Originally published June 22, significantly revised July 7, remixed in December 2023 after Threads' launch. See the update log at the bottom for a revision history.
Exciting times in the fediverse
"It’s been a wild week or so watching people who I thought hated centralized social networks because of the harm they do giddily celebrating the entry into the fediverse of a vast, surveillance-centric social media conglomerate credibly accused of enabling targeted persecution and mass murder."
– Erin Kissane, Untangling Threads, December 21
As always, it's an exciting time in the interconnected web of decentralized social networks known as the "fediverse" – and for Twitter competitors in general, as X (formerly Twitter) accelerates its transformation into a machine for fascism. I wrote the original version of this article in June/July 2023, when Facebook's parent company Meta launched Threads (previously codenamed "Project92" or P92) in June announced that it would integrate with Mastodon and other fediverse software using the ActivityPub protocol soon.
Meta's announcement sparked fierce pushback, including hundreds of instances (servers) signing on to the FediPact. Threads' initial reviews were tepid, and Meta revised its timeframe for fediverse integration to "a long way out". Since then, Threads has improved significantly, and Twitter has gotten worse, so Threads now has over a hundred million active users – far more than the fediverse or other Twitter alternatives like Bluesky. In mid-December a Threads post by Mark Zuckerberg and a series of posts by Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri announced the first steps of a year-long journey to two-way communication between Threads and the fediverse, many details still tbd.
The most likely outcome is a schism between anti-Meta "free fediverses" and "Meta's fediverse;" There are many fediverses discusses why I think a schism will be a good thing. Fediverse polls consistently show a lot of current users wanting nothing to do with Meta, and it's not just the FediPact signers who are blocking Meta: hundreds of other instances have blocked Meta without signing the FediPact. Then again, a lot of current users and instances (including the largest instances) are eager to communicate with people on Meta. More positibely, in chaos there is opportunity, and Meta's arrival is already catalyzing some positive, badly-needed changes in the fediverse.
Kissane's Untangling Threads is a brilliantly-written overview of some of the pespectives on both sides. I've also covered a range of perspectives here in sections like Why block Meta?, The case for "Trust but verify", Wait a second. Why should anybody trust Facebook, Instagram, or Meta?, Two views of the fediverse, We're here, we're queer, fuck Facebook (or whatever they're calling themselves these days), An important perspective, too rarely acknowledged in the fediverse and A few words about digital colonialism.
This is a very long article – and it doesn't even discuss what Meta's up to, which I cover in Embrace, Extend, and Exploit: Meta’s plan for ActivityPub, Mastodon and the fediverse – so feel free to skip around to the sections that interest you.
- Exciting times in the fediverse
- Why block Meta?
- The case for "Trust but verify"
- Wait a second. Why should anybody trust Facebook, Instagram, or Meta?
- Why the Anti-Meta Fedi Pact is good strategy for people who want the fediverse to be an alternative to surveillance capitalism
- Two views of the fediverse
- The (annotated) case for a "big fedi"
- An interesting dynamic
- We're here, we're queer, fuck Facebook (or whatever they're calling themselves these days)
- An important perspective, too rarely acknowledged in the fediverse
- A few words about digital colonialism
- What will instances do? Opinions differ!
- Speaking of polls ...
- There are many fediverses -- and a lot of people will prefer them to Threads
- In chaos there is opportunity!
- Terminology note: LGBTQIA2S+
- Notes (including some snark as well as lots of links)
Why block Meta?
A lot of people are in the Fediverse looking for an alternative to surveillance capitalism companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Meta who make money by exploiting our data without consent. Also for some strange reason some people in the fediverse see Facebook, Instagram, and Meta's track record as problematic. The "Incompatible Values" section of Defederating P92, bySeirdy (Rohan Kumar), for example, starts by noting that
"Facebook has aided and abetted in genocide…more than once. Myanmar and Ethiopia are the main examples I know of. After Myanmar, Facebook repeated the same process in the Phillipines, fueling Duterte’s bloody drug war that claimed thousands of lives."
Seirdy then goes on to highlight other cultural supremacy, transphobia, and privacy issues, including Facebook's complicity in allowing the rise of Hindu nationalism in India – which they're still assisting. Here in the US, Facebook worked with the Trump campaign (and data that Facebook had shared with Cambridge Analytica without user consent) to help him win the 2016 election, continues to sell discriminatory housing ads despite multiple settlements promising not to, allowed groups and pages to spread QAnon, antivax, and election denial conspiracy theories and planning, allows harassment of trans people and Muslims and Black women ... oh and let's not forget their famous Illegal, Immoral, and Mood-Altering experiment manipulating users' emotions. I could go on, but you get the idea.
But wait, there's more. Alex Heath has reported that posts Meta sends into the fediverse, and from the fediverse visible on Meta, will be subject to Meta's content moderation rules -- which, he thinks, "means those policies will have a sweeping impact on the fediverse." Not everybody sees this as a good thing. For example:
"I can't believe some people are seriously considering allowing #meta before they solve their spam, esp. nazi spam problem.... Let me remind you: You log on to tell your extended family good morning, and within the first few things on your home feed, someone has commented that some people in a marginalized group are not deserving of life or freedom."
– IronWynch, ion soc.irowyn.ch
"try being trans and on facebook, having a list of common suicide methods sent to you by a bigot, and reporting it. they'll do goddamn nothing. a real, personal, and depressingly common example"
– Anti-Meta Fedi Pact creator vantablack in Why Block Meta?
A lot of people have had really horrible experiences on Facebook, Instagram, and Meta – and don't like the idea of making it easier for that toxicity to infect the fediverse.
And it's not just the toxicity. As joene says:
"#Meta's #Threads wanting to federate with the #fediverse (if that will ever happen 🤞) is a form of #gentrification. A large corporate shopping mall settles in a nice neighborhood with small local run shops and community centers. The new shopping mall says 'if we settle here, more people will come, and you all will benefit'. A few years later all small shops are bankrupt and the community is destroyed. What remains is a barren corporate landscape."
Also what about Meta's business model of harvesting data without consent?
"This guy sold our data, including private messages, to Cambridge Analytica so that conservatives could lens their ads so finely, so individually, people were seeing and hearing exactly what they always wanted to, no matter what they’d always wanted to, with a kicky little Trump 2016 in the corner. He did the same thing for Brexit."
– Catherynne M. Valente, Mark F***king Zuckerberg Is Not Your Friend
"Meta Threads has begun federating" is an anagram for "user meat feeding the beast""
– Robert Gehl,
As I discuss in Threat modeling Meta, the fediverse, and privacy, federating with Meta introdues new paths for data to flow to them without consent. Of course, there's very little privacy on the fediverse today ... but that's something we should be working on improving, not an argument for throwing in the towel and giving Meta non-consensual access to data they can't get at today.
"Meta’s business model centers on owning the dominant forums for online human connection in most of the world and using that dominant position to construct dense webs of data that clients at every level of society will pay a lot of money for so that they can efficiently target their ad/influence campaigns."
So it's not surprising that hundreds of instances (sites running Mastodon or compatible software) have signed the Anti-Meta Fedi Pact, pledging to block the hell out of any of Meta's instances on the fediverse. And with Threads not launching in the EU because of privacy issues, and well-known anti-trans and racist accounts like Libs of TikTok and PragerU as enthusiastic early adopters, more and more instances who haven't signed the pact are also blocking Meta. [https://fedipact.veganism.social/ is a good place to see who's doing what.]
And there's broad – although far from universal – support for instances' decisions to block Meta. In fact, polls show that a lot of people are ready to move, depending on what their instance does.
Of course, as I'll discuss in the polling roundup below, polls on the fediverse should be taken with several grains of salt. Still, it's interesting data, and yet one more sign that a lot of people reallllly don't want Meta in the fediverse.
The case for "trust but verify"
This is a clear victory for our cause, hopefully one of many to come.
– Rochko, in What to know about Threads
Then again, opinions differ. It's certainly true that if you put aside concerns about Meta's untrustworthiness and exploitative behavior, there are potential upsides for Threads. For one thing, Meta's endorsement is likely to push adoption of the ActivityPub protocol, which many see as an important goal in its own right.
Of course, this path has its perils. As Klaudia Zotzmann-Koch says in Das Fediverse, Meta und das Toleranzparadoxon (also available in English), "Ein Schubs die Treppe runter ist auch ein Schub": a push down the stairs is also a push.1 Miloš Jovanović similarly cautions "Whoever thinks that we have somehow "won" by having them adopt #ActivityPub is deeply ignoring reality and history." Ploum 's How to Kill a Decentralised Network (such as the Fediverse) discusses how the XMPP community has never recovered from Google's adoption of the protocol.
