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The free fediverses should work together with people and instances in Meta's fediverses and on Bluesky whose goals and values align

Part 6 of "Strategies for a free fediverse"

Stylized human figures in multiple colors in a circle holding hands and looking up at the sky

Part 6 of Strategies for the free fediverses.  As the first post in the series discusses, the "free fediverses" are regions of the fediverse that reject Meta and surveillance capitalism, and these strategies position the free fediverses as an alternative to Threads and "Meta's fediverses".

Join the discussion in the fediverse:
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"I don’t think the people who are genuinely psyched about Threads on fedi are monsters or fascists, and I don’t think those kinds of characterizations—which show up a lot in my replies—are helping."

– Erin Kissane, Untangling Threads

Indeed. Many of the Meta advocates I've talked to share the free fediverses' long-term goal of building a sustainable alternative to surveillance capitalism, and virtually all of them support federation with Threads despite the hate groups, racists, and fascists Threads hosts, not because of them.1  They just differ on tradeoffs of federating with Threads and think that the advantages of being able to communicate with people on Threads (including the targets of those hate groups, racists, and fascists) outweigh the downsides.  

So there are likely to be situations where some of the people and instances in Meta's fediverse wind up as situational allies to the free fediverses – and conversely. Alas, one big opportunity has already been missed: if the instance admins and influencers Meta initially approached had shown solidarity with the free fediverses, they could have had a lot of leverage. Oh well. But there are likely to be other opportunities – and not just related to Meta.

And the same is true for people on Bluesky. Concerns about their monetization plans and (racist) former Twitter CEO (and current anti-vax supporter) Jack Dorsey's involvement mean there's a lot to be skeptical about. But Bluesky's user base includes a lot of anti-racist, anti-surveillance capitalism, pro-LGBTQIA2S+ people who are there despite their skepticsm, and innovations like Rudy Fraser's BlackSky custom feed could be very useful in the free fediverses as well. So there are a lot of natural allies for the free fediverses – especially since some (although certainly not all) of the loudest voices in Meta's fediverses view Bluesky's (non-ActivityPub compatible) ATProto as a competitor that needs to be stomped out.

What to work together on?

Natural areas to start working together on include several of strategies I discuss here like consensual and concentric federation, making it easier to move between and create instances, and reducing the dependency on Mastodon and ActivityPub. While I've focused on the value of these to the free fediverses, they're all potentially very useful for instances in Meta's fediverses as well.  If and when Bluesky gets serious about decentralization there are similarly likely to be parallels and synergies.

Here are a few other areas where collaboration could be very useful:

  • A key principle of organizing is meeting people where they are. There's likely to be wide (although not universal) support in Meta's fediverses and Bluesky. for causes like LGBTQIA2S+ rights and privacy in Meta's fediverses as well as the free fediverses; and Meta's fediverses potentially gave access to the much larger audience on Threads as well.2  Activism against bad internet bills that harm LGBTQIA2S+ people – like KOSA, which Congress is likely to resume work on this year – and privacy activism in general are good areas for cooperation.  And democracy is widely (although again not universally) popular in the fediverses.  In the US, the upcoming 2024 election offers a great opportunity for non-partisan voting rights organizing and activism – and there are a lot of other vital elections around the world.
  • Moderation on decentralized networks is a shared challenge. Practices, policies, and tools that support intersectional moderation; tools like Block Party and Filter Buddy that let users protect themselves individually and collectively; and tools for moderators to share information and collectively respond when attacks are launched (by spammers or harassers) ... these are all valuable to instances no matter what region they're in – and potentially across social networks.  Sharing blocklists (of instances and individuals) and recommended allow-lists between the free fediverses and like-minded instances in Meta's fediverses are a straightforward first step.
  • Bringing concepts similar to Bluesky's custom feeds to the fediverses, and more generally focusing on human-focused and liberatory (as opposed to oppressive) uses of algorithms in decentralized social networks designed from the margins. There are amazing algorithmic justice and social network experts in the fediverses and in Bluesky so lots of potential synergies.
  • Meta's fediverses, Bluesky, and the free fediverses are all vulnerable to disinformation. As Kissane discusses in Meta in Myanmar, "adversaries will take advantage of decentralized social networks," and the fediverses are very tempting targets, so there's a shared interest in developing techniques to limit and counter disinformation. And Meta makes a lot of money by tolerating and amplifying disinformation, so the free fediverses (more insulated from Threads) are a natural base to organized anti-disinfo campaigns that also encompass Meta's fediverse and Threads – as well as other networks that connect to the fediverse.

To be clear, I'm not saying it always makes sense to work with people and instances in Meta's fediverses. In some cases, it's likely to turn out that Meta's captured them so effectively that this isn't a useful direction. Attempts to work with the SWICG standards body, may turn out to be a waste of time and energy as long as key members obsequiously defer to Meta.  And if instances in Meta's fediverse rely on Meta's racist (and privacy invasive) automated moderation tools to limit disinfo, cooperation on some areas related to be could be harder. Still, there are likely to be other situations where working together does make sense.

Stay tuned for more!

The next installment in Strategies for the free fediverses will discuss "transitive defederation": defederating instances that federate with Threads as well as threads.  Transitive defederation's a controversial topic and I'm not necessarily recommending it – but I am recommending considering it, by which I mean having a discussion and deciding what to do.

And there's a long way to go after that, so stay tuned!

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1 Although some of the hate purveyors on today's fediverse very much do like the idea of federating with Meta -- one well-known anti-trans bigot was so upset is so upset that Threads has blocked his instance that he implemented block-evasion software -- and presumably the hate groups there are part of the attraction for them.

2 Of course, Meta has a long track record of hostilitiy to activism, so we'll see how much access Meta actually gives for activists in Meta's fediverse to reach people on Threads. Clay Shirky and I got into a debate about this after his closing keynotes at the 2008 Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference, and while I was right in the short term – activism on Facebook played an important role in Obama's success in 2008 – his prediction that Facebook would find ways to shut down activism also proved correct. Still, if Meta follows through on their current plans, Meta's fediverses will probably have some access at least for a while if they work with cooperative accounts on Threads.

Image credit

people working together by Isbg Six, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0, via flickr