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The Fediverse, Metapocalypse & Preemptive Bans
Meta sucks, but gatekeeping really grinds my gears.
When Elon Musk (aka, Emperor Paypalpatine) first announced he was planning to buy Twitter in early 2022, I set up an account on Mastodon. By the time the ink was dry on the purchase in November, I was so keen on Mastodon that I set up my own instance. Or, rather, my patient husband set it up and did all the boring sysadmining shit, while I handled moderation and other fun duties. Our instance, dataprotection.social has 5 users, so moderation is basically me telling myself not to type something that will get me in trouble.
I’m also on Bluesky, and more and more, I find myself enjoying it there over Mastodon. As a betting woman, I expect that Bluesky will win the day as more people flee (or are purged) from the Hellsite, and give up on Mastodon. In the case of Mastodon, much of the disillusionment is based on a combination of both un- and intentional design choices (e.g., search is intentionally limited, quote posts don’t exist, finding a home may be difficult for some and migrating to a new home still means you lose all your posts), some very loud gatekeepers and users who try to impose a very specific worldview of “what should be” onto an “open” protocol.
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Por Exemplo: There’s currently, a heated battle being waged on Mastodon about Facebook/Instagram/Meta potentially joining the Fediverse. The internal project, dubbed Project 92 (or P92), is expected to interoperate with Mastodon by supporting the open ActivityPub (AP) protocol, and potentially could be integrated into other Meta-owned social tools. Even though absolutely nothing has been launched, numerous admins and other users have signed a #fedipact, and pledged to preemptively defederate or “block the hell outta project92” (email@example.com has been keeping tabs on this since the proposal began.) The reasonings for pre-emptive defederation are listed by #fedipact organizers as such:
I’d add one more: To ensure that only the ‘right people’ are part of the community. Screw the unwashed masses. If you really want to belong, you should “do the work” to figure out how to join, commit to the cause, and “properly” use the platform. Ensuring that only the right people join is, I suspect, a key driver for banning Meta. Well, that and generally “punishing Meta” for being shitty, which I admittedly have a moderate degree of sympathy for. Still, everything about the #fedipact is couched in a high-minded, lofty ideals (“creating a Meta-free zone” to avoid “surveillance capitalism”), but ultimately, it’s all about enforcing the in-group, and excluding the outgroups. Same tribalist bullshit, but more lefty.
Gatekeeping Really Grinds My Gears
This sort of exclusionary gatekeeping is rife in tech, and I’ve experienced it countless times across my four decades of life, most of which were in some form or another, online. Gatekeeping BS was a key reason why I never stuck with Linux, GPG, or the myriad “roll-your-own” open source platforms promoted by techbros and the like, and this sort of pre-emptive blocking approach is probably why I probably won’t be sticking around on Mastodon for much longer.
Fundamentally, I want to use technology to make my life easier — I don’t want to be a programmer or sysadmin constantly in dependency hell. I am happy to outsource sysadmining and maintenance to people who actually enjoy that sort of thing. Similarly, I don’t want to be forced to play “defederate or die” games merely because a passionate contingent of Masto admins who run large instances decide that, amongst other things, tech companies suck, may include some undesirable people as users, and therefore all users should be pre-emptively punished or excluded, and woe-betide the admin who doesn’t block.
I’m also super tired of elitist takes like this:
I know we all dream of having all our friends and family on the Fediverse so we can avoid proprietary networks completely. But the Fediverse is not looking for market dominance or profit. The Fediverse is not looking for growth. It is offering a place for freedom. People joining the Fediverse are those looking for freedom. If people are not ready or are not looking for freedom, that’s fine. They have the right to stay on proprietary platforms. We should not force them into the Fediverse. We should not try to include as many people as we can at all cost. We should be honest and ensure people join the Fediverse because they share some of the values behind it. (‘How to Kill a Decentralised Network (such as the Fediverse’). (emphasis added)
Screw you. Some of us would, in fact, like to have more people on board. Some of us may hate the game, but not the players. And for the love of cats, just because someone uses Facebook or Instagram does not mean they hate freedom. I thought we all learned this after 9/11 and the Freedom Fries years.
While writing this post, I ended up engaging with a thread linking to the post above on Mastodon. It ended predictably, which is to say, with a few self-righteous techies completely misconstruing my argument and accusing me of being a troll. Cue relevant XKCD:
I had more here — an entire analogy even — but on reflection, I decided to take it out. Bottom line: I’m deeply sympathetic with people who have legitimate concerns that their communities or the whole protocol will be negatively impacted by letting Facebook/Meta connect. I also understand how decisions made by Facebook/Meta encourage such stand-taking.
Still, I think a block-first-ask-questions-later approach is a bad idea, and I wonder if it will do anything other than drive users away who aren’t interested in wading through these pitched battles. I worry that a ban-first approach will also unfairly punish users on Facebook who aren’t flaming nazis or homophobes, and who just want to chat with their friends who aren’t on Facebook. I am, however, all for banning the bigots and nazis specifically.
Ultimately, this all depends on whether the most extreme elements in the #fedipact camp (those who would also punish instances and admins who refuse to preemptively block Meta) win the day or not, if large enough groups of Meta users even bother to connect at all, or importantly, if Meta even bothers with moving forward on P92. Time will tell the answer to all of these, and I’ll be keeping my eyes open, but I probably won’t be engaging with randos in threads anymore on the subject.
PS: It would be super cool if we all move on from the perspective that anyone with a different opinion is automatically a troll. Not sure when that particular social media Overton Window shifted, but I’m not loving it.
PPS (July 8): Threads made its debut on July 5, and let’s just say, it’s far from a roaring success. For one, they launched Threads without any support for the AP protocol. Second, it doesn’t even work in Europe at all, which is zero percent surprising considering Meta’s very bad last few months. Third, it mostly shows people garbage that they don’t want to see, like ‘influencer’ posts and marketing spam. Finally, it appears to be inextricably tied into Instagram, meaning if you want to delete Threads, you need to delete your whole IG account. Lol.
Since I’m weirdly blocked from having an IG account, I am therefore safe from Threads. Not that I wanted either to begin with. My concern with the #fedipact wasn’t so much particular interest in Meta, so much as the larger effects of social ostracisation, lack of choice, and treating this all as a zero-sum game.