Consent and the fediverse

27th June 2023

Decades ago, I made the decision to move to a safe place from an abusive situation. Less than a decade later, I reinforced that decision by cutting off all contact from that situation and the people who would have dragged me back there. The supportive people around me, backed me up and protected me.

Spool forward a decade later and I was contacted again. On behalf of that abuser, with a Facebook friend request. Facebook has always been a little creepy. I remember once it suggested an old exes wife that I should friend.

Facebook has always had a rather shonky idea of consent. It seems to be the standard Silicon Valley growth mindset to suggest users find their friends. By asking you to upload your address book. If you did upload your contacts, it's made you culpable as well in that very bad idea of consent.

Yes you.

If you uploaded your address book, there will be a shadow profile of someone who never wanted to be on Facebook. Their information is on Facebook's servers without their consent.

Chances are that person may well have told you this as well.

It's well past the time since 2013 for you to be listening to them.

Essentially what many admins and users are having a conversation about is consent. This is how it works here on the Fediverse, there's a lot of back and forth. There is loud discussion, very public spats and people choose where to land next.

On any online space, you should consider who you give power to. Who has the control over who you choose to associate with? Power doesn't corrupt.

As Robert Caro wrote:

"We're taught Lord Acton's axiom: all power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I believed that when I started these books, but I don't believe it's always true any more. Power doesn't always corrupt. Power can cleanse. What I believe is always true about power is that power always reveals. When you have enough power to do what you always wanted to do, then you see what the guy always wanted to do."

With the November Influx and the discussion around P92, I can see that Power absolutely reveals.

By supporting the fedipact we are signalling that we don't consent to interacting with a known abusive actor who revels in their power. Mark Zuckerberg revealed that to us over a decade ago. He revealed what he can do with his power again and again.

You should not trust a company he owns with anything of you. Not your posts, not your contacts, not your metadata.

Yes, that data can be scraped. Regardless if they can get at our messages, informed consent is important. If a bad actor gets our data without consent, it reveals that person should never have been trusted with it. We were right to not just hand it over, to federate it.

I'm also not here for people who don't like the language of the fedipact. Getting caught up in the language. Feeling that it would be better being called a list, because they do not like the idea of a pact. If you feel it's forcing language, that reveals something to me as well.

Calling it a list instead undermines the very idea of what the pact is.

It's a promise. The language is deliberate, much like informed consent should be as well. You're telling me so much about your very twisted idea of consent. Trying to just wear us down so we eventually say yes.

I am not an admin, I'm not enforcing the fedipact. I'm considering my own needs and what I want to see on my feeds. I'm very used to having different handles online for my different social groups. Some personal, some professional.

What power over a community does an admin have anyway?

But some folks at the moment are revealing certain things about themselves to me.

What they reveal is that they should in no way ever be trusted to run a community space. I'm not talking about my own admins, who I trust to look after the communities I am a part of. They have years of experience of moderating this space on the fediverse.

I'm talking about random decisions to defederate and doubling down on the excuses. Or getting excited about the size of an instance rather than fostering that community. Dismissing concerns as haters and trying to equate their harassment with the physical danger and mental trauma many on here have gone through and continue to go through.

Whereas the Fediverse is more than Mastodon and folk are on here for different reasons, they came from other platforms that to some extent had a community focus.

This article from last year about Hachyderm and the admin seeing it as a technical problem and "babysitting users" illustrates the attitude somewhat.

We saw with the stepping back of the admin of Hachyderm just how unprepared some new admins are to admit that they have to manage the politics of a situation and have a duty of care to a community, beyond the infrastructure needs.

It's very different from how I see an online community. But there's often a desire in tech to separate political and social issues. When in reality online spaces are another human space. Being an admin of an online website where people communicate is an inherently political post. You're a community leader.

I often feel that being a community mod or a community leader should not be seen as power but a responsibility. You have a duty of care to ensure the safety of your members who choose to let you have some power over a part of their lives.

I don't think some of the admins of the larger instances get this. I think some admins are salivating more over getting the celebs over, rather than caring for their existing community. There's a definite disconnection of empathy there. I'm not sure if it's because they are incapable of empathy or they ignore it as its inconvenient for their goals.

I think that much like some individuals in FOSS, they are utterly incapable of understanding the issue.

A bit like when the general public can't see how hostile physical street infrastructure or cobbles can be to the disabled. The cobbles don't register. The harm doesn't register, and it's not potential harm.

Facebook is actively causing harm right now. P92 is being developed by Instagram devs you say. That's owned by Facebook. I refuse their attempt to trademark meta. I do not consent to Facebook yet again dominating my online curated space.

