where each user can start their own server and data does not end up with one commercial party. With the pilot, SURF and UNL aim to “reduce dependence on big commercial tech platforms,” according to SURF chief innovation officer Ron Augustus. “(With the environment,) public values such as privacy, security, transparency and autonomy should be guaranteed.”
Since Twitter was taken over in April 2022 by Tesla boss Elon Musk, who fired people en masse and blocked journalists' accounts, many users have seen Mastodon as an alternative. In SURF and UNL's educational environment, students and staff should be able to share messages under their own names. Participation is possible with Surfconext, a tool that allows the education and research community affiliated with SURF to log into cloud services. When and under what name the environment can be found is not yet known.
In 2019, rectors magnifici of Dutch universities already wrote in the Volkskrant about increasing dependence on (American) tech companies in education. “The conditions under which services are provided leave great freedom for platform companies to use data for their own purposes,” they argued. “Public oversight of higher education is thus being eroded.”