Still, at least in the short term, Meta's adoption is likely to be good for ActivityPub and people whose careers and reputations revolve around it. And Rod Hilton has confidently stated that "The notion that Meta is looking to embrace/extend/extinguish the fediverse is laughable,"2 and Fosstodon admin Kev Quirk's's December followup Threads and the Fediverse equally-confidently states "the argument that Threads joining the fediverse is bad for our privacy is bollocks" so if you're willing to take their word for it there's nothing to worry about on this front!
Quirk's earlier Facebook, Fosstodon & The Fediverse sketches another possible upside:
What if this thing ends up being a service that can allow you to communicate with your friends who still use Facebook, via the Fedi, in a privacy respecting manor.... We all know Facebook is a privacy vortex of doom so I doubt that would ever happen, but we shall see…
I too doubt that would ever happen, but yes, in the very unlikely event that Meta decides to provide a privacy respecting way for people on the fediverse to communicate with the friends on Facebook they want to communicate (and not to be exposed to the acquaintances and relatives on Facebook they don't want to communicate with) (and it doesn't expose people in the fediverse to the hate speech, disinfo, and harassment that Facebook's moderation allows) (or ads) (or lead to compromising the fediverse's independence) (or expose other people's data to Meta without their consent) (etc), that would be a good thing. We shall see.
If Meta users do decide to explore the fediverse more, there are other potential upsides.
- App vendors will have a much bigger market, and Meta may well release libraries making it easier to develop applications that work with Threads that become de facto standards that other platforms also support.
- If people setting up accounts on a non-Meta Mastodon instance to go with their Threads account, or decide to host their own, that creates opportunities for instance admins and hosting companies.
- Meta might well (at least initially) help instance admins who work with them scale and ensure that their users can fully enjoy Threads content – and present them with some win/win opportunities to monetize their user base. As one Universeodon's instance admin said before reaching out to Meta, "if they do find success and make billions - why would some instances not want to carve out a piece of that to earn a living wage and run a legit business?"
So it's not surprising that the admins running several of the larger Mastodon instances at least initially came to the same conclusion Tim Chambers is taking with indieweb.social: don't preemptively block Meta but instead "stay vigilant with eyes wide open and a finger on the block button" – an approach I've seen described as described as "Trust but Verify."
Wait a second. Why should anybody trust Facebook, Instagram, or Meta?
In reality, even the people advocating a "trust but verify" seem to agree that Facebook, Instagram, and Meta are untrustworthy. After all, it's objectively true!
For one of many examples, look at Meta's history with their discriminatory housing ads.
- Pro Publica first reported that Facebook advertisers could run "whites only" ads in 2016, and Facebook promised to fix the problem.
- In 2017 Pro Publica tested again and reported that it wasn't fixed; Facebook once again promised to fix it.
- In 2019 Facebook settled with National Fair Housing Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union and promised to fix the problem.
- Later in 2019 HUD sued Facebook over housing discrimination later that year, alleging the company's algorithms had made the situation even worse. Facebook settled again in June 2022, and promised to fix the problem.
Hey wait a second, I'm noticing a pattern here!
So I have no idea how why people think "trust but verify" make sense ... but for a while it was.a popular talking point: in Defederate Meta, fancysandwiches noted "I've seen this from at least three different admins."
Of course, it's possible to work with companies you don't trust. Still, a strategy of trusting the company you don't trust until you actually catch them trying to screw you over is ... risky. There's a lot to be said for the approach scicomm.xyz describes as "prudently defensive" in Meta on the Fediverse: to block or not to block?: "block proactively and, if none of the anticipated problems materialise within time, consider removing the block." Georg of lediver.se frames it similarly:
We will do the watch-and-see strategy on our instance in regards to #meta: block them, watch them, and if they behave (hahahahaha) we will see if we unblock them or not. No promise though
Why the Anti-Meta Fedi Pact is good strategy for people who want the fediverse to be an alternative to surveillance capitalism
By supporting the fedipact we are signalling that we don't consent to interacting with a known abusive actor who revels in their power.
– Esther Payne, in Consent and the fediverse
If we let Facebook play in our pool, they'll eventually shit in it and monetize our outrage.
– Alice, on lgbtqia.space
But why wait? There's a lot to be said for the approach of "block immediately if not sooner."
Facebook, Instagram, and Meta's business model is to make money by exploiting people's data – their users, and others as well – and amplifying right-wing propaganda, conspiracy theories, and disinformation. Even if they're being nice for the time being, it's only a matter of time until they show their true colors on the fediverse as well, and cause the same kind or problems they cause with all their other platforms. And should we really be letting them off the hook for all the harms they've caused and are continuing to cause just because it didn't happen on the fediverse?
So if you look at it from the perspective of wanting to create a fediverse – or at least a region of the fediverse – that's free of surveillance capitalism, the #FediPact is a great strategy on many levels:
- Most importantly, it counters the gaslighting that resistance is futile. The segment of the fediverse that wants to reject Meta is clearly large enough that it will survive no matter what the big Mastodon instances and pundits do.
- It's a good first step in organizing a broad "Meta-free" zone in the fediverse. As Miloš Jovanović says, it's a "virtual picket" that can "stake a claim and build a common consciousness."
- It puts instance admins considering collaborating with Meta on notice that they'll be held accountable when things go wrong – potentially leading them to rethink their stance of "trust but verify" and at least postpone the decision, even if they're not yet ready to commit to defederating.
- It signals to Meta (and other surveillance capitalism companies who are watching what happens with Meta) that the potential costs for exploiting the fediverse may be higher than they originally anticipated.
Of course, #FediPact also needs to be accompanied by other organizing tactics – and building the kind of "free fediverse" that addresses the problems that are endemic in today's fediverse. Still, you gotta start somewhere. And from the perspective of people who don't want to federate with Meta, it's one of several good places to start.
And yet, I've seen multiple supporters of working with Meta dismiss the #FediPact as "performative." I agree in the sense that it's a performative speech act that alters reality (the #FediPact has clearly had am impact on the discussions so far) but I'm pretty sure that's not the sense they're using it it.
It's not all-or-nothing
One argument I've heard against the Anti-Meta Fedi Pact from several people is that unlike the situation with Gab (who switched to using Mastodon’s code in 2019 and was almost-immediately defederated by most non-Nazi fediverse instances), there isn't near-unanimous support for defederation of Meta.
That's certainly true right now ... but then again there were several weeks of organizing before Gab launched to build consensus for what seemed like immediate action. So as more people and instances have time to discuss it, and as we learn more about the specifics of Meta's plans and there's more analysis of the risks, opposition to Meta might continue to grow – especially if a high-profile greedy, bullying , or untrustworthy moves by Meta and/or other ad-funded big tech social network causes people to reconsider their strategy. We shall see. 3
But even if the larger instances Meta is reportedly reaching out to decide to cast their lot untrustworthy surveillance capialists, so what? As vantablack says in Why Block Meta?, "it's not black-and-white, win-or-lose. there's degrees of this shit."
A critical mass of instances announcing up front that they're treating Meta as hostile is already a huge success. And as the discussions sparked by the Anti-Meta Fedi Pact go on, it wouldn't surprise me if more and more people and instances shift their position away from "trust but verify" ... which will also be a success even it's not everybody.
Update, July 14: And sure enough, after quite a few articles about the launch mentioned the #FediPact and resistance in the fediverse – and a story by a #FediPact supporter about the privacy risks of federating with Mest spent an entire day on the front page of Hacker News – Meta went from originally saying they'd have ActivityPub integration "soon" (and featuring it in Threads' onboarding screens) to their new position that it's "a long way out." Of course there were other considerations as well, but still, count this as another huge success!
Two views of the fediverse
Others, however, see the situation differently. They don't actually disagree about Facebook, Instagram, and Meta's predatory surveillance capitalism business model differently, or their long record of contributing to genocide, human rights violations, helping authoritarians win elections, running discriminatory ads, amplifying disinformation, privacy abuses, experimenting on their users, and lying about it. There actually seems to be consensus on all of those.
But even so, quite a few fediverse influencers disagree with the approach of blocking Meta. For example:
- Manton Reese says "Let’s welcome Meta, not block them."
- Dan York also thinks "we should actually welcome them! Carefully and warily … but still welcoming!)"
