Containment, Social Media, and the Dangers of Imitation

Deplatforming wasn’t a major issue before social media, and it still isn’t even though social media more often creates cacophony than community. is apparently smart enough to run a Mastodon instance but not smart enough to understand why social media sucks.

I still cant work out why some people want to de-platform people they dont agree with. If the shoe was on the other foot and they were the ones being de-platformed we would never hear the end of it!! Time to grow up and either have a discussion with those we dont agree with and try to change their minds or just ignore them. De-platforming is childish bullying.

Here’s the deal. Social platforms where everybody contributes to the aggregated public feed by default (Twitter, Facebook, Mastodon, Pleroma, etc.) are inherently toxic. Social platforms where anybody can follow anybody by default (same examples apply) are inherently toxic.

You might think de-platforming as “bullying” or “censorship” if you think that the public silos (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, Medium, the Fediverse) are the only places to go, but as long as everybody else uses those platforms as well you’re just going to have to suck it up and deal because nobody wants to deal with your bullshit.

If you want a platform where you can speak freely, build it on the open web at your own expense. If you can’t support your platform with ads, there’s this magical thing called a “day job” that might help. And whatever you do, don’t use the name you use at your day job on the internet. If somebody really wants to dox you, they will, but why make it easier for them?

If you’re @AntipopSuperstar on Twitter but never mention that you’re also Joe Schmoe who works for Weyland-Yutani, it’s a lot harder for butthurt people to demand that Weyland-Yutani fire you for saying something that hurt their wittle feewings. (PS: right-wingers are even more prone to butthurt than left-wingers.)

Back in the day, everybody knew where Nazis and white supremacists and fascists tended to congregate online. Remember Stormfront? As long as the goose-steppers stuck to Stormfront and related sites, nobody really gave a shit what they did online because it was contained.

If you ran a forum and one of you guests was posting fashy or tankie propaganda, there was nothing wrong with kicking them off because they could go somewhere else. You either moderated your platform, or your platform became subject to informal containment policies as word spread that your platform was infested with neo-Nazis, white supremacists, or the sort of self-righteous leftists who grew up reading Harry Potter and can’t accept that an author they loved turned out to be an asshole.

Incidentally, the best way to deal with a once-beloved but narrow-minded novelist who says dumb shit on Twitter is one of the following:

  1. Don’t use Twitter or acknowledge its continued existence.
  2. Don’t follow the accounts of people who say dumb shit on Twitter.
  3. Preemptively block people who make the news for saying dumb shit on Twitter.

I mean, if I were foolish enough to get back on Twitter, the first thing I’d do is block the President and J. K. Rowling. Then I’d make a point of muting hashtags and keywords that tend to attract self-righteous idealists and authoritarian shitfountains.

I didn’t have to worry about this sort of thing on the Web before 2010, and I don’t have to worry about this sort of thing in Geminispace. If I don’t like what somebody writes on their site, I just don’t go there or share links. Problem solved.

Likewise, if somebody doesn’t like what I say on this site, there’s a simple solution: forget that exists. If it shows up in an aggregated feed, don’t click the links. It’s not like I have a mailing list that pushes my bullshit into your inbox. This is old-school pull tech. Strictly opt-in, not opt-out.

The problem with social media is that all of the downsides are opt-out:

I’ve added likes/retweets to the list because of solderpunk, who mentioned and quoted this post in a post of his own.

I’m not just talking about Twitter, incidentally. The Fediverse honestly isn’t much better. When Eugen Rochko designed Mastodon and “lain” created Pleroma, they seem to have deliberately replicated all of the worst aspects of corporate social media and made many the same mistakes the GNU Social people made while adding new failures:

With these seven deadly sins of social network design, is it any wonder the Fediverse is a shithole? The Federated timeline isn’t a community; it’s a fucking cacophony. The Local timeline on popular servers isn’t much better.

The iron curtain between the Japanese Fediverse and the rest of the Fediverse is an inevitable consequence of Eugen Rochko not thinking things through. When people from a country that has no objection to content that the governments of most of the rest of the world regard as child pornography (lolicon and shotacon art) post such content on public timelines, the only sensible response is containment. Allowing such content to spread is all but suicidal when you’re running a Mastodon/Pleroma server as a hobby and don’t have the money or connections to fight off accusations of distributing kiddie porn.

Likewise the panic over Gab forking Mastodon. If public-posting-by-default didn’t exist, people had to make a conscious decision to post on the public timeline (with “are you sure” prompts to discourage them), and you simply couldn’t follow or otherwise engage with other people without their consent, then I don’t think Gab would have been the boogeyman it had been when they first announced their migration to Mastodon. Better still, if instance admins and moderators could disable public and unlisted posts for people who post obnoxious shit where everybody can see it, the Fediverse might be a safer and more welcoming place that still allowed freedom of speech.

Even Google+ made these mistakes, though they did a better job of providing tools for letting people segment their audiences at first. On Google+, you didn’t have “friends” or “followers”. You had “circles”, as in social circles. By default you had circles for “friends” and “family”, and could create others as needed. You could post to public, all of your circles, or just one or more particular circles. You could even place individuals in multiple circles.

Of course, because posting to circles on Google+ was basically posting private, and Google+ only provided stats on public activity with great reluctance, we’ll never know whether Google+ really was the “ghost town” marketing types thought it was because the people who gravitated to that social network were happy doing their own thing.

Yeah, I still kinda miss Google+. For a few years (2011 to 2014) is was a brilliant forum for geeks, musicians, writers, artists, techies, etc. But that wasn’t good enough, and Google decided that G+ needed to be a better Facebook than Facebook instead of playing to its interest-based strengths.

I think you can guess at how well that went.

I think I’m seeing the same thing happen with the Fediverse. Mastodon and Pleroma are both trying to be better Twitters than Twitter. Eugen Rochko and “lain” seem to be repeating the same mistakes Jack Dorsey made. Or, to be fair, one could argue that the W3C team responsible for the ActivityPub protocol are repeating the mistakes Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, and Vic Gundotra (not to mention Tom) made.

What’s the fix? I can’t answer that. I can suggest that maybe everybody should have a safe space, even the people I don’t like (or outright loathe). I think a safe social space is one that has the following attributes:

Is this impossible to implement? Probably, but that’s hardly my problem because it wasn’t my idea to reduce human social interactions to something that could fit into a relational database so it could be manipulated with fucking SQL statements.

Oh, wait. We’ve had this tech for decades. It’s called email and invite-only listservs/forums.

Now, is smol internet less accessible to people who aren’t good with tech? Yes. Can it be made more accessible? Probably. But nobody’s paying me to solve that particular problem for others, so fuck it. 🤷

about the author

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writes science fantasy inspired by heavy metal and has a day job as a software developer. He is currently writing a new novel called Spiral Architect. He'll use your pronouns, but doesn't care which ones you use with him. You can reach him at