I should probably know better than to wade into such a contentious topic as a mastodon newbie. Yet here I am, responding to a story titled: “Eugen Rochko, CEO of Mastodon, Caves to Nazi’s Agenda”

qoto.org/@freemo/1093939899627

I am new to QOTO, so I’ll let Mr. Freeman handle the historical details, and I hope that people listen and unblock QOTO, which I have found to be a wonderful server run by impassioned moderators, including Mr. Freeman. My concerns are more basic and technical. I’m trying to understand the purpose of defederation. As I understand it, this dispute ultimately comes down to how to respond to bad actors, and there are different mechanisms for different levels of bad activity.

To be clear: any of the below could be completely wrong! Please, do not rely on this as an authoritative explanation of mastodon, in case I get out over the front of my skis and make too many assumptions.

How Mastodon Works

Mastodon works because completely independent servers are all running compatible software that speaks “ActivityPub,” and that is used to exchange activities like posts and comments and follows between servers. If any user of serverA follows any user of serverB, then serverA gets a copy of posts from serverB to display in serverA’s “Home” view for that user. This connection between serverA and serverB is “federation,” and some servers are federated with many other servers, while some are federated with only a few, perhaps because they have very few users who are interested in mostly other users on their same server.

Poking around instances.social, it seems I can click on any server and find out how many “connections” it has, which I believe to be a measure of how thoroughly that server is federated. Sorting the list by users, I see mastodon.social at the top with 879,988 users and 34,623 connections, while mstdn.party at #11 has 39,365 users but only 9,610 connections. QOTO is in position 20 with 25,130 users and 24,529 connections. In fact, if I sort the list of instances by connections, QOTO is sixth, so it seems to be “well-federated” as I understand it.

So far, all technical, but already I see issues. Even in the top-20 listing, when I limited the list to servers with at least 25,000 users, I recognized one server that I have seen on nearly every server’s “About” page as a blocked server. That brings us almost immediately to questions of moderation.

Moderation

Bad actors are one of the biggest challenges facing any internet service. The functionality of email has been almost completely ruined by spammers, victims of “419 scams” send many millions of dollars to overseas scammers every year, comment sections on websites have gone almost completely extinct as site owners do cost/benefit analysis and realize they’re spending much more time moderating comments as they’re deriving value from the comments that remain, and the world’s richest oligarch just set fire to $100 billion of his money because he refused to accept what Twitter was saying about bots, and still his every tweet has fake crypto giveaways among the first few replies. Worse than any of that is targeted harassment, as some people don’t respond to any of the normal mechanisms of social pressure intended to keep them for pursuing their victims to hurt them.

These are human issues, not technical issues, which is why I think any solutions cannot be only technical. These issues have always existed, but the internet pushes everyone and everything together, acting as a force multiplier, making bad intentions easier to put into action, and harder to resist or avoid.

I should note here that I am a cisgender man best described as “white,” so I know about targeted harassment in a detached sense, but have never been the target of such activity. This will obviously lend my discussion of this horrific behavior a detached tone some might see as inappropriate to the subject. I 100% support those targeted, and I am 100% aligned against those would harm or threaten to harm others in any way, especially on the basis of who they are, rather than in response to statements or actions. (Please read this as: “If you’re a nazi, I’ll stand by and let someone punch you and not feel bad about it at all.”)

Like most internet-connected software in the 21st century, mastodon includes mechanisms for responding to both bad actions and bad actors.

Starting at the local level, if a user on your server says something that you believe violates the rules of your server, you can bring it to the attention of a moderator and they should respond appropriately. Depending on the server, a bad action might result in a notice and the post or comment in question being deleted, while an egregiously-bad action, or a pattern of bad actions that indicate a bad actor, might result in that user’s account being suspended or terminated. If you find content you consider to be objectionable, but the moderators of your server don’t agree it is worthy of moderator action, you still have a few choices: you can mute the user so you don’t see their posts or comments, you can block them so that they can’t comment on your posts, or you can leave the server entirely and find another one more to your linking. The design of mastodon means that your list of followed and followers will move with you, but your posts and comments will not, so it’s not a completely transparent move, but it’s not the end of the world, either.

