So, there's this concept of "implicit feudalism" in online communities. Essentially, the vast majority of online communities - from old-school forums, to facebook groups, to large platforms like Twitter and Facebook themselves, even to fediverse instances - they're all run as dictatorships by default. It's built into the software - you'll have a top admin who has full, unconstrained power, they might delegate mods who have some limited powers, and anyone else has to listen to what these dictators and lords tell them. We talk about "federating" here in the fediverse, but each individual community - as far as I'm aware of - is a little dictatorship. A federation of dictatorships is not a free society, anymore than the UN, an international body composed of "liberal democracies" and authoritarian regimes is truly democratic. We need a way to start governing online communities through actual forms of democracy.


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here's an article on this idea an its implications (people get socialized into feudalism/authoritarianism by the internet):

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I'm glad to see this post strike a bit of a nerve. People have raised several points that I'd like to respond to, some of which are I think are important conversations that I have thoughts on but don't have all the answers to, others of which I'd like to push back on, and I also have some clarifying points I'd like to make. I don't have the bandwidth for all of that right now so I'll try to respond in the next day or two.

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@anomaly I think about this a lot in the context of MUDs, which were created when most users could be assumed to be developers, so there was an implicit "once you've played a while you'll helpnewbies, then help moderate, then help develop" that was just beautiful.

@anomaly Now obviously this is still a hierarchy and it was very much based on approval by those above you, but, within the context of the Internet then, it was... a big step forward, that I see us having completely walked away from with the Web.

Hierarchical social structures can be tolerated as long as there's mobility. If mobility is only upward and provided by growth, it's not stable. It's important to frame that in terms of labor rather than authority and to rotate people out so that it doesn't devolve into a ponzi scheme

Also games are a much better foundation for A/B testing and iterative development of social structures than general purpose social networks and live institutions

@yaaps @anomaly

I'll point out that in the context of a game, growth is perpetually possible because you can always make up new fictions.

Also, what you're talking about sounds like arbitrary reforms to try and patch some holes in hierarchy, and that's not really what I'm after: only the "whole body of membership is qualified for any position" is what I am speaking to having a nostalgia for.

You might tolerate a hierarchy with the constraints you've put on it, but I wouldn't.

@yaaps @anomaly

management-by-confederation-of-special-interest-committees-representing-themselves-through-recallable-delegation or bust, tbh.

It's not like there's any technical or social inhibition of pursuing a truly non-hierarchical organization here, so... why not? As you say, the medium allows for rapid iteration.

Ok.... This is what I'm hoping to iterate towards, hopefully in a short enough time to avoid entrenchment

@emsenn @anomaly
A lot of thought about how anarchist communities might function is based on voluntary association and revolving representation in intercommunity organizations, but very little is based on actual experience. You can very easily sample social structures, including those based on infinite growth, in game, and I plan to do so in a way that helps people examine the assumptions. I have some experience in game governance, however, and I assure you that it'll take some weaning to get bootlicking gamers off the teat

That's still easier than trying to democratize social media, though

@yaaps This whole post sounds like it was written be someone who is sadly ignorant to the hundreds of thousands of people living in contemporary peaceful anarchy. @anomaly

@anomaly If you read that article, regarding democracy it says "Governance systems that seek to inscribe authority within commonly agreed-upon rules ... generally through the capacity to transfer that authority to someone else.

Democratic practices can emerge within feudal technologies, such as when all-powerful moderators feel pressure to respect the values of their communities in how they exert authority."

Is this not the fediverse?

@anomaly Power paradigms are still present in democracies.

I think the feudalism doesn't apply to, say, Mastodon because everyone can start their own instance. You can exist here without a governing dictator however you can be democratically blocked by other users and instances.

@anomaly Also reporting offensive content grants a lot more power to Mastodon users than other social media platforms. On the bird site or Facebook you can report racist, sexist, transphobic things but those platforms do nothing about it.

@LydiaConwell @anomaly It's pretty much everything we've come to expect from capitalism too. There's not one non-feudalistic/authoritarian form of government out there atm because we've all been conditioned to expect that representatives in a congress or parliament is the only way.

@LydiaConwell @anomaly We still give them authority to create rules on our behalf, and those rules more often than not, favor the people that seek to oppress us with no repercussions given for this betrayal of our trust by the populace at large.

If we wanted, we could leave creating and voting on new laws to ballot initiatives and other directly democratic means and reduce congress/parliament "politicians" to bookkeepers.