- Dan Gillmor suggests that "preemptively blocking them -- and the people already using them -- from your instance guarantees less relevance for the fediverse."
- Tristan Louis says "The anti-Meta #Fedipact can only achieve one thing: make sure that #ActivityPub loses to the Bluesky protocol."4
- Chris Stefan opines "the #FediPact is seen as a handful of cranks in a corner."
- John Gruber describes the Anti-Meta Pact as "petty and deliberately insular" and that any instance that blocks Meta will be an "island of misfit loser zealots." In his view, the whole point of ActivityPub is to turn social networking into something more akin to email, which he hilariously describes as "truly open."5
- Chris Trottier suggests that "if your community can’t survive Meta using ActivityPub, then it doesn’t deserve to exist" and argues "if the goal is to fight against Meta’s hegemony, the most effective strategy may be to federate with them."
Like I say, opinions differ.
One of the things that's going on here is a a tension between two different views of the fediverse.
- For some of us, the fediverse is an opportunity to build a space that's free of surveillance capitalism and all the exploitation, human rights violations , and discrimination that come with it. From this perspective, as vantablack says, "openness for the sake of openness is meaningless."
- For others, the fediverse is primarily about building a decentralized social network system based on an open protocol where anybody can talk to anybody else even if they're not on sites run by big tech companies. From this perspective, bigger is better: the more people in the network and broader adoption of ActivityPub is the priority. Meta getting on board is a good means to these ends, at least in the short term.
Of course, these positions aren't absolute. "Bigger is better" advocates often include such as "as long as it doesn't compromise user safety" or "assuming moderation standards hold." Many people who want a space free of surveillance capitalism hope it grows over time (although as heat-shield.space's The Two Camps of Mastodon notes, many on Mastodon also value small communities). In some ways, as EFF's The Fediverse Could Be Awesome (If We Don’t Screw It Up) highlights, these views are compatible.
In other ways, though ... not so much. For example, as L. Rhodes remarks in an excellent thread on Just Nodes and Networked Communities,
Those two views aren't necessarily incompatible, but they tend toward different philosophies that impact important things like app development.
The (annotated) case for a "big fedi"
"The “Big Fedi” position is a set of ideas that roughly cluster together. Not everyone who agrees with one or a few of these agrees with them all, but I think they tend to be related."
– Evan Prodromou, Big Fedi, Small Fedi, December 2023
Prodromou's essay is an excellent view into some other differences in the philosophies. As he says near the end of the essay, Prodromou's sees himself as "mostly a Big Fedi person." With his decades of experience on decentralized social networks, it's not surprising that he does an excellent job of presenting the "bigger is better" case. So it's especially worth readin, and thinking critically about, the list of ideas in the "Big Fedi" section of his essay.
Of course, Prodromou's coming at it from the perspective of a "Big Fedi" advocate, so it's also worth looking at what he's leaving out. Here's a few examples (with my annotations in italics highlighting some of what Prodromou leaves unsaid)
- Everyone on the planet should have an account on the fediverse (even Nazis, acists, transphobes, white supremacists, hate groups who target LGBTQIA2S+ people). It will make the internet better and the world better (if Nazis et al are on the fediverse, as opposed to trying to keep them off) .
- The individual is central, and the account serverr is mostly a dumb pipe (as opposed to a community with norms and boundaries run by admins and moderators who have useful tools to protect people on the instance from harassment and hate speech)
- Moderation can be automated (even though automated moderation doesn't work well on Facebook, Instagram, and Threads – and discriminates against people of color and LGBTQIA2S+ people)
- People should make choices that help bring the fediverse to new people (even when marginalized people are warning that these choices put them at risk)
- It’s more important to bring good people to the fediverse than to keep (Nazis, facists, transphobes, white supremacists, hate groups who target LGBTQIA2S+ people and other) bad people off it. There may be some bad people, too, but we’ll (somehow come up with a way to) manage them (even though today's fediverse is unsafe by design and unsafe by default and most instances can't manage the bad people who are there today, so it's likely to get a lot worse rather than better as things get bigger)
One thing worth keeping in mind while reading this section some of the ideas that Prodromou attriutes to "Big Fedi" advocates are shared much more broadly. Pretty much everybody largely agrees that there should be a lot of different instances with different norms to choose from; that services like onboarding tools are useful; connections should be person-to-person; affinity groups should stretch beyond instance boundaries; there should be open-source implementations; and existing organizations should be able to run their own instances.
Also, more precision would be useful on some of these. For example, there's no way to prevent organizations like Stormfront and Libs of TikTok from running their own instances; if they do, should they be treated like Gab and kept off the fediverse through mass defederation? If not, it's a significant change in values from the fediverse of the last few years (and a return to the values of the pre-Mastodon fediverse) – and a real difference in perspective from people who don't take a "bigger is better" approach that's worth being explicit about.
Of course, it's not possible to keep all bad people and organizations off the fediverse, and I certainly agree that better tools are needed to manage them. But today's fediverse has kept bad people and organizations off. Gab tried to join and the vast majority of instances defederated them and the left. OANN tried to join an existing instance, and threats of defedartion convinced the admin to enforce their code of conduct and kick OANN off. So even though there are plenty of bad actors who sneak through, it's still very different from the Big Fedi view Prodromou articulates, where Stormfront and Libs of TikTok should be on the fediverse (because everybody should have an account) and automated moderation tools will limit the harm they cause.
Two sides to every story
The rest of the essay's worth reading as well. Prodromou's a strong supporter of federating with Meta, so as well as an interesting window into how he personally sees things, his essay's a useful view into how Meta's advocates (and Meta) (and a sympathetic tech press) are likely to portray Meta's embrace and extension of the fediverse – and the resistance.
Since Prodromou's mostly a Big Fedi kind of guy, it's not surprising that his "Small Fedi" section has some very misleading characterizations. Even the name is based on a deliberate distortion of a term Erin Kissane used to describe today's fediverse in Untangling Threads. One good example of a very misleading take is Prodromou's laughable claim that "Small Fedi" advocates mostly think "the fediverse works just about right right now, and shouldn’t change."
I've talked with dozens of people who don't buy into the "bigger is better" worldview, and almost none them think either of those two things. To the contrary, most people who don't buy into the "Big Fedi" view aren't thrilled with how the fediverse works right now, and for one thing think there's already too much racism and transphobia and other bigotry on the fediverse, and too many Nazis, fascists, and tranphobes. And they do want things to change: less racism and tranphobia, fewer Nazis, fascists, and terfs.
That said, Prodromou is correct that there's a genuine difference of opinion here. A bigger is better approach leads to more racism, transphobia, bigotry Nazis, fascists, transphobes, and hate groups in the fediverse – in general, and specifically in terms of federating with Threads (which as I write this is actively promoting transphobic content and even using it in their ads to encourage people to join Threads). As Prodromou says, "Big Fedi" advocates see that as a tradeoff worth making. Others disagree. But that doesn't mean they like things as they are today.
Still, it's certainly see why it's useful for Meta and their supporters would want to portray this attitude as resisting change. And the same's true for many of the other mischaracterizations in Prodromou's view of "Small Fedi".
An interesting dynamic ...
Yet another good reasonn to read Prodromou's essay is that it's also a good example of an interesting dynamic that I've been talking about for months now: people in the "bigger is better" camp seem to have a hard time acknowledging why some people see it differently. Rochko, for example, has never as far as I know mentioned concerns about safety beyond assuring people that they can block Threads. A series of June/July posts by fediverse influencer Tim Chambers (who in addition to being instance admin or indieweb.org also helped create of spreadmastsodon.org, and in his day job at Dewey Digital publishes the Twitter Migration Report) provide other examples.5.1
And even in areas where concerns are being acknowledged, the responses don't really address them. For example, In The Fediverse, Metapocalypse & Preemptive Bans, privacy expert Carey Lening says she's deeply sympathetic with people who have legitimate concerns that their communities will be negatively impacted by letting Facebook/Meta connect – but also says that "ensuring that only the right people join is, I suspect, a key driver for banning Meta."
And Chambers dismisses concerns about the impacts of ineffective moderation by Threads by saying "we have all the tools we need for that now - as users & as admins and deal with exactly this from poorly moderated servers EVERY. SINGLE. DAY." Oh really? Have a look at some of the examples of harassment, racism, and other moderation fails I list in the section on In chaos there is opportunity! and see how effective the tools are in practice today. And as CJ Bellwether says:
"Admins federating with Threads, you are removing the safety barriers and it is going to destroy any community that exists within your realm where LGBTQ+ people just joke around and laugh and make friends and share their experiences. As soon as your users are aware they have an audience of 100M Threads users, many right wing or anti-trans who want to attack them for their existence, make them the target of the week, they will cease to be afforded that open experience."