If the user is not local to you, meaning you’re on serverA, while they are on serverB, that’s where things get more difficult. You have the same mechanisms available to you: you can mute the user or block the user, and even report the user. When you report a user from another server, the message goes to your own server moderators as well as (optionally) the moderators of the other server. And then what? It depend on both your moderators and the moderators of that other server.

Let’s say that other server’s moderators are horrible trolls, or that the other server in question is a self-server, so that the person spamming or harassing you is their own moderator. You have one additional mechanism, which is that you can “Block domain badactor.antisocial” entirely. For example, there are servers out there devoted to trolling, or that don’t abide by laws effective in the US and Europe, or that are just gross.

So far all moderation choices are up to you. If you find people of a certain political leaning intolerable, you can block domains known to host them. If one particular person gets under your skin, you can block them. If you’re browsing the “Federated” timeline to see all posts from everywhere and see something you can’t believe is even allowed to exist on the internet, you can block either the user or the entire domain as you feel is appropriate.

But there’s another level of moderation possible, and that involves server admins.

Local vs Global

I’ll use QOTO as an example, since that’s where I am. QOTO has strict policies against hate speech and harassment. There are several moderators who spend a lot of time reviewing content on QOTO, and enforcing the rules. The “Local” timeline is full of friendly positive content and a lot of nerdery. Anything that seems even a little bit like hate speech or harassment can be reported and will be dealt with, and they’ll kick people off the server who aren’t willing to be kind. QOTO has long been a haven for people in the LGBT community, in large part because of somewhat-heavy moderation at a time when some LGBT people were being targeted specifically on mastodon. As a server, QOTO is a great place to be.

But all of that describes the “Local” experience. If you stay on the “Home” (people you’ve chosen to follow) and “Local” (people on your server) timelines, QOTO is pleasant and agreeable and interesting and fun, and most of all, well-moderate.

If you switch to the “Federated” (global) timeline, things can get very ugly very quickly. That’s because QOTO has a policy against de-federating.

Server admins have four options for moderating users, and three options for moderating entire servers. The user actions come into play when, for example, I report something another QOTO user posted, and the QOTO moderators have to decide what to do with that. They might mark the user as sensitive, so that any images that user posts is automatically put behind a content warning. They might freeze the account to prevent any further posts or comments by that user. They might “silence” or “limit” the user so that only people who’ve chosen to follow them see anything they post. Or they might suspend the user, which effectively deletes their account completely.

The server options are similar, but more consequential. A moderator on serverA can choose to “reject media” from serverB, so that no images of any kind from that server show up locally. They can “silence” or “limit” that server so that nothing from any user on serverB shows up except for people on serverA already following them. Or they can suspend or block that server entirely, an action commonly called defederation.

This last option seems very extreme to me. It is literally the most extreme option available, and can have unforeseen consequences many server moderators don’t seem to be considering. It is such an extreme option that QOTO has a policy of only blocking servers that engage in technical attacks or make CSAM available. They’ve silenced only four servers, mostly in response to dedicated harassment of LGBT people on QOTO condoned by those server moderators. For the most part QOTO focuses on local moderation and makes a domain blocklist available to all users who wish to start with a list of 123 blocked domains.

qoto.org/@freemo/1093036879382

While QOTO takes a very hands-off approach to inter-server moderation, leaving decisions in the hands of individual QOTO users, some servers lean very hard in the other direction, blocking domains not just for things that have happened, but for things that they believe might happen in the future, or because a server chooses not to participate in the daily two-minute hate against another server.

What Defederation Does

To be clear about why defederation is a big deal, I can give an example, naming names. I am on qoto.org, while a very good friend of mine who is pretty big in the tabletop gaming world was on tabletop.social. It turns out that tabletop.social blocks qoto.org for reasons seemingly related to the ongoing issue described in the first link in this post. As my friend put it when I mentioned this to him, they’ll block anyone for anything. Because his server blocked my server, he couldn’t add me as a friend. He couldn’t search for me by tag or URL. He couldn’t see any of my posts unless he logged out of mastodon. I could see him, and I tried to follow him, hoping that would open up new options for him, but he never even saw my follow request, and his account was set to require approval for following. Like I said, he’s pretty big in the tabletop gaming world.

