Nathan Schneider for Norma mag:
Scalability explains a lot of what seems wrong with social media. Content moderation at scale needs to be semi-automated, which often means applying universal rules without context or nuance. And when abuse, harassment and misinformation drive engagement, the incentive is to address it in a way that doesn’t threaten business.
There have been many words written about how large scale social media doesn’t really have an incentive to get rid of hate. The reality is that if engagement is the measurement of income, then moderation decisions all of a sudden become much more complicated so as not to harm the bottom line. Nowhere more apt is the adage “if you’re not paying for the product…” become more appropriate than a social media platform that has harassment problems.
The fediverse opens new doors. It allows us the possibility to collectively own and more fully self-govern the online communities we participate in.
What is attractive, and also a little worrisome to those on gigantic instances, is the idea that in the fediverse you can self govern. You as a user have a choice to own the things you see online and the people you interact with. If you don’t like the way something goes, you can move your experience quickly and easily.
Just like on the rest of the internet, anyone, from violent extremists to people with uncommon hobbies, can use the available tools to create siloed spaces. The difference with the fediverse is that it facilitates a structure of relationships between communities.
I truly believe that as long as what you post online isn’t illegal, you should be allowed to do so. What Mastodon and the larger fediverse allowed users to do is to find a place where they can self express themselves, but also shield themselves from expression that they don’t want to see.
The idea that the fediverse is like your neighbourhood and your instance is your house works well here. If your neighbours do not behave in a way that you think is appropriate, you as an individual can choose to no longer allow interaction. Your neighbourhood also has the power to remove said house, or indeed the house can move to a neighbourhood that better fits its identity.
Currently, many servers appear to be run top-down by people who have the technical skills to set them up, but not necessarily with the social and economic capacity to foster and sustain community self-governance and address online harm.
I hope that enough people and communities build up the knowledge and funding to move into smaller instances where they can self govern. Currently, too many users fleeing Twitter are on large-scale servers controlled by individuals or small groups.
If the venture capital model were unleashed on the fediverse, the democratic potential of software like Mastodon would likely be lost.
My biggest worry, and what I fear is inevitable, is that someone like Google creates or purchases a multimillion user instance and starts wielding too much power. This would destroy everything that is good about the fediverse.
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