Yes there's a scale question. Does it need to be asked here?

You can't moderate at Scale without significant investment, heck once you get to a certain size of following and followers you loose a certain sense of perception of them. They become objectified, it's very easy to other and reject those who criticise you. It's very easy to dismiss criticism as "Haters".

One of the joys I have on the fediverse, is interacting with folks on here. I get more of that than I ever had on twitter.

Having a high follower count is a form of power and influence. It's a responsibility, from where I'm standing some of the larger instance admins seem unable to understand the responsibility they have to their community. They also seem hostile to the idea that admins on the fedipact community have the same responsibility of safeguarding to their instance communities. They are definitely hostile to fedipact admins publishing the reasons why they choose to defederate.

To frame the fedipact "just haters" is minimising the danger deliberately. It's irresponsible to do so. Of course, some communities may have a different opinion. That's their right, they have the freedom to have that opinion. They also like me, have a freedom to chose who they associate with.

Freedom of Association

People on the Fediverse chose not to federate with gab or truthsocial. They and their admins chose to exercise their freedom of association to not federate with those networks. Facebook is massive. It's moderation policy will gradually influence and dominate the instances that choose to federate with P92. From my year old memory of Facebook, far right ideology was promoted across my social networks on there, and that's partly because of Facebook's aim to connect everyone. Allowing a poorly moderated instance from a company that promotes far right ideology by its moderation policy is shoving us back in that abuse.

Some networks shouldn't be so easily connected. Context collapse is a danger when you do connect those networks.

I can't and won't demand that admins sign the #fedipact. I won't demand that folks join networks that do. It's their freedom of choice, and their freedom of association.

Just don't be surprised when people choose to deliberately pick instances that won't federate with P92. We've learned the hard way and found relative peace here. It's your choice and it's also our choice.

I think the idea of the Small Web is better. I want meaningful connections and I want those meaningful connections to engage with me. I want to meet people, but it is a balance.

One of the horrors of Twitter and Facebook was context collapse, as various social groups merged in a place with virtually no will to moderate.

Having different identities is great!

I think we need to curate our communities on here, we need context. To some extent having more than one identity is handy. It's good to consider who you want to connect to.

My handle onepict appeared in the same year (2009) on twitter as my older first handle. I created it as LinkedIn made the ability to link to twitter. A separate context was needed. I knew that people would be able to link both handles back to me. But it was useful to curate those identities for different purposes. To interact with different networks of people.

I use this handle onepict with my real name. I'm very privileged to be able to do so. Many folks on here cannot do so safely.

Why is the NDA a big deal?

The NDA itself may not matter at all, it is business as usual for a lot of startups and corporates. However I've been in FOSS for 15 years. I've resisted like others in my circle from signing NDAs just because I've been curious.

NDA culture itself is at odds with truly open libre development. I work with a project that develops in the Open. So yes, I am suspicious of those Admins who signed that NDA with a known bad actor who sells metadata about it's users to the highest bidder. Look at my pinned toot. Every piece of information we give over can be collated and used against us.

To undermine democracy and help repressive governments carry out genocide. To harass LGBTQ+ folk. To spread scientific misinformation. To create a defacto web where the only sites you can browse to is owned by Facebook. The company that Mark Zuckerberg (a man who as a student created an website to rate women) created.

So I can see why so many want to splinter away from a potential network that will cause trauma. If you think I'm being over dramatic, fair enough. I hope you never have the kind of traumatic experiences in your life where you have this reality foisted on you.

Some of us chose to walk away from abusive situations and abusive online networks. We want a space where we can post, laugh and find a meeting of minds. Once you have done it once, it is easier mentally to do it again.

I don't see what is wrong with people choosing to protect themselves and explaining publicly why. This is an open decentralised space. We have freedom of association.

But that doesn't mean I'm going to allow Facebook to push it's bullshit at me. For those who say P92 is different. Nope, not buying it. Far Right organisations love finding new ways to recruit people to them. In 2021 Hope not Hate found Instagram was a prime recruiting ground for Neo Nazi organisations.

The fediverse has its fashy instances too. But what every instance has the right to do on behalf of its community is to block those instances.

People in real life do choose to avoid dangerous or toxic places. All that the instances who sign the fedipact are doing is signalling to some of us that somewhere is safe for folk who don't want to engage with Facebook at all.

Some of us will feel the need to stay on instances who will federate.

But that's a decision for admins and individual folks to consider. It's a choice.

As always it's your choice.

So curate your online space, it's yours.