He and I are the best of friends, and neither of us are bad actors in any way. In fact, we’re both supporters of LGBT people personally, and where applicable, professionally, so it seems really strange that we could not communicate at all because of (apparently) issues related to LGBT people. None of the 3.15K users (870 active) on tabletop.social could interact in any way, shape, or form with any of the 25.2K users (8.53K active) on qoto.org. There was no accusation of bad behavior by me, or by any other QOTO user, just a presumptive domain-wide ban. When I dug into why this ban was in place–which was difficult, since nobody at tabletop.social could even see my comments asking questions–I came across comments from some years back suggesting that QOTO’s unwillingness to block a third domain meant that QOTO should be blocked. This got QOTO put onto a blocklist shared by a number of sites.

I struggle to follow this reasoning. If someone on tabletop.social were being awful, I would block that person. If multiple people on tabletop.social were being awful, to the point that I began to suspect the domain existed for the purpose of being awful, I would block that domain. And even though I’m only acting for myself, not every user of my server, I can’t imagine blocking tabletop.social because they refuse to block some other domain I really dislike. Let’s say there was a domain called badactors.antisocial that existed primarily for the purpose of harassment. I would block them for myself, no problem. I might even, depending on just what sort of harassment that server was engaged in, block them at the domain level if I were a domain moderator. But I don’t understand what would make someone then go around to other servers and demand that they also block badactors.antisocial. That tabletop.social users might see posts from badactors.antisocial on their timelines doesn’t affect me or my server at all!

An ungracious person might view it as “I hate anybody unwilling to hate the people I hate,” but surely there has to be more to it than that, right? I can think of very few possibilities. Four, really.

Why Defederate?

First, it could be exactly that. Authoritarians can be found all along the political spectrum, and to some extend this feels a bit like left-wing authoritarianism. For example, mastodon.art recently chose to block QOTO and lists as the reason “Federates with instances that violate our ToS/CoC (such as Gab, Kiwifarms.cc, freespeechextremist.com, etc.)” That sounds a lot like “we block these servers, and any servers that won’t also block these servers, etc.” It sounds like the “two-minute hate” issue. And to be clear, those servers are terrible, and I wouldn’t fault anyone for blocking them either individually or even on a server level. I blocked two of those myself individually, and the third doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

However, it could be a second reason: maybe servers blocking QOTO don’t understand the ramifications of what they’re doing. In describing the action, the owner of mastodon.art seemed to believe they weren’t affecting anybody who already followed someone, but QOTO is listed as “Suspended,” not “Limited,” so no, they’ve completely blocked any interaction with anybody from QOTO for all of their users, possibly because they don’t understand the difference. Again, the fact that QOTO doesn’t block badactors.antisocial doesn’t mean that badactors.antisocial content shows up on tabletop.social or mastodon.art! If those servers block badactors.antisocial, then badactors.antisocial content won’t show up, so the reason for the preemptive blocking seems to be based on ignorance. There are two more possibilities, though.

A third option is that there may be one way that content from badactors.antisocial might show up on a site that has blocked that domain. I haven’t experimented to be sure, and it seems from reading comment threads that others haven’t either, but there’s a widespread belief that if someone “boosts” a post from badactors.antisocial, then that boosted post could show up even on a server that has blocked the domain, because the “boost” means that the content is now coming from the other server. I am not sure whether this is the case, but let’s say it is. Then I would ask, has this happened? Are there people on QOTO boosting horrible posts from badactors.antisocial? If so, report them to the QOTO moderators, who should take action! If they don’t take action against the users boosting bad content, then you have a valid reason to take action against QOTO. Nobody in the comment threads seems to be 100% sure whether boosting posts from blocked domains results in them appearing, so it seems clear that even the first step in this chain has not happened, making a block against QOTO seem very premature at best.