Similarly, if you look at the concerns others have cited about embrace-and-extend and data mining, opinions differ on how persuasive Chambers' responses are.5.2
I certainly don't mean to single out Lening and Chambers here; they've both spent more time than most other pro-Meta advocates engaging with people on the other side of the issue (including Lening citing this post, and Chambers giving me helpful feedback on this section), and when I first wrote this section they were the the two well-thought-out articulations of the "bigger is better" positions I could find. By contrast, some of the other most-visible "bigger is better" advocates haven't been putting much effort at all into understanding objections. Trottier (who in addition to being instance admin for firefish.social is also launching the SpaceHost hosting service and developing the Great Ape app), for example, blocked me after a discussion where I shared some links about Facebook's history of digital colonialism.
And let's be blunt: some of the loudest voices for working with Meta as long as it doesn't compromise user safety don't actually have a good track record of prioritizing user safety. Does Mastodon really prioritize stopping harassment? , for example, discusses Rochko's history of tradeoffs with the Mastodon code base.6 Rochko also runs the mastodon.social instance, which has a long history of bad moderation.
Not only that, ActivityPub, the underlying standard the entire fediverse runs on, also compromises user safety. Ariadne Conill, for example, notes that the ActivityPub protocol "utterly fails to guarantee basic trust and safety properties expected from a commercial social networking service."7 Of course, protocol weaknesses can be improved over time, and people like ActivityPub spec co-authors Christine Lemmer-Webber and Erin Shephard have consistently pushed for stronger protections, as has Conill. Other ActivityPub boosters, however, haven't; and the protocol hasn't advanced on this front in the five years since it was first improved. So they too have a track record of not priortizing user safety.
So as good "bigger is better as long as ..." might sounds in theory, in this situation there's a lot of very justifiable skepticism that it's anything more than a talking point.
We're here, we're queer, fuck Facebook (or whatever they're calling themselves these days)
"Trans people talk and post here openly about their lives from a position that has never existed on social media before. We talk openly with cis people reading our posts and replying, friendships, understanding, experience, normalisation.
Every other social network this is impossible because the continual existence of anti-trans agitators is implicit."
– CJ Bellwether, on octodon.social
"Meta and co have been terrible for queer people and now that we finally have our own space to be ourselves, they try to force themselves into our lives again for a profit! We all know that we will only suffer as a result of this."
– Alexis, on alexisart.me
As We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re federated describes, queer, trans, and non-binary people have played a huge role in building Mastodon and the fediverse. So it's worth highlighting how many of the initial Anti-Meta Fedi Pact signers are from trans-, queer-, and LGBTQIA2S+-focused instances. And why might that be? For one thing, Threads hasn't banned Libs of Tik Tok, Gays against Groomers, and other anti-LGBTQIA2S+ hate groups. As Kissane notes, these groups have "refined earlier internet mob justice episodes into a sustainable business model."
"Libs of Tiktok named and targeted two hundred and twenty-two individual employees of schools or education organizations in just the first four months of 2022."
And it's not just Threads current bad behavior. Facebook, Instagram, and Meta have a loooooong history here. A few links:
- Facebook’s Discrimination Against the LGBT Community
- Facebook is making millions off Matt Walsh’s transphobic documentary
- Transgender Facebook content dominated by right-wing sources
- ‘I’m Scared for My Followers’: Anti-Trans Hate Is Absolutely Rampant on Facebook
- Facebook’s ‘real name’ policy hurts real people and creates a new digital divide
- Meta’s Nudity Policies Discriminate Against Trans People, talking about both Facebook and Instagram
Hey, wait a second, I'm noticing another pattern here!
Of course, just like any other issue, there's a range of opinion in LGBTQIA2S+ communities on what the right approach is to take with Meta. My guess is that former Facebook board member Peter Thiel, for example, isn't likely to support an anti-Meta pact (in fact he probably thinks that defederating Gab was a mistake). And more generally, LGBTQIA2S+ employees of Meta and other surveillance capitalism companies, are likely to have different perspectives than LGBTQIA2S+ who don't have ties to big tech.
Hopefully LGBTQIA2S+ people and allies advocating for "trust but verify" or other approach involving engaging with Meta take the strong dissenting perspectives into account. It's a great opportunity to show solidarity. One good starting point is to complement sharing your own opinion with taking the time to listen to, understand, and fairly represent the more marginalized voices who are a lot less likely to be heard – and engage with their criticisms instead of dismissing them. This is especially important for instance admins who want their instances to be seen as LGBTQIA2S+-friendly, employees of surveillance capitalism companies, and cis and/or straight allies with influence in the fediverse.
And allies at surveillance capitalism companies, or instance admins who are allies and have queer and trans moderators, please please please avoid the temptation to rely on your LGBTQIA2S+ colleagues to do the all work or ask them to speak for their entire communities!
Updated, December 23: multiple trans people have reported that Threads is showing them transphobic content in their "For You" feed. Who could have predicted? OK, everybody, including me, but other than that, who, who could have predicted?
It is anti-queer and transphobic to ignore the number of trans and queer-led instances and LGBTQIA2S+ people who oppose federating with Threads – or dismiss LGBTQIA2S+ concerns as "overreacting"
Queer and trans people built the fediverse and many of us have strong opinions on Meta. Of course, no community is monolithic, and there are a range of opinions about how to react to Meta ... but still:
- the FediPact was started by a trans enby lesbian gender terrorists
- almost none of the largest LGBTQIA2S+- focused instances are planning federating with Threads – and many have signed the Fedipact
But you wouldn't know that from the media coverage – or from anything that many of the fediverse influencers who support federating with Threads are saying. Erasing trans and queer perspectives is intellectually dishonest, anti-queer, and transphobic.
And speaking of intellectually dishonest, anti-queer, and transphobic ... it would be really great if cis people stopped describing LGBTQIA2S+ concerns about hate groups on Threads as "overreacting," or "hysteria". Kissane discussion in Attack Vectors (open) notes that these hate groups have "refined earlier internet mob justice episodes into a sustainable business model", including one that "named and targeted two hundred and twenty-two individual employees of schools or education organizations in just the first four months of 2022. Perhaps there are ways to mitigate the threat, but the concerns are valid – not overreacting, not hysteria. As Kissane says
"I’d take assertions that people who don’t want to federate with Threads are all irrational losers as useful revelations about the character of the people making them."
An important perspective, too rarely acknowledged in the fediverse
"[I]t is also the case that whiteness is a large problem within the LGBTQ community. Being queer does not insulate one cell from the inheritance of whiteness, although one can use one’s queerness as a shield from critique, as many Mastodonians have used by presenting the history of Mastodon as grounded in queer folks attempts to avoid the harassment on Twitter."
– Dr. Johnathan Flowers, in The Whiteness of Mastodon
"[A]lmost all the Twitter alternatives that have launched are facing accusations of not being friendly to Black folks, other people of color, the LGBTQ communities, and sex workers—just to name several people in society who are fast losing rights, safety, justice, and voice. While much has been made of federation and the fediverse and Mastodon, at the end of the day many from marginalized communities have not found these spaces to be hospitable to them....
Which is why the entry of Meta (as the company once known simply as Facebook is now called) into Twitter-like territory with the unveiling this past week of Threads is interesting."
– Shay Stewart-Bouley, in The whitening of social media
Then again, it's just as true that people advocating blocking Meta don't always understand and acknowledges the perspectives of people on the other side.
In particular, as Dr. Jonathan Flowers discusses in The Whiteness of Mastodon, Mastodon has a long history of racism. Dr. Flowers' outstanding article has plenty of examples; Dogpiling, weaponized content warning discourse, and a fig leaf for mundane white supremacy has several more examples from Mastodon's earliest days, and the replies in Creatrix Tiara's 2022 thread highlight how these same issues continue. As I discuss a bit more below, Mastodon's reputation for racism is toxic in many Black communities – and extends to the broader fediverse.
Of course, Facebook, Instagram, Meta, and pretty much every other social network also have a long history of racism too – Why Facebook failed its civil rights audit, and Facebook management ignored internal research showing racial bias, current and former employees say are two good examples. But that doesn't get the fediverse off the hook! And despite their problems, Facebook and Instagram are a lot more racially diverse than the fediverse today.
