Thoughs on Mastodon and Decentralisation

Found at: sdf.org:70/users/psztrnk/log/20180108.txt

RE: Thoughs on Mastodon and Decentralisation [solderpunk]

For the TL;DR version, scroll to the very end.


Recently I wrote a p/host[0] about Twitter Evacuation Day which featured my thoughts about the campaign itself as well as about Counter.social, one of the Mastodon instances(? -- more about this question mark later on). This 
apparently triggered another phost by solderpunk[1], who (respectfully!) disagreed.

This is intended to be only a quick phost to defend my stance and clarify a couple of things.

First of all, I did not "attack" Co.so. This is a very unfortunate wording if considered that I am famous for being a pacifist, and while I don't take this particular word dead serious, a quote would be much appreciated 
here. Even more, since the original p/host title is "Notes on..." and that wording is intentional -- those are indeed my notes on the subject and since it was published on my b/phlog those are only my notes and my thoughts. 
It was never intended to be any kind of "attack".

Second: I am well aware that Mastodon is not even close to perfect. Neither as a software, nor as a community. I am also well aware of the (probably) most frustrating issue of basically every social tool in existence: namely 
that the most perfect tool (in a technological sense) is only just as good as its users are. Tools like Mastodon -- that relies heavily in its users -- are the most vulnerable to this issue. Any tool can be misused and it is 
impossible to prevent this.

Third: sorry I haven't made it clear enough (I probably failed because English is my second language) that I referred to ethical issues rather than technological ones. I was talking about driving ideas and freedom (not "free 
of charge", but in sense of "democracy"). I was referring to autocracy as an antonym to democracy. I never considered Co.so "evil" -- the fact that I find it deeply unethical doesn't mean that I don't tolerate or respect its 

I never thought (or wrote) that Co.so should be burned to the ground, but I still think it is not free (as in freedom) or ethical.

I have a deep understanding of the nature of "possible", "permitted" and "ethical". For nearly four years I was working as a so-called "open source licensing expert" -- this is basically a paralegal role for evaluating 
licenses of open source software to be used in commercial/industrial environment. I know that it is possible to use, modify and rely on open source tools for whatever reasons. I can tell whether its license permits such 
usage. These are essential and objective aspects of open source software. However if it comes to ethics, it is quite subjective and my opinion only represents (and is based on) only my ethical standpoint.

I never had the illusion that adopting Mastodon is a privilege of certain groups. I know that 

"[Mastodon and its license] gives that *same* freedom to the folk who run Counter.Social (and it even gives that freedom to Nazis)."

And yes, even for corporations, who'll federate just to advertise. I know that AGPL makes adoption possible and permits usage of Mastodon to everyone, also permits modification of the code. However I still find it deeply 
unethical eg.

* to remove all instances of the word "Mastodon" (along with all references to the original software) from the instance interface and to replace it with "Counter.social" -- this is the reason for the question mark above: can 
it still be considered as a "Mastodon instance"?;

* despite how forks are usually handled on Github, to post the Co.so codebase as "CounterSocial" instead of the regular forking method;

* to declare certain countries as "hostile" -- this level of generalization simply pisses me off and - despite what solderpunk wrote - I think this is a great example of autocracy: one person declaring whole nations as 
"hostile" (without the quotes!).

Also, let's think back to Egypt in 2011. That year has proven that social media can accelerate the fight for freedom. Twitter was a tool that played a critical role in Egypt's uprisings. Social media in general is a great 
tool for citizens of certain countries (mostly dictatorships) to spread the idea of democracy and freedom. Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and Syria (the countries Co.so blocks) are the countries in need of such 
tools more than any others. Also - as solderpunk correctly points out - 

"[i]t is very easy, very cheap and perfectly legal to circumvent [geoban] by routing your traffic through an intermediary."

The problem is that it hurts people striving for freedom, not the intended "target". Ordinary people, who have no knowledge to circumvent geoban. Not PSYOPS and people/organizations with harmful intentions. But people like 
your neighbor, who is tired of the central propaganda and want to participate in something that is - by their standards - free (as in freedom). Not necessarily to spread political ideas, but to get a grip on the free world, 
to learn, to converse. If I'd be such kind of a person, I'd aim for the largest instances (Co.so is undoubtedly one of the largest ones based on the "population"). Therefore I consider geoban more than ineffective: I 
consider it harmful for the idea of freedom.

It also tells a lot (for me, at least), that the admin of Co.so paid a great attention of crafting the Terms of Service of the instance[2], yet left Mastodon's Privacy Policy untouched[3] -- which is one of the shittiest PPs 
I've ever seen (yet another example the imperfection of Mastodon and a great subject of another p/host I'll probably write), full of "mays" and shallow, vague information. 

While it expects transparent and obedient behavior from its users, it clearly lacks transparency on the provider side. This is in fact a common problem to almost all instances which should be fixed and probably I'll try to 
enforce this as much as I can in the future.



The input from solderpunk[1] on my p/host[0] was very valuable to me: it made me clarify my thoughts on the subject.

* I know that Mastodon is far from perfect in a technological sense. However I strongly believe that it was created with a right ("noble", if you wish) intention.

* I strongly believe that - if used in a right way - it can be a great asset of eg. the fight for freedom (democracy).

* However I also believe that Mastodon is often misused (used in an unethical way, which belief is subjective of course).

* I believe actions like geoban are unethically restrictive and harmful *regardless* of their effectiveness. The intention seems bad (for me at least).

* solderpunk is right: Counter.social is only *one* example for this (unethical) misuse. The name "Counter.social" can (should) be substituted with the name of any instance with the same behavior.

* However it is the most accurate example since it triggered the most extensive debate in the Mastodon community (so far) and created a whole new set of problems (namely the ones with ethical aspect) on top of the 
technological issues of Mastodon.

[0] gopher://psztrnk.ddns.net/0/log/20180103.txt
[1] gopher://sdf.org/0/users/solderpunk/phlog/thoughts-on-mastodon-and-decentralisation.txt
[2] https://counter.social/about/more
[3] https://counter.social/terms