Finally, the only other reason I can think of is that people have misunderstood QOTO’s heavy emphasis on “academic freedom” and confused it with the “free speech” label hateful people often use to describe their hate-filled nastiness. Even though QOTO clearly states that they don’t permit hate speech or harassment, and very clearly moderate QOTO, people elsewhere seem to believe that QOTO is “completely unmoderated,” and a haven for (right-wing) “freeze peach” enthusiasts to say hateful things primarily against minority groups. This is categorically false. I’m not sure Mr. Freeman appreciates why people might believe this angle, or he might make it even more clear in QOTO’s About page how heavily moderated QOTO is. Then again, he has stated so many times in comments when it has come up, although they are comments I’m not sure most relevant people can actually see, since they come from someone at the now-blocked QOTO!

Consequences

I’m a mastodon evangelist in my circle of friends, and I convinced my board gaming friend to move to dice.camp, away from tabletop.social. I convinced my artist friend to sign up with sunny.garden rather than mastodon.art. A long-time mastodon-savvy friend reached out to warn me about a push toward defederating from QOTO, suggesting that I might “wind up on a fediverse island soon if this defederation continues,” and I guess that’s a chance I’m taking. (I sent him the first URL in this post.) It seems strange that the sixth-most-connected server could end up as an “island” with zero evidence of any actually-offensive posts.

The thread that prompted that friend to reach out was illustrative. The initial post said that they were blocking QOTO based on a message from a QOTO admin that no, QOTO wouldn’t block a server for inciting genocide. But the response wasn’t quoted, it was just “Admin replied that Qoto would not block such servers.” It possible that the response was actually that QOTO does not block any servers, which is a principled stand, but it is described in a way that suggests Qoto is in favor of genocide, or at least tolerant of advocating for it. It was nice to see that other people spoke up in comments suggesting that this sounded a bit like a witch hunt, and that it should perhaps require “documented evidence of continuous abuse of rules” rather than blocking based on a singe possibly-misunderstood conversation.

But that’s federation! Every server owner gets to decide for themself what they want to allow, and if that means cutting off huge swathes of servers until eventually it’s just a few servers in an echo chamber patting each other on the back over their policies, that’s their choice. We can have a tiny cluster of defederated right-wing authoritarians over here, and a tiny cluster of defederated left-wing authoritarians over there, and never the twain shall meet.

I’ve seen a couple of mentions of “The Paradox of Tolerance” in discussions about QOTO, but I don’t think what we’re seeing is over-dependence on tolerance on QOTO’s part resulting in nastiness spreading around mastodon. Instead, we’re seeing intolerance in the extreme, with a few individuals cutting off all possible reasonable discussion for large groups of users, many of whom have no idea what’s happening, all without any actual evidence of bad behavior or reprehensible views on the part of QOTO users. A small group of authoritarian left-wingers have decided that QOTO is right-wing and acted precipitously to cut it off before anyone manages to say anything right-wing. As someone actually using QOTO, this comes as a surprise to me. None of the admins have said anything I’ve noticed as being specifically right-wing, and have been very vocal in support of the LGBT community, for example, which is not a stance I tend to associate with right-wing trolls. I don’t post much about politics, but I’m pretty far from a right-winger myself. I’m also pretty far from authoritarian, though, so I guess I’m not cut out to be a mastodon admin.

@freemo @Darkayne I am a GitHub user. Could I contribute to the GitLab even if it’s just proof-reading?

"Can we descend to flight level 100: I'm only getting one bar"...
QT: schleuss.online/@itnewsbot/109

IT News  
No more airplane mode? EU to allow calls on flights - EU airlines will be able to install equipment that lets them provide 5G on board planes b... ...

@sinituulia I get this. It's like drawing attention to form and light.

Be patient with your online autistic pals right now. These massive changes in social media landscapes & drastic, sudden overhauls in atmosphere on platforms that have been a lifeline for us are really hard to adjust to. For many of us, it’s how we connect. The sudden inaccessibility & overwhelming hostility is also really triggering of past social trauma. Be gentle with us while we find our feet with it all.

@sinituulia astonishingly beautiful work! The plants are centre stage, no distractions, lending an almost illustrative biological feel.

Food selfie 

Seriously into these days. Here’s a protein-packed tasty and nutritious lunch made in 5 mins from leftovers in the fridge.