As We're here, we're queer, fuck Facebook discussed, many LGBTQIA2S+ people have found a home in the fediverse where they feel much safer and for the first time don't have to deal with the routine micro-aggressions and frequent harassment on other social networks. That's great! But that's not at all the case for many Black and Indigenous people of color in the fediverse. Until that changes, and until the culture changes significantly, many Black people are likely to find much more community and support from their friends and relatives on Threads than they do in the fediverse.
I rarely if ever hear advocates of blocking Meta acknowledge these these perspectives.8
To be clear, Black and Indigenous communities aren't monolithic; just as with LGBTQIA2S+ communities, there's a range of opinions on Meta. And Black and Indigenous LGBTQIA2S+ people exist and have their own uniquely intersectional experiences. As always, opinions differ!
So, if you're a white person who wants to be an ally or accomplice, the advice I gave above for cis and straight allies applies just as well here:
One good starting point is to complement sharing your own opinion with taking the time to listen to, understand, and fairly represent the more marginalized voices who are a lot less likely to be heard – and engage with their criticisms instead of dismissing them.
If you're interested in hearing more of these perspectives on this and other topics, check out hashtags like #BlackMastodon and #Indigedon – and remember that a lot of fediverse software (including Mastodon) allows you to follow hashtags.
A quick note on gatekeeping
It's also worth highlighting that the sneering attitudes I hear some people expressing about Instagram users are very reminiscent of the sneering attitudes they express about Twitter users. Mastodon has a reputation for gatekeeping, and while some of the aspects of "old fedi" culture are well worth keeping, even those often get expressed in unhelpful ways. And other aspects of old fedi culture that long predate Mastodon, like "it's good that it's hard because it keeps stupid people out," are most definitely not worth keeping.
When those attitudes get coupled with dismissing everybody on Instagram (or Twitter) as stupid or clout chasers ... that's not helpful. Worse, it's often expressed in racialized terms, which makes it doubly-unhelpful.
So please don't do that.
A few words about digital colonialism
"Big Tech corporations are wreaking havoc on the Global South. There’s a crisis in the tech ecosystem, and it’s called digital colonialism."
– Digital colonialism is threatening the Global South, Michael Kwet
"Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now."
– Meta Board Member Marc Andreessen, in 2016. He apologized, but Facebook still went ahead with the "Free Basics" program he was defending. Free Basics led to a significant increase in hate speech on the path to the genocide in Myanmar.
"Instead of heeding the warnings that continued to pour in from Myanmar, Meta doubled down on connectivity—and rolled out a program that razed Myanmar’s online news ecosystem and replaced it with inflammatory clickbait. What happened after that was the worst thing that people can do to one another."
– Erin Kissane, Meta in Myanmar
Also worth highlighting is a point that Seirdy touched on and highlight that the importance of including the perspectives of current and future fediverse members from regions, nations, and communities who are targeted by Facebook's digital colonialism over the years.
If you're not familiar with the term digital colonialism, here's a few links
- Toussaint Nothias' How to Fight Digital Colonialism
- Olivia Solon: ‘It’s digital colonialism’: how Facebook’s free internet service has failed its users
- Kate Begley's Digital Colonialism: Facebook in Eastern Africa
- Satyajeet Malik's How Meta aims to dominate India’s agriculture sector
- Adrienne LaFrance's Facebook and the New Colonialism
- Micahel Kwet's Digital colonialism: The evolution of US empire
- Mijente's outstanding Tech Wars course.
The fediverse has people in it from all over the world ... but all the big fediverse instances are currently hosted in the US, Europe, or Japan. And there are plenty of native and Indigenous people in the fediverse, with lively discussions on several hashtags ... but few if any are in positions of power. The same dynamics are true in the standards group that's responsible for ActivityPub.
So this is another area where it's vital for allies to understand and amplify views that otherwise won't get heard – and even more importantly, make sure people who are usually excluded are at the table for discussions going forward.
What will instances do? Opinions differ!
Threads' initial plans for fediverse integration sparked a lot of discussion about how instances should respond to Meta, some of it very highly charged.9 Once Threads actually turned on federation in December, another wave ensued, and instances who had (not unreasonably) deferred their decision until more details were available had to make a decision. https://fedipact.veganism.social/ has a list of instances' positions, and the Free Fediverse wiki has a (partial) list of announcements by instances who are blocking.
Announcements have primarily fallen into three camps:
- Not preemptively blocking, although open reconsidering when there are problems. hachyderm's A Minute from the Moderators in June had a detailed list of criteria, and their mid-December Threads Update confirmed that Threads was not yet violating any of the criteria. Other examples include CoSocial Board Decision on Threads and Tim Chambers' Instagram Threads and the Fediverse (announcing indieweb.social's position), and Fosstodon admin Kev Quirk's Threads and the Fediverse.
- Preeemptively blocking for now, although potentially reconsidering in the future. mastodon.art's On Meta, Insta, etc. coming to the Fediverse (May 23, which is I believe means it was the first blog post announcing an instance's position on Meta), Trumpet's June 26 toot10 about mas.to's position, and Stux' July 5 toot about mstdn.io's position are examples. (Stux wound up reversing after Threads launched in the EU in mid-December, resolving his major concerns.)
- Blocking and not planning on reconsidering. This includes #FediPact signers as well as other instances. Victor Wynne's Regarding Threads (July 4), annoncing that "Tooters will not become federated with Threads, nor any other potential future Meta properties," is a good example.
Some instances are taking more complex positions. Jerry Bell's Threads and Infosec.Exchange, for example, describes a multi-step plan including initially limiting Threads on infosec.exchange, starting up a new instance that blocks threads, giving people time to either move to the new instance or block Threads as individuals if they want, and after 60 days removing the limit on Threads. For a site like infosec.exchange that hosts a wide variety of security professionals (including some who work for or with surveillance capitalism companies) this seems like a very reasonable plan to me, and I plan to keep The Nexus of Privacy's account on infosec.exchange active – while complementing it with another account on an instance that does block Threads.
Some instance admins, very much to their credit, have made an effort to get input from people on their instance before making a decision. Wynne, for example, sent out an email blast to tooters.org members, and followed up with a thread updating the community on the initial results; cosocial.com started up a discussion on a hashtag before the board vote; Bell followed an initial local-only poll with multiple discussion threads. Here are some other good examples of admins getting input:
- social.coop's Discussion: Support the Anti-Meta Fedi Pact, using loomio (open-source software for group decision-making).
- Politica ConCiencia's thread with a statement and invitation to the social.politicaconciencia.org community – and the broader fediverse – to share their opinions, followed by the outstanding #TertuliaExtraordinaria discussion, (also available as a single document here).
- Master Control Program's initial statement that lgbtqia.space is postponing a decision, framing the questions they're thinking about, and letting their community know their input is valued.
- mastodon.green admin Johan Empa's poll and follow-up draft statement, grounding the decision in the instances' mission.
- sh.itjust.works (a Lemmy instance) had separate discussion and voting threads.
Speaking of polls ...
There were a lot of polls about Meta and Threads in the fediverse back in May and June. Of course, polls on the fediverse aren't any more reliable than polls on Twitter or other social networks, so should be taken with several grains of salt. Still, it's interesting data.
Depending on how the question is framed, some polls show overwhelming opposition to Meta. In my May 28 poll, with a very leading question analogizing Meta to Gab, 97% supported blocking. And here's another similarly-lopsided poll, in response to Universeodon's admin (a strong proponent of working with Meta) saying he had deleted his contributions to Mastodon's issues list on github because of snark from "people that looked like cats, princesses, and video game characters," and by contrast "talking with meta was fresh air because i was talking with engineers that had a common goal."
I know who I'm betting on!
Other, more neutrally worded polls, show strong but far for universal support for preemptively blocking (at least from accounts who see and respond to polls about Meta, which may or may not be representative of broader opinions).11
- Jens Finkhäuser's May 22 poll: 44% of the responses expressing an opinion wanted Meta preemptively blocked
- James Dreben's May 24 poll: 64% wanted Meta to be blocked on their instance.
- Tokyo Outsider's June 25 poll: 68% said they'd move instances to be on one that didn't federate with Meta.
- Volker Weber's June 28 poll: 43% will move to an instance that excludes Meta.
- Stux' June 28 poll: 63% wanted Meta blocked. With over 8000 responses, this has the broadest participation of any of the polls.
