Gab, Mastodon And The Challenges Of Content Moderation On A More Distributed Social Network - 2019-07-15
While so many of the discussions and debates about content moderation focus on a few giant platforms -- namely Facebook, YouTube and Twitter -- it's fascinating to see how they play out in other arenas. Indeed, one of the reasons why we're so concerned about efforts to "regulate" content moderation practices on social media is that focusing on the manner in which those big, centralized platforms work could serve to stifle newer, more innovative platforms, whose very set up may inherently deal with the "problems" in the first place (see my protocols, not platforms discussion for one example).
There are a few interesting platforms out there trying to take a different approach to nearly everything -- and one of the more well known is Mastodon, an open source "federated" system that is sort of somewhat like Twitter. If you somehow have missed the Mastodon boat, I'd recommend the long piece Sarah Jeong wrote about it two years ago, which is a pretty good intro to the topic. The really short version, though, is that anyone can set up their own Mastodon community and, if others so choose, they may "federate" with other Mastodon communities. You could build a Mastodon instance that is totally isolated from others, or you could build one that connects to others and allows "toots" to go from one instance of Mastodon to others. And, of course, the federating can change over time. It's kind of neat in that it allows for multiple communities, who can set different rules, norms and standards, and thus you get much more widespread experimentation. And, unlike a fully centralized system, like Twitter, the ability for different instances to just "go there own way" if they disagree, allows for much greater flexibility, without a centralized content moderation impossibility.
I'm still more interested in much more fully decentralized protocol-based systems, but a federated system like Mastodon, that allows for a distributed set of mini-centralized instances that can join together or separate as needed, is still pretty fascinating.