I enjoy Mastodon but, long term, it won't be better than Twitter

I like Mastodon, the conversation and interactions there are always livelier than on Twitter despite the smaller population.

But when it comes to abuse it isn’t safer than Twitter. It may well be less safe.

The most recent example is how Wil Wheaton has been driven out of the network entirely.

Update: Wil Wheaton has written a blog post about this.

And none of it should have honestly come as a surprise because it isn’t the first, second, or even third time that Mastodon as a network has had a major abuse issue flare up.

The first true test case of how Mastodon handles abuse—and ensuing complete failure—was probably Ginny McQueen who is subjected to relentless abuse and online harassment and has only persevered by administering her own Mastodon instance.

You don’t have to have been paying that much attention to notice considerable dissatisfaction across the network with how abuse is generally handled.

Moreover, Mastodon doesn’t seem to have learned much from prior art in this area.

As Suw says:

The thing that pisses me off the most about this Wil Wheaton thing is that there is a bunch of us who were talking about essential community management tools and techniques a fucking decade or more ago, and we were all ignored. And now what we see is that the lessons we all learnt and discussed back then have not just not been learnt by today’s admins, but the scale of the problem has been allowed to get out of hand. And now it’s very hard to put the genie back in the bottle.

Apologies to Suw for quoting the toot in its entirety but it cuts to the heart of the matter. Mastodon in terms of features and affordances has for the most part copied those of services whose community management generally doesn’t work in the face of actual, planned, and sustained abuse.

Global social networks enable massive, coordinated, asymmetric, and sustained harassment and abuse campaigns. Being on an instance whose admin is willing to take aggressive measures helps but that’s still a game of whack-a-mole. There’s no reason to believe that federation as a network model (the main innovation Mastodon has over Twitter) is in any way a mitigation of coordinated harassment as a threat model.

You still need community management tools and techniques built and designed by people with experience and knowledge in that specific field. And even with those in place (which Mastodon doesn’t really have at the moment) you still have to depend on the foibles and unreliable humanity of your particular instance admin.

So the only real difference between Twitter and Mastodon when it comes to mitigating abuse is that on Mastodon—if you’re so unlucky to be the target of harassment—you probably know the name of the admin who is letting you down.

I’m going to end with a quote from “Federation is the Worst of all Worlds” by Sarah Jamie Lewis:

The threat model and economics of federated systems devolve to concentrating trust in the hands of a few, while missing out on the scale advantages of purely centralized solutions.

Federation results in the data of users being subject to the whims of the owner of the federated instance. Administrators can see correspondence and derive social graphs trivially. They are also in a position to selectively censor inter-instance communication. All of this while gaining none of the benefits of scale and discovery that centralized systems provide.

Baldur's Notes @baldur