- Max Pearl's July 3 poll: 70% wanted their instance to block – and 44% say they'll move instances if their current instance doesn't block
- mcc's July 5 poll: 36% are opposed to Meta federating, 30% are alarmed, and only 10% are supportive. mcc also did a second poll at the same time, asking a similar question about Tumblr, with very different results , highlighting how much of the opposition is specific to Meta.
More recently, in sh.itjust.works' late-December voting thread, 78% voted for preemptive defederation.
There are many fediverses -- and a lot of people will prefer them to Threads
In the original version of this article, I said that I wouldn't be at all surprised if Meta decides not to go forward with ActivityPub federation with the fediverse in the short term ... and sure enough they launched without it. Now that they're finally moving forward, it'll be interesting to see how quickly they move on they're planning on taking. As Ernst notes, starting with broadcasting information without allowing people to reply, and then adding likes to enable tracking and reshares to make the broadcasting even more effective, is likely to appear one-sided and self-serving – both because of Meta's track record of one one-sided and self-serving "partnerships" and because it is, in fact, one-sided and self serving. Once they enable two-way communications, they'll have to deal with the distraction of angry fediversians and instance defederation drama. So, we shall see how long it takes them to go there.
In any case, no matter what Meta does, Threads will have a huge impact on the fediverse. I expect we'll see a lot of people moving servers as the fediverse sorts itself into instances that prioritize "openness" and growth, even if it involves surveillance capitalism, and the instances that prefer a different path.12
Depending on how things evolve, it's quite possible we'll see a schism (or partition), with instances in one or more anti-Meta "free fediverses" blocking not just Meta instances, but also any instances that federate with Meta.12.5 At least with today's software, this "transitive blocking" is probably necessary to prevent data flowing to Meta via Meta-friendly instances – as Mastodon Migration's post (based on input from Firefish maintainer Kainoa as well as infosec.exchange admin and security expert Jerry) shows, Mastodon instances federating with Meta will share data from instances that have blocked Meta.13 Why just blocking Meta’s Threads won’t be enough to protect your privacy once they join the fediverse provides a simple example of indirect data flow could put people at risk. And depending on how well-moderated instances federated with Meta are, transitive blocking may also be needed to protect people from harassment, abuse, and disinfo on Threads.
Of course people who support federation view this kind of schism as a horrible outcome – Chambers calls it the "nuclear option", and Lening frames it in terms of "punishing" instances and admins who refuse to preemptively block Meta. 13.5 In reality, though, the fediverse already has other schisms (for example, many instances block the so-called "freeze peach" instances who are known sources for hate speech and harassment) and most people are just fine with that.
So if a schism happens, it'll be a good thing. There are many fediverses.
Like I said earlier in the article, a lot of people came to the fediverse to get away from Facebook, Instagram, and other corporate social networks. Instances that federate with Meta will lose that advantage (although at least for a while may gain the ability to let people there communicate with friends on Threads who haven't made the jump yet).
But Threads' entrance to the fediverse actually highlights the advantage of "free fediverse" instances – which are likely to be much more appealing to the increasing number of people people who want as little as possible to do with Meta, surveillance capitalism, and all the harms and abuses that come with it. Of course, Twitter is sooooo horrible that it makes Threads look good by comparison. But there's certainly room to do better, and the huge variety of software in the fediverse means a lot of people are likely to find something they prefer.
In chaos there is opportunity!
And more generally, I think that Meta's arrival will catalyze a lot of positive changes in the fediverses. And changes are certainly needed!
Despite millions of people leaving Twitter – and fed-up Redditors looking for options – fediverse usage has flatlined in 2023. New apps have made huge progress in usability, but other critical underlying issues which have been widely discussed since the Twitter wave of 2017 still haven't been addressed – including safety. As I say in Today's fediverse is prototyping at scale
"One way to look at the fediverse is that we've been doing a prototype at scale of a decentralized network, big enough to get experience with the complexities of federation, good enough that many people find it usable and even enjoyable for a social network activities – but with big holes including privacy (and safety and accessibility and equity and usability and sustainability and ...). It's time for the fediverse to get beyond the prototyping stage."
Despite the increasingly strong Black Mastodon community, and the positive impact of the #BlackJoy and #BlackFriday hashtags, The Whiteness of Mastodon remains a huge problem as well. As I was writing the first draft of this article, I saw posts from at least four Black people I follow describing racist interactions they had just had, and they're far from the only ones. As mekka okereke says, it should be almost impossible for a new, non-technical user to onboard onto the Fediverse and accidentally join a server where they will receive racist death threats – and that is very much not the case today.
As Rochko and cis white male admins of large Mastodon instances who haven't prioritized dealing with this and other issues cozy up to Meta, it'll create spaces for others in anti-Meta part of the fediverse – and their relative lack of power in comparison to Meta will open up space in the pro-Meta region. Mastodon forks, apps and other fediverse platforms continue to innovate, but mainline Mastodon has had challenges keeping pace – and important community contributions still haven't integrated into the mainline code. And Mastodon's dominance has made it a challenge for forks and other Twitter-like implementations to get traction. That's already starting to change, and Meta's arrival will accelerate thse changes
A few of the other issues where progress is badly needed:
- Moderation on many instances is no better than Facebook. Mastodon's moderation tools leave out important funcationality that's standard on forums and (sorry) Facebook groups – and many other fediverse implementations have even fewer tools for moderators than Mastodon (although that's changing). And the lack of progress is striking! Mastodon and today’s fediverse are unsafe by design and unsafe by default discusses the issues in a lot more detail.
- The ActivityPub protocol hasn't made any significant progress either over the last five years. The pace has been picking up a little in the SWICG charged with moving it forward over the last few months, with email discussions and efforts to gradually clean up the backlog of issues, but there's been no discernible progress yet on huge open issues like trust and safety and consent which were ignored in the original protocol specification.
- There's very little privacy on the fediverse today. But it doesn't have to be that way!14
No matter how you feel about Meta, their arrival highlights the need to deal with those problems ... and even more importantly, will almost certainly upend the power structures that have hindered progress.
So while it's likely to be a chaotic time in the fediverse ... in chaos there is opportunity!
Stay tuned for upcoming posts talking about a positive path forward. And in the meantime, if you're in the fediverse, please check with your instance admin about their position on Meta, and ask them to kick off conversations about whether or not to sign the Anti-Meta Fedi Pact.
Terminology note: LGBTQIA2S+
I'm using LGBTQIA2S+ as a shorthand for lesbian, gay, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, bi, trans, queer, intersex, asexual, agender, two-sprit, and others who are not straight, cis, and heteronormative. Julia Serrano's trans, gender, sexuality, and activism glossary has definitions for most of terms, although resources like OACAS Library Guides' Two-spirit identities page to into a lot more detail. Serrano also discusses the tensions between ever-growing and always incomplete acronyms and more abstract terms like "gender and sexual minorities".
Ontario Human Rights Commission's page on Gender identity and gender expression is a good short reference on the distinctions between gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and sex.
1 For example:
- Meta could introduce their own proprietary extensions to the protocol, just as Facebook and Google did with the XMPP decentralized messaging protocol (a setback XMPP never really recovered from). Ploum's How to Kill a Decentralised Network (such as the Fediverse) discusses the XMPP situation in more detail.
- Meta could use the threat of dropping ActivtyPub support to pressure the standards group to adopt Meta's suggested "improvements."
- For that matter, nothing prevents Meta from turning around and saying "oh and we support ATProto and Bluesky as well," just as Flipboard already supports Bluesky as well as Mastodon.
ActivityPub supporters optimistically suggest that none of those things will happen this time, at least not for a while, and even if and when they do it won't hurt ActivityPub much.
2 Hope springs eternal! It reminds me of the time a friend of mine stepped in as interim CEO of a startup whose quests to get funding were repeatedly stymied when VCs asked why they'd be successful when a dozen companies had previously failed with a similar strategy. Lacking a better answer, he told me "I'd look them right in the eye and confidently say 'because we're going to be lucky.'" I actually do agree that Meta's not particularly trying to extinguish the fediverse, and instead is employing an "Embrace, Extend, and Exploit" strategy, but still, it's not like that's exactly comforting.
3 In fact if you think about it, there are lots of scenarios that could lead a majority of instances defederating. Reddit's ongoing footgun, with a big ad-funded tech company screwing over its most active users, app developers, and volunteer moderators could lead to the fediverse equivalents of all of the above (as well as instance admins and pundit) to think twice about the wisdom of working with Meta. Canadians might see Meta's blacking out news as contrary to the spirit of the fediverse; Californians might see Meta's threat to black out news coverage as bullying. Another whisteblower could attract media coverage about some new appalling way Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, or Meta exploited their users. Of course the likelihood and impact hard to predict, but any of these things are distinctly possible.