Bad night last night so today is a struggle, so I've written a half tongue-in-cheek poem about feeling blue using all nautical terms.

Calling it 'all at sea.'

@alexskunz the truest thing! It’s like a bunch of Brits on a Spanish holiday. They finally get down to a beautiful beachfront bar and what do they order? Fish n chips with mushy peas.

materialism 

Yep. hashtag firstWorldProblems again. Went through hoops to buy one last night and was successful eventually, good enough Black Friday deal, but not the network/repayments I had hoped. I run two phones: a 6 and a 7 by the way. No shiny new toys for me.
QT: schleuss.online/@itnewsbot/109

IT News  
iPhone 14 Pro Shortage: Ways to Find One by Christmas - Covid restrictions and unrest at Apple’s largest iPhone assembly factory in China has res.....

I like the sound of nature at night, but sometimes you get a death metal cricket that just shreds outside your window. If you've ever gone outside to find, and shoe away this raging cricket with a flashlight, eagerly searching through the grass, you would know it seldom ends in success. Later we are often washed with a feeling of ridiculousness. If the cricket is persistent in 'one upping' the sound of a fully spooled jet engine nightly, would we destroy the whole yard? If we did, and it simply moved to the neighbors yard, would we build a giant wall and disown the neighbor? Probably not. As the cricket problem grows, we would eventually need to work together.

How do you think this applies to Mastadon?

Do you have advice on how to silence the renegade crickets of social media?

Stand your ground

"And al you have to do is stand your ground. Stay true to yourself and what you know is the truth of a more loving, more caring and more honest world. Stand still and really feel what is good for you…and watch how everything and everyone starts to move because for the first time, your aren’t moving with them."

geefeconomie.nl/stand-your-gro

#Blogpost #StandYourGround

NOTE: If anyone wants to be added to this list just let me know.

Ok so this seems to be most of the people who publicly stated they had interest in developing the "United Federation of Instances". All of you should have gotten the first draft and opinions were heard and discussed.

Today I will be moving the first draft over to git (either git.qoto.org or gitlab.com). From there I will encourage each of you to provide suggestions as to edits there, and raise discussions in issues. This way we will be public and have an open transparent forum that keeps the changes on record.

While public feedback is being debated on the proposal I will begin a rough draft on the complete by laws (which will try to represent the broader points in the proposal document). That too will be on gitlab and open to discussion

From there as the movement grows we can begin discussing launching it.

I suggest all communication on the fediverse about this use the hashtag so it is easily searchable.

Since this is a public post I will now share the link to the early draft here, please keep in mind everything here is open for discussion so if anyone doesnt like the current direction, please speak up, we want you to be heard.

jeffreyfreeman.me/files/united

@skanman @floppy @john @stevenclyman @robryk @ejg @dashrandom @Romaq @ichoran @AlanOutback @tsomof @aebrockwell @Ryle @tatzelbrumm @Gaythia @ichoran @realcaseyrollins @stux @stux @trinsec @khird @darnell @jq

I've been winning Rock Paper Scissors hand over fist.

I've collected some #Mastodon 🦣 #instances to help with the #TwitterMigration focused in #inclusion, #accesibility and #minorities. They look like safe spaces for most of us. I'd appreciate the boost and new recommendations to add to the list:

🔗🇬🇧 ableism.rip/about - space to fight ableism
🔗🇬🇧 disabled.social/about - for disabled people
🔗🇬🇧 neurodifferent.me/about - neurodiversity and neurominorities
🔗🇬🇧 iaccessibility.social/about - interest in assistive technology
🔗🇬🇧 blacktwitter.io/about - history and voices for black people
🔗🇬🇧 lgbt.io/about - for LGBT+ and allies
🔗🇬🇧 queer.party/about - queer-oriented instance
🔗🇬🇧 tech.lgbt/about - for tech workers, academics, students, and others interested in tech who are LGBTQIA+ or Allies

Please boost to reach more people!

Show more
Qoto Mastodon

QOTO: Question Others to Teach Ourselves
An inclusive, Academic Freedom, instance
All cultures welcome.
Hate speech and harassment strictly forbidden.