Skip to Content

Blocklists on the Fediverse

There’s a mobile phone application for accessing Mastodon instances, to post to and read content from the Fediverse. The app is called Tusky and recently they patched the software so that users from a certain white supremacist instance would be redirected to an irrelevant video, essentially blocking them for using the app with that instance.

There’s a lot of argument around that, which I might get to, but I’ve seen a few people say that the whole argument could be avoided with shared blocklists - a configuration shared publicly that would let instances basically follow another instance’s instance moderation.

These sorts of blocklists exist for users on Twitter, and they’re viewed as highly problematic, despite having started with identical intentions: to alleviate the difficulty in removing white supremacist voices from one’s view.

In fact, last spring, or maybe summer, Wil Wheaton was collectively run-off the Fediverse by coordinated harassment, explicitly because of his (claimed accidental) misuse of blocklists.

Explicitly, the risk is that marginalized people are less able to appeal being added to such lists, since they are generally in possession of less social capital, and online discourse tends to side against them by default.

It’s interesting to me that the same people who helped coordinate harassing Wheaton off the Fediverse are now advocating for a similar tool as what he misused, without seeming to appreciate that developing such tools would enable again such misuse.

Being explicit though, I have no problem with allowlists, or whitelists, where list of not who to block, but of which instances are allowed, being shared. I view that as a mimic of how social interaction has worked for much of our past. I mean, you can only interact with an entity after you know it exists, right? Whereas with the Fediverse’s model, you interact - in the sense of broadcasting a message to them - by anyone who has an instance.

There’s a lot of different social communication that comes up with the Fediverse, and I have to think that a lot of them would be solved by a whitelist-y model. I know that’d introduce a lot of other problems, but I really do think that Mastodon, and so the rest of the Fediverse, are letting themselves being wagged by the golden goose of “discoverability,” when that’s never been important outside of advertising. (Yes, I mixed a metaphor, a tail wagging a dog and a goose laying a golden egg.)

Editorial and License Information

My name is emsenn and I wrote this essay for the benefit of the commons. To the extent possible under law, I have waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to it. If you're viewing it on a remote server, you're encouraged to download your own copy. Essays like this are made possible with financial support from readers like you. Thank you. To read more of my work and to learn more about me, visit https://emsenn.net