4 Bluesky is another decentralized social network, originally funded by former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, which developed its own protocol (ATProto) instead of starting with ActivityPub.
Tim Chambers' Project92 and the Fediverse similarly highlights the risk of Meta adopting Bluesky. Meta knows that ActivityPub loyalists see Bluesky as a rival, so I'm sure they're subtly (or maybe-not-so) hinting that if the fediverse spurns them, they'll cozy up to Bluesky. Of course even if the fediverse welcomes them with open arms, they'll cozy up to Bluesky the second that it's useful from their perspective, so I'm not sure why people think this talking point is so effective ... but it's clearly a talking point.
Annalee Newitz' Bluesky is just another Twitter clone and that isn’t a good thing and Michał "rysiek" Woźniak's BlueSky is cosplaying decentralization discuss Bluesky in more detail. ændra's My top Bluesky feature requests for 2024 includes some interesting perspectives on differences between Bluesky and the fediverse.
Apple and Google have close to 90% of the email client market, Microsoft and Yahoo another 7% ... and while it's still possible to run your own email server if you've got the time to learn about DKIM, SPF, DMARC and other anti-spam technies, even following best practices it's become increasingly difficult to get Gmail to actually accept mail from individual servers without marking it as spam. This is the best example he could come up with as a triumph of openness? As Ian Betteridge says in Meta and Mastodon – What’s really on people’s minds?, "the email analogy is terrible, and we should all stop using it."
Gruber's response to Betteridge's post contains this gem:
If you don’t want Meta (or Google, or whoever) to see your posts, then no matter which instance you’re on, and which other servers your instance chooses to federate with, you need to make your account private.... If your account isn’t private, you’re posting to the open web.
He clearly has no idea what he's talking about here. For one thing, Mastodon doesn't have private accounts. Like other social networks, though, it does have the ability to resrict individual posts – "followers-only", specific people, or visible on your instance – in which case they're not public. Why does anybody listen to him? But he's got 47,000 followers on Mastodon, and his posts frequently show up on Mastodon's algorithmic "explore" tab which means people are boosting them, so ... 🤷🏻♂️.
Sean Tilley's John Gruber Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About deconstructs Gruber's post in more detail. For the record, I had written that Gruber "clearly has no idea what he's talking about here" before seeing Sean's headline ... we reached the same conclusion independently!
Update, July 21: in a discussion about the likelihood of Threads-based ads infecting the fediverse once they federate, Tim Chambers points out that there are already sponsored posts here, such as this one from ... Gruber! You can't make this stuff up.
[Is it just me or is "Gruber, a very loud advocate of federating with Meta is already doing ads here, so we don't have to worry about ads from Meta" not as strong an argument as Tim seems to think it is?]
5.1 Chambers similarly left some of the most important concerns of many people advocating blocking Meta out of the original version of his June 23 Project92 and the Fediverse - A Smarter Battle Plan to Protect the Open Social Web – and then, even after multiple discussions with people supporting blocking, devoted just once sentence to the concerns in his June 25 post, and didn't even mention these concerns in his June 30, July 3 , and July 5 posts, instead decrying the “almost religious overtones” of the debate and calling for "empathy, humility, and community."
Looking at vantablack's tl;dr summary of reasons for the Anti-Meta Fedi Pact I included above – all of which I've heard from lots of other people as well – Chambers original three-point summary missed the mark on two out of three:
- Chambers doesn't mention Facebook, Instagram, and Meta's long track record of evil behavior, instead simply treating them as a potential risk just like any other bad actor on the fediverse (just on a larger scale) that he suggests can can be managed and moderated by technical tools (that he sees as generally working well enough today)
- vantablack focuses on protecting marginalized communities – as opposed to Chambers third point focusing on defending the ActivityPub standard against embrace-and-extend attacks
[And yes I know it's weird to have decimal points in footnote numbers. Ghost (the software I'm currently using for the Nexus of Privacy newsletter) only has footnote number withing Markdown cards as far as I know, and I hate Markdown, so it's a real pain to constantly adjust them. Sorry about that.]
5.2 For example:
- Ploum's How to Kill a Decentralised Network (such as the Fediverse)
- oblomov's A credible threat to (and from) commercial social network silos
- fancysandwich's Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated by Meta,
- Darnell Clayton's Facebook Fears The Fediverse. Here’s How Instagram Will Try To Conquer It (EEE!!!!)
6 One example: Rochko has famously refused to integrate community-contributed support for "local-only posts", which can provide protection against harassment and dogpiles (as wall as improving privacy). But it's not just Rochko; admins of virtually all of the larger instances have chosen not to run Mastodon forks (variants) like Glitch-soc and Hometown that provide more safety for their users by implementing local-only posts. Meta will try very hard to make it worthwhile for them to compromise user safety (or just trick them into doing it), and past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.
The question of whether or not Meta's pursing an EEE – embrace, extend, and extinguish – strategy has generated a lot of discussion. On the SWICG standards mailing list, for example, Sean O'Brien replied to mail suggesting that "Regardless of how you may think of Meta as an organization, from a standards perspective, this is a major success" with a message that just said "Embrace, extend, extinguish." Fediverse influencer Evan Prodromou objected, describing this O'Brien's male as "not acceptable. You're insulting our member from Meta; you're also insulting the integrity of everyone else working on the ActivityPub standards, here and elsewhere." As a few others (including me) pointed out, that's nonsense. Whether or not it's what Meta's intentionally trying to do here (I don't think so, but many others disagree),it's not insulting the integrity of anybody working on the standards to say that they should discuss what (if anything) to do to respond to the concerns and risk. But SWICG co-chair Dmitri Zagidulin sided with Prodromou, suggesting with his co-chair hat on that since O'Brien's mail didn't go into details it was an example of "lazy behavior and knee-jerk reaction." 🍿
6 One example: Rochko has famously refused to integrate community-contributed support for "local-only posts", which can provide protection against harassment and dogpiles (as wall as improving privacy). But it's not just Rochko; admins of virtually all of the larger instances have chosen not to run Mastodon forks (variants) like Glitch-soc and Hometown that provide more safety for their users by implementing local-only posts. Meta will try very hard to make it worthwhile for them to compromise user safety (or just trick them into doing it), and past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.
7 For more critiques of ActivityPub, including from another author of the spec, see the ActivityPub section of Mastodon: a partial history. ActivityPub's weaknesses make it especially vulnerable to an "embrace and extend" attack where Meta introduces proprietary solutions that are genuine improvements over the standard.
Of course, these design flaws can be worked around to some extent. In addition, ActivityPub could evolve to better address harassment; Erin Shepherd's A better moderation system is possible for the social web and Christine Lemmer-Webber's OcapPub: Towards networks of consent describe potential paths forward. But, most ActivityPub supporters haven't prioritized this.
8 And since this section wasn't in the original version of this article ... I'm afraid that I too have been guilty of this. My apologies.
9 A good example of the vortex of toxicity around Meta: in mid-June, conflicting reports of a meeting between Meta and instance admins (and others?) with a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) threw gasoline on the flames, leading to defederations and allegations of backstabbing, bullying, and "lynch mobs". [A quick racial justice education aside: if you're not a Black person, and you use this term to refer to a white person getting hassled, it's racist.] Rumors swirling around deleted tweets resulted in people like Dan Supernault of Pixelfed who apparently didn't sign the NDA or attend the meeting getting attacked. mastodon.art anounced they were defedereating Universeodon, whose instance admin Byron had history of problematic behavior even before he reached out to Meta. mstdn.social's admin Stux got so frustrated with mastodon.art's admin Welsh Pixie for what he saw as mischaracterizing the situation that he defederated mstdn.social from mastodon.art with no notice – severing connections between people on the two instances. Even though he refederated the next day, the connections don't magically reappear, he continued to block all communications from people on his instance with mastodon.art's instance admin – by which point I saw more than one person saying that it was their cue to move on from mstdn.social. That's only the tip of the iceberg of course, but you get the idea.
Details aside, one of the key takeaways here is the lack of maturity of the software: after six years why wasn't there an option of defederating in a way that allows connections to be reestablished when the situation changes and refederation is possible? If you look in inga-lovinde 's Improve defederation UX March 2021 feature request on Github, it's pretty clear that it's not the first time stuff like this happened. Dan Fixes Coin-Ops has an interesting perspective on retro.social describes how this looked from the perspective of a (former) mstdn.social user.
