Session: Blocklists from a social science perspective; tension field between federation and safe spaces


Convener: Nathalie Van Raemdonck (@nvraemdonck@hci.social)

Participants who chose to record their names here:

  • Darius Dunlap (@dariusdunlap@indieweb.social)

  • Jaz-Michael King (@jaz@mastodon.iftas.org)

  • Edward L. Platt (@elplatt@greatjustice.net)

  • James Marshall (@jamesmarshall@sfba.social)

  • cubicgarden (@cubicgarden@mas.to)

  • DrImplausible (@drimplausible@mastodon.online)

  • narF (@narF@mstdn.ca)

  • Christel van der Boom (@xtel@flipboard.social)

  • Jon Pincus (@jdp23@blahaj.zone)



Nathalie opens with a presentation: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1q24gUt5DKEIeonb7WT4cMRD7RyZwpoY9/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=118058013101174699343&rtpof=true&sd=true

Social norms influence and shape

Tech can influence norms

Fediverse as a potential space for norm pluralism. One person’s harassment is another person’s norm correction (Marwick). Defederation is a form of norm correction and a protective measure against norm conflict/harassment.

Having a priority on universal federation can create norm conflicts. Plurality can also fragment and polarize.

One common norm: caring about the fediverse.

Agonism (Mouffe): conflict is ok, goal is to keep it from becoming antagonistic.

(Brandsma) Polarization is not necessarily a bad thing. Helped advance civil rights movement. The silent middle can bridge polarized groups. For example, federating with groups that do not federate with each other.

Moderators have a responsibility to make norms clear and either defend them or adapt them.

Some ideas on related long-term directions (Richard Reisman): The Delegation series in Tech Policy Press with co-author Chris Riley:

  1. Delegation, or, The Twenty Nine Words that the Internet Forgot* (2/28/22) https://techpolicy.press/delegation-or-the-twenty-nine-words-that-the-internet-forgot/

    Why emphasis on user control in Section 230 is far more important than generally recognized, and how an architecture designed to make high levels of user control manageable can enhance the nuance, context, balance, and value in human discourse that current social media are tragically degrading.

  2. Understanding Social Media: An Increasingly Reflexive Extension of Humanity (4/27/22) https://techpolicy.press/understanding-social-media-an-increasingly-reflexive-extension-of-humanity/

    With a nod to Marshall McLuhan, we connect the centrality of user choice and agency to the deeper social and human substrate that underpins the potential of modern social technologies to bring positive new dynamics into our human interaction.

  3. Community and Content Moderation in the Digital Public Hypersquare (6/17/22) https://techpolicy.press/community-and-content-moderation-in-the-digital-public-hypersquare/

    Seeing social media as a “digital public square” oversimplifies, and is better seen as a “digital public hypersquare” – a multitude of digital spaces. Social media must serve an open-ended web of spaces (/squares/spheres), layered & multidimensional, each governed by different rules & norms.

  4. Contending for Democracy on Social Media and Beyond (9/22/22) https://techpolicy.press/contending-for-democracy-on-social-media-and-beyond/

    Conflict is part of democracy, and this age of rapid change only promises to accelerate that. Just as democracy is weakened by the prevalence of unhealthy conflict, it is weakened by attempts to suppress healthy conflict that is agonistic, rather than antagonistic.

cubicgarden discussing the scale of pluralism on the fediverse. There’s a group of early-adopters with their own norms. If a single instance is engaging in bad behavior it’s easy to block, but if the silicon valley groups move in, blocklists won’t work as well.

Nathalie: Threads probably won’t respond to existing norms. Some will federate, some won’t

cubicgarden: will it fracture into corporate vs indieweb versions?

Nathalie recommends looking into Gehl.

The Technical Development of Internet Email https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/4544553

Ethan Zuckerman recent paper on history: From Community Governance to Customer Service and Back Again: Re-Examining Pre-Web Models of Online Governance to Address Platforms’ Crisis of Legitimacy https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/20563051231196864

Participant discusses a future where each user can run their own instance. Think that’s where it’s trying to head. Blocklists can exist at server level and at user level.

Nathalie: community instances can be a strength.

cubicgarden describes how larger communities create blocklists and servers can pick and choose.

Example of community & user blocklists

Participant: norms based vs safety based. indirect flows of harassment, do you defederate from sites that federate with blocked sites.

Mention of ggautoblocker and negative effect on trans and Black creators who were included.

Jaz: Curates trusted sources list. There’s already a fractured hate-speech island. There’s a large island of mutually federating sites. Some sites are very restrictive and block easily. Is the fediverse a platform or a protocol? Lots of agency for users (like email 20 years ago), trying to figure out what it means. Example: Runs a 15k account server, has 6 moderators. Brought up blocklists at all hands meetings because it seemed to be coming up everwhere, no one else had seen it. Everyone’s view of the fediverse is different. Blocking still isn’t being used much.

Participant: norms can be different in different places and times. Talking about star trek in a knitting group might get you kicked out. Thinking about the fediverse as one big room doesn’t work. Are we missing different groups that have different sets of rules?

Nathalie did research developing a taxonomy of fediverse. Unlike discords or wechats fediverse is an “open many-to-many” which can create context collapse. It’s a different experience and shapes norms in different ways.

DrImplausible cautions how much social norm correction is indistinguishable(?) from outside toxicity.

Participant discusses how some conflicts may be about principles some may be about fueds. Hard to understand and engage for bystanders. makes fediverse feel less inviting. You’re in multiple places at once, you’re in every instance where people are reading your posts. Would help to make context and shared expectations more explicit. The ambiguity makes it hard, especially for outsiders.

Nathalie: toxic polarization is when you see another as someone to dominate

DrImplausible: performative domination for scoring points?

Nathalie: it’s about norm dominations

Participant discusses cultural nature of norms. Is one person’s norm another person’s threat? Need ways to prevent distribution of harm

Edward: In real life, we can see who is in the room with us. In Fediverse, we don’t. We can’t see who can pick on what we’re saying and use it against us later.

End game of this type of network, if a single norm violation leads to a block, is either everyone ends up in one big island or everyone ends up on their own tiny island.

Nathalie: some people who have unacceptable norms still think they’re in the right. Need to find ways for different norms to coexist, get as many people in a shared space with shared norms, but also accept that some people will not feel comfortable regardless, or some people will not comply with the norms.