@LydiaConwell @anomaly It's really not as complex as the capitalists make it out to be. It'd actually serve to simplify laws and regulations, as well as force more universal standards instead of the shitty "means testing" crap that capitalists force on the poorest in order to let the richest have an extra cent or two.

@KitsuneAlicia @LydiaConwell @anomaly In Sweden most politicians have regular jobs. Only the top politicians have it full time. You both get paid and have a right to take leave from work to do political or union work. Like tending a meeting. It's kinda like a hobby and many don't really have time for it. They chose to do other things instead.

On G+ you could have co-creators.

A problem on internet is trust. It takes time build. So you need at least a body that takes care of spam.

@shellkr @KitsuneAlicia @LydiaConwell @anomaly

Yes, we need a group which decides what information is high enough quality for everyone to see, in order to have the baseline common knowledge needed for any kind of democracy.

And like people still having regular jobs but given time and money to engage in politics, this group shouldn't be a separate, specialized class.

On how:

@KitsuneAlicia @LydiaConwell liquid democracy is an interesting idea that kind of allows a gradient between the two. You can vote on everything, or delegate your vote to someone you trust if you're too busy, and they can in turn also delegate their vote

@anomaly for example, each account can perform moderation actions and each account can also choose which other accounts they trust to perform moderation. this also works better if the network is more p2p with clients talking directly to each other, because federation is about, as you say, exclusive control over a server

This is very true. Thankfully the fedi is nowhere near as bad as being on a billion user centralised network but there is still too much power in the hands of admins.
The user base is not as lethargic as elsewhere and do actually get involved more than elsewhere but there is a danger of inertia creeping in.
The inbuilt voting ability at the hands of users is a great tool to use to guage opinions and could easily be tweaked to create real democracy. and are coops

@dublinux @anomaly @emsenn
I don't explicitly disagree with this line of thinking. That being said, how would you propose to make concrete changes to democratize instances more?

At the mo', they're set up more like a representative democracy - or at least that's the hope. However, the points all of you make equally hold true for a "representative democracy".

I think we need to reframe the word "democracy" or find a completely new word. It's so far tainted by the notions of western democracy, better known as capitalism, that its completely fucked. Democracy as defined today is a joke.


>That being said, how would you propose to make concrete changes to democratize instances more?
Agitation on the part of users to encourage instance admins to include them in decision making processes is probably the best way since it appears most fedi instances won't voluntarily(perhaps thru lack of resources, time) become democratic.
Ask for votes to be held before decisions are taken. Threaten to move instance.
There are significant costs to creating a really 'democratic' fedi.


Indeed, there are significant costs to creating a democratic anything. Though I'm not sure what that means here. That is often used as an excuse; because things are too difficult, we're just going to leave them as is. Welcome to most any western country.

Hypothetically, say there are 2 mods of an instance and a vote is actually held. If those 2 individuals hold all the power to actually take any action that is decided upon by the majority, that's still a representative democracy. Everyone who voted 'hopes' that the 2 with power will actually implement what was voted upon.

Threatening to move to another instance at this point accomplishes very little. Most don't care. I already left an instance because of their behaviour. No one cared and likely still do not. In fact some are likely happy that I left because I spoke out and 'rocked the boat' so to speak.

@redandgreen @dublinux

Your fist para made me thing of the US declaration of indpencence bit:

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."

Others in this thread are mentioning ideas that if the fediverse's software was modified it could be all but impossible for admins to not implement voting decisions, except by losing face. And presumably that would lead to users abandoning an instance and finding a more democratic home if they felt motivated.

While one user moving instance might not feel like a significant statement, if enough people do it, and, like you, move to co-operative instances, then that could add up to a 'movement'.

At a certain point, all of these Social Media Entities are reflections & outgrowths of the personality of an individual, or at most a small group, with other people coming in & participating because they see something they like. When you reduce the size of the Entity to the individual, their actions are, I suppose, by definition, democratic, but that's just a kind of limiting case, & I'm not convinced it means anything.

I agree; the original post is based on a false equivalence between the instance owner and the users. The admin has full rights to conduct their instance however they want (this right, however, is diluted if they accept and receive donations). The federation allows for every individual to have their own instance, and so has the capability to contain a "democracy". It is just irony that the people chose not to exercise that freedom.

@anomaly Interestingly, Plato said the best form of government was a "benign dictatorship"... The problem is finding a benign dictator... I think that communities can have benign dictators when the opportunity for real power or vested interests is limited... which is why I think the Fediverse is our greatest hope. The dictatorship model is forced upon us by the relative scarcity of technically competent people to run communities.

