On instance blocks and racism

I had a chat with some of our community in our Discord server recently, mostly in response to us defederating furry.engineer, why we chose that action, and the general way masto.art approaches instance blocks. I've paraphrased some of the questions I was asked, and copied (and edited for clarity in a few places) my responses to them. One of the people I was talking with expressed a greater understanding, and acceptance of, our practices around moderating things like hate speech and bigotry after we'd talked through these things, so I figured I'd share it in a more accessible place if it might help with a paradigm shift around how individual people on fedi respond to instance actions around things like racism.

Q: Can we unsuspend furry.engineer?

If the admin's actions renew our faith that they will properly moderate racism and harassment yeah, but that will take time. Our trust in them has been eroded to the point that we feel it's safer not to expose the BIPoC people on our instance to that potential abuse knowing their admin is so reluctant to actually handle racism. It's not on US to excuse that behaviour for the sake of preserving connections – doing that does not help make fedi any safer for BIPoC folk. It's on other instances to do better and take reports of racism seriously – any blame for way these events unfolded is theirs.

Q: Can't we block connections with specific users rather than blocking a whole instance, which feels like punishing both communities?

We can, but if we can't trust the moderation team of another instance to properly handle reports of their users, we defederate, for the safety of our marginalised community. Take this up with furry.engineer and ask why they didn't find it necessary to deal with the racist abuse and harassment coming from their instance for weeks. We're not punishing the BIPoC folk on our instance by shielding them from racism, and no-one's convenience of accessing people on a social media network is more important than protecting marginalised groups from targeted harassment. Being able to exist on social media without being a target for harassment is a privileged position that not everyone enjoys and that most people don't have to think about.

Q: Re. restoring faith in the admin/mod team, are you waiting for them to acknowledge their mistakes and say they'll do better?

This could be one thing yes- acknowledging the harm caused, taking steps so that it doesn't happen again and communicating what those steps are, and rebuilding a reputation for good moderation which will take time. But we have unsuspended instances that have done this and demonstrably improved their moderation. Diversifying their mod team is another thing they could do, taking anti-racism training, etc..

General rambling on .art's moderation/defederation practices:

https://dotart.blog/dotart-blog/dotarts-moderation-policies-and-racism I made this post a little while back that kinda talks about that aspect of it – that we're an instance of working artists who need access to an audience, and balancing that against protecting the most marginalised people in our community that we exist for in the first place to provide a safe community where they're protected from harassment.

We know it's difficult to balance that and we think hard about decisions involving defederating sizeable instances because we know it's cutting people off from income sources, whereas if we don't, that establishes a precedent where racism/transphobia/etc. is tolerated above the rights of people to exist without abuse.

masto.art is not the best instance for someone who wants unfettered access to the whole of fedi without risk of some of that being taken away. We are very strict. We serve a particular community. We're big, which implies we might be the 'best' art instance to join for a big audience, but that's not necessarily the case and why we try to make it very clear on our /about page that we do defederate more harshly than other instances.

We're also pretty clear on our /about page that we proactively moderate; when an instance gets to a point where we expect harassment to come from there, we will defederate to spare people having to go through any abuse and harassment, rather than wait for that to happen and have to clean up afterwards.

Instance admins/mods represent the kind of content they'll allow unchallenged on their instance. So even though some of the SilverEagle posts were deleted, and the account actually migrated to its own instance, it took weeks for anything to happen at all, and the admin posted about not caring to moderate those reports. So we know that that's the kind of environment the admin is happy to have on their instance, that racism and harassment and abuse will go unchallenged for weeks, and that makes it an unsafe instance for us to federated with.

Yes, technically, we can do other instance's moderation work for them – ban the admin, individually moderate their users – but that shouldn't be our job – managing masto.art is enough work in itself and I'm not going to ask unpaid volunteers to start manually moderating all the other instances where the mod team has fucked up and we don't trust them to moderate themselves.

Q: But the problem with furry.engineer has been corrected?

Just checked our reports. There were four accounts reported from furry.engineer, SilverEagle is one of them who has moved, three others are still there. Those do not include the admin, who was giving all of it a free pass. So no, it hasn't been corrected.

The posts on furry.engineer included targeting several Black fedi users over the course of a few weeks, directing racist abuse and harassment at them, creating and pushing racist conspiracy theories about them with no foundation in truth that weren't being challenged by the instance admin at all and were allowed to exist and propagate in the face of the harm they were causing and being reported by several instances, which led to more people joining in with the abuse and lies – it was horrid. It made Black folks on fedi feel unsafe – not just those who were directly targeted, but those who were watching it all unfold without being moderated by the instance admin – and a lot of folk stepped away from fedi for a while because of it.

It was horrible, and that kind of thing has long-term ramifications on fedi as a whole and why Black folk have to continuously fight for themselves here, and continuously stress that fedi has a racism problem. The several BIPoC on our mod team, who are all struggling artists barely managing to scrape through each month, emphatically did not want to federate our community with that instance because of the behaviour from some of that instance's users that the admin didn't moderate. Our BIPoC community on masto.art no doubt feel the same – in fact we've had people move to our instance away from their own because we're safer for them than the instances they were on, because we take a hard stance against stuff like this.

We know it's stressful and anxiety-inducing being cut off from a paying audience and your source of income. We have to balance that with the severity of things other instances allow to happen and the impacts they have on the people in our community, and their safety – even before their ability to earn a living, just their ability to exist online without getting harassed off.

It is really tough. The ideal solution is that racism would not be tolerated on the source instances that it's coming from and those users would immediately be suspended.

Failing that, when racism is given a pass on those instances, the ideal solution is that people who oppose that would move off those instance to ones that takes racism (or whatever bigotry is going un-moderated) seriously.

If people did that, the bigoted instances would either cease to exist or would be left only with a tiny group of bigots that would get defederated into their own little voids, and the communities of masto.art, and other instances, could just carry on without losing anything of value.

What I would like to see, in an ideal world, is that instead of people on here going 'masto.art suspended this instance for racism so now I have to move to another instance' is, rather, 'masto.art suspended this instance for racism, so if you want to keep following me, and if you oppose racism, and want to support a fedi that's safe for BIPoC, I expect you'll be moving to an instance that doesn't give a free pass to racism'.

The people on fedi have the power to shape what kind of social media experience this is. If your instance, or the instance your friend is on, is letting its community harass Black folk, move from that instance, tell your friends to move. Tell them to stand by their principles. Don't support it. Don't make your online home in a place that allows racism.

Most people don't bother, and when we do, like when masto.art takes a hard stance against federating with instances that allow hate speech, we're the ones that get the flack for it. Which seems the wrong way around.