But the details are important too, especially given how things played out and Byron's comments that he felt so much more affinity with Meta engineers than he did with people on the fediverse. mastodon.art's Defederating from Universeodon and Universeodon's now-deleted "Meta - Progress and Controversy" (still available on archive.org) give two different views of what happened in June.
Byron claimed that he had received "death threats" because of the .art blog post, and also claied that .art's admin had claimed they were justified. In a June 26 post, stux said "It's time people stand up against the bullies from the .art staff." Others however saw it differently. In a June 27 post, ngmx's admin noted that Byron and Stux' behavior "raises all sorts of red flags, as they try to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions, and try to frame .art as the aggressor instead," and helpfully included a link to Wikipedia's page on DARVO.
Byron blocked me on June 28 after I pointed out that his mischaracterization of a critical comment as "abuse" was "a classic self-pitying excuse for not trying to understand others' point of view". Well, okay I also pointed out that he was being unfair to his kids by highlighting their positive experiences on Meta while ignoring the horror stories so many people of color and LGBTQ+ people have about their less-positive experiences there, and told him he should apologize to his kids, so I totally get why he blocked me ... but he then proceeded to tell people it was because I had called him a Nazi for not agreeing with him. Uh, no, that's not what I said.
Over the next few weeks, Byron kept showing up in people's mentions accusing .art of abuse and ignoring requests to stop. In an excellent thread with cutie.city's admin Nuz, Byron couldn't or wouldn't produce receipts showing an relationship between .art and the accounts that made those "death threats." Oliphant's July 20 post Defederating Universeodon, characterizing Byron's behavior as harassment, was swiftly followed by Byron's farewell post Thank you Universeodon and the Fediverse!
In a now-deleted tweet, Free Ze Peach (yes really, you think I could make up that perfect an account name?) described the situation as "the high school mean girl cancel mob vibe at Mastodon, they are relentless bullies, sadists in disguise." Some people on the fediverse no doubt felt that way as well. Others wishing Byron well were presumably just being polite; if you were one of them, it's worth looking at Nuz' perspectives here, which also include links to a few other posts. Nuz' white dude story time is also worth reading.
Welsh Pixie's The Toxic Manosphere of Fedi has detailed receipts and analysis of the misogyny, DARVO, gaslighting, and abuser tactics. As she says:
"The fediverse – a network of social media platforms without one big tech company or a board room of white guys in suits or a dickhead egotistical billionaire controlling everything – by its very nature challenges the status quo. White guys who are used to being in control, who are used to waving their privilege dicks around and everyone else getting the fuck out of the way while they indulge in their incessant and continuous mutual ego-stroking, are running into people who don't give a shit about them or their supposed Place In Society, but now instead of having to 'like it or lump it', we're able to do something; we're able to opt out and continue our lives without them in the conversation."
10 Posts on Mastodon were officially known as toots up until last November, and still frequently get referred to that way. And how could I pass up the opportunity to refer to "Trumpet's toot"?
11 Note that several of the polls included options like "just see results" or "SpiderNeal/Comments"; the numbers I'm presenting here exclude those responses. And no, I don't know who SpiderNeal is either.
12 Unfortunately Mastodon doesn't provide any way to take your posts with you when you move to a different instance, but Tokyo Outsider's work on the Mastodon Content Mover and Firefish's support for post migration mean that there are more options now than there were six months ago. Alex Heath has reported that Threads will allow users to import their account info and posts from Mastodon. On the one hand it would be pretty funny if the implemented this before Mastodon; on the other hand, it's a good example of how an "embrace and extend" can exploit weaknesses in fediverse software to provide a better proprietary experience for their users. Osma Ahvenlampi points out that groups are another fediverse weakness ripe for Meta to target. Facebook has a very flexible group mechanism; by contrast, Reddit alternatives Kbin and Lemmy are promising, but have a long way to go; Mastodon's implementation is still in the works.
12.5 In the original version of this post I framed it as a single "free fediverse", but there may well be more than one. For example, in recent Mastodon discussions I've suggested that we're seeing the emergence of an anarchist/leftist fediverse and an anti-racist fediverse; if so, I'd expect both of those regions to reject Meta.
13 Even though today's ActivityPub implementations make most stuff public, where Meta, Google, and other bad actors could get to it by web scraping, many people (including me) see that as a problem that needs to be addressed – and not a reason for instances to also be bad actors and give them my data without consent. Threat modeling Meta, the fediverse, and privacy explores this and other privacy issues in somewhat more detail – although as I point out, it's still only a simple analysis, a more detailed analysis is needed, and that will require funding.
As far as I know, nobody's done similar threat modelnig for the other direction: harassment, hate speech, and disinfo flowing from Meta, via instances that federate with them, to instances that have blocked Meta but haven't blocked instances federating with Meta. Again, detailed analysis is needed, and that too will require funding. Until these detailed analyses are done, "transitive defederation" (defederating Meta, any instances that federate with Meta directly or indirectly) is the safer approach.
13.5 As Only Brown Mastodon pointed out in October, in a different context, "For a white person on the Fediverse, defederation is punishment; for the rest of us, it is a form of self-defence."
14 A few examples:
- bad actors can easily scrape public information, and most information is public – Mastodon doesn't even provide the equivalent of Twitter's private profiles (although you can limit visibility of individual posts)
- the option to keep your posts from search engines doesn't work
- direct messages aren't end-to-end encrypted so instance admins can create them,
- the security bar is so low that nobody even batted an eye last fall when infosec.exchange (one of the fediverse hubs for the security community) misconfigured the system and left all images exposed to anybody who wanted to see them,
- Most instance admins don't turn on "secure fetch", which provides additional security and privacy guarantees
- Most instance admins don't provide people the ability to make "local-only posts", which provide stronger privacy as well as saftety
Threat modeling Meta, the fediverse, and privacy discusses ways to make progress on many of these privacy issues.
Ongoing: fixing typos and confusing wording, adding new links, and other minor changes
December 23-31: significantly revised with a new introduction, starting with Kissane's quote, and moving the contents after the intro, new sections on The (annotated) case for a "big fedi" and It is anti-queer and transphobic to ignore the number of trans and queer-led instances and LGBTQIA2S+ people who oppose federating with Threads – or dismiss LGBTQIA2S+ concerns as "overreacting", lots of other minor updates.
December 13-22: updated after Zuckerberg's announcement – including getting rid of the line (in the July version) "In my view it's still an open question whether they do it at all." Other than that, though, almost everything else aged well, so I added a few links and updated the analysis based on their apparent rollout strategy. Here's the last version (from archive.org) before the remix.
August 1: updated footnote #9, after Byron's departure – it's now even longer than footnote #5! But, it's relevant both as an illustration of the point that Meta's arrival will cause positive changes in the power structure here, and his perspective that he felt more affinity with Meta engineers than with people in the fediverse.
July 21: updated footnote #5, mocking Gruber. This footnote's long enough that at some point I should break it out into a separate post!
July 14: update in response to new reporting that ActivityPub integration is a "long way out"
July 8: include a quick summary in the intro, breaking most of the existing intro into the new Why block Meta section; tweak the strategy section in response to feedback.
July 6-7: major update now that Threads has been released: changes in the introductionn to bring it up to date, additional quotes, reordering, adding new sections on An important perspective, too rarely acknowledged, What will instances do? Opinions differ!, Speaking of polls ..., There are many fediverses -- and a lot of people will prefer them to Threads, and significant changes to An interesting dynamic and In chaos there is opportunity! Also cleaning up the numbering of the footnotes, which are becoming the bane of my existence.
June 27: add quote from IronWynch about Meta's nazi spam problem, and Esther Payne's crucial point about consent; move vantablack's quote about what it's like to be trans on Facebook up front.
June 26: more work on An interesting dynamic to better capture the mismatch between the two sides ... it's now long enough that it's a section in its own right. And, added a poll on people moving instances and a brief discussion of on privacy in In chaos there is opportunity!
June 25: rework discussion of "bigger is better" in respones to feedback to highlight that some of the loudest advocates for working with Meta have a track record of not prioritizing user safety; incorporate a few updates from We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re federated.
June 23-24: incorporated feedback, added a few more links, clarified some points
June 22: published and sent to newslsetter subscribers. Here's the original versionon archive.org.