dotART's Moderation Policies and Racism
I took over as Curator in Feb 2021. I'm the third Curator. I've been on Fedi since 2016, and on .art since 2017. Because we've been around so long, we're pretty big by fedi standards, and until the first Twitter wave in April 2022, we had open registrations but were still fairly quiet (our active users count is MUCH smaller than our total users count).
Because I've been on fedi so long, and because of the company I kept from my personal account, I've been around for the conflict. Some of that conflict – probably the biggest thing – was when a few PoC span up their own instance as a means of setting their own boundaries and moderating against harassment themselves, without having to rely on the server admins of individual instances to take their word on what was or wasn't racism, etc.
They were around until 2020. December 31st, actually. Are0h's last post is still cached on our instance – https://playvicious.social/@Are0h/105476726720269350 (you'll have to load that internally through masto's search bar).
They closed because they were harassed off fedi by a huge, disgusting wave of racism, abuse, and harassment against their admin Ro, some of their mods (one of whom who is now a mod on .art), and their users. The harassment was vicious. All the instances that participated in it are blocked from mastodon.art because of the part they played.
Some of them left fedi for good, some of them (like Ro) came back on single-user instances, some of them moved to smaller safe instances. So again, PoC are back to relying on other instance admins to create spaces for them that are safe, where racism (and any form of bigotry) isn't tolerated, where Black folk can exist – just exist! – online without facing constant micro-aggressions in their mentions.
.art had already been working to that goal when I took over, and already had a team of mods committed to taking a very hard stance against bigotry and racism. Since then we've expanded our mod team to include a great deal of diversity and breadth of marginalized voices. We provide a safe space for all of them; for BIPoC, disabled people, neurodiverse people, queer people, nonbinary people, Jewish people – anyone who faces marginalization.
But we're also big. We're by no means the biggest, but because of our domain name, because we're what comes up when you search for 'mastodon art instance', because of the Twitter exoduses that have happened, because we already exist and joining an existing instance is a much lower barrier to entry than creating your own, people join us, and we grow (not indefinitely – we have a cap of 12k active users, as that's when our local timeline becomes too busy to be useful).
This gives people certain expectations of what we are, and what we can provide for them. Recently we've edited our /about page to be clearer about this – to be clearer that we defederate from instances that break our rules, that are inherently unsafe, and that we aren't an open-federation instance and we DO have strict rules.
We also have to acknowledge that we are big, and until there are more options on fedi for places artists can be among their own and still get widely seen, we have to (to some extent) strike a compromise between safety and still being able to provide working artists access to an audience.
This is why we still federate with mastodon.social, but defederate other instances that one would think, at a glance, are safer than mastodon.social. Some of the instances we've defederated from have a history of intentional decisions that resulted in marginalised people being harmed and their safety not considered. Their mods and their admins are complicit, perhaps not deliberately, but complicit by enacting their intent in a way they felt fit, but the consequences of which were harmful.
Mastodon.social, on the other hand, are passively bad. They're not, actually, terrible – their moderation has improved. They do remove racism, they do remove antisemitism, they do block blatantly bigoted accounts (but sometimes they need to be reported a few times before getting actioned). They're still problematic, but they're also hundreds of thousands of potential art buyers. So we weigh that, and for now, the risk for us is manageable and they haven't acted in a way that, with intent, harms marginalized communities.
We know that this won't be acceptable for everyone, particularly for people who signed up expecting an experience closer to Twitter and weren't expecting that their reach would be cut down based on the needs of the community around them and the moral principles of the people who manage that community.
But we won't stop doing it, because that goes against the primary reason our instance exists – dotART, first and foremost, above all else, is a safe space for marginalised people. That is very clear on our /about page, and it's the main reason a LOT of our users join us – because this, the defederating from instances that we don't feel we can trust the moderation of, is exactly what they want.
We, the mod team, don't care if that leaves us with a couple of hundred active users who exist in a little isolated bubble in some small cut-off corner of fedi, if that corner is providing those couple of hundred people a space where they can exist without bigotry and harassment.