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There and Back Again (A Fediverse Journey)

Meet Gamma. Gamma is a straight white man.1 But that’s not all he is. He’s also in his late 20s or early 30s, and has worked in tech for about a decade now. He recycles, and is logical, and only drives a car because public transportation in his area is lacklustre.

Recently, Gamma has been feeling frustrated with using social media services like Facebook and Twitter. “All my posts have to compete with advertisements and corporate posts. I’ll never be able to get people to hear what I want to say.”

And Gamma has been working in tech for nearly ten years now. In that time, they’ve seen smartphones become ubiquitous and social media go from something teens and nerds did to something everyone does. They have quite a lot of opinions they’d like people to hear.

So, where could Gamma go, where his opinions won’t have to compete against taco commercials? He