@anomaly Then, one day, when everyone understands this stuff, we can distribute power more broadly.

@lightweight @anomaly I have mostly given up on the idea of broad appeal and a democratic basis for free software, mostly because I feel that its ethics and values are incompatible with mass demand, and that a singular focus on democratic values will ruin it, as it ultimately ruins anything beautiful and good. I think free software would benefit from abandoning the idea of reaching the mythical "critical mass" of users for broad acceptance, which ultimately just adulterates what makes it special and unique, and instead focus on solidifying and defending what we've got. I think Albert Jay Nock put it best in "Isaiah's Job":

@tejrnz @anomaly I'm coming around to a similar conclusion, Tom. Will read the reference you provided with interest.

@lightweight @anomaly Thank you. I know from lurking on your posts for a while that you have vastly more experience in this than than I do!

@tejrnz @anomaly that's very kind, Tom. I look forward to seeing more of what you have to say for vimself ;) (very good)

@lightweight @tejrnz Gosh, that's quite a long ref, but I'm curious to read something more from the Mises institute, it's been a while.

Have either of you read the 'An-aargh-chy' paper?

This was a very enlightening and empirical investigation into practical democracy for me.

@douginamug @tejrnz yes - I wasn't immediately able to see the kernel of relevance, I must admit.

@lightweight @douginamug I should have perhaps made clearer that it's a somewhat abstract view on the issue...!

@tejrnz @lightweight I read it :)

A nice Bible revision session! And nice to read something pre-WWII.

I do wonder what Nock would make of our modern social data scraping! Perhaps not so hard to find the Remnant... or should I say, the Remnant you're looking for.

The Remnant concept seems most topical within the climate-collapse frame: those who read the science and understand the implications are preparing in different ways while society churns on.

Hmm. Thanks.

@lightweight @anomaly Not to mention the oft-abysmal treatment they get when they actually do step up to do so.

@anomaly the fact that consensus or majority moderation isn't an option is just pure laziness

You're not wrong about instance governance. There are only a handful of instances that attempt democratic forms and fewer that have even partial success

I think the problem is that assumptions of hierarchy are coded into multiuser software by default and it's really difficult to use the software without falling victim to those assumptions. This is baked into DNS and HTTPS, so bootstrapping democratic communities will not be low friction until onion addresses and other alternatives are widely supported, but making mobility between instances and making individual instances easier to set up and run are important mitigations

@anomaly this feels odd to me now that proper account migration is a thing, though. That doesn't have a meatspace power dynamic analogue. (also, most people are not running their own instances nor contributing financially to their instance which seems like an important part of the feudal dynamic)

@anomaly Is there a sysadmin in your model of democratic communities? How would it work?

@anomaly this is really a byproduct of how resources are commercially acquired and held to host web services. It'd likely require the establishment of a non-profit where executives and a treasurer could be appointed by users on a standard basis outlined by some bylaws

@anomaly this would obviously be a band-aid on the involvement of commodities but it seems to me that it's the best one available to us


> make it all free and open
> assholes come in and ruin everything
> move somewhere else, try again
> repeat


i guess those tens of thousands of years humans spent as nomads kind of embedded themselves in our brains.

@anomaly I once wrote an article about the idea of a democratic instance - about #ownCloud, not about Mastodon, though. Many concepts can be transferred, though:

@anomaly i might have agreed before account migration was added. but instances aren't dictatorships when borders are open. users are only beholden to the dictates of a top admin if they so choose -- when they disagree with the top admin's decisions they can simply yeet off to another instance

imo top admins aren't dictators, they're just delegates responsible for day-to-day instance-level housekeeping

it's not a 100% perfect implementstion yet, but it's ok and it's getting better

@red @anomaly I just wish something like nomadic identities existed. It's the kind of thing I've heard about mentioned as a possible idea and haven't heard of any actual ways it'd be implemented (and it'd need to be implemented carefully), but the gist of it would be that your account ultimately wouldn't be stuck on any one server - you could take *everything* with you whenever you chose to do so.

I don't know how bad actors in a system like that would be filtered effectively, but the concept on paper sounds like the kinda stuff dreams are made of, as far as *owning* your social network experience is concerned

@Frinkeldoodle @anomaly i agree 100%

from my understanding it a huge technical challenge to reach that ideal. but it's encouraging to see the devs adding tools to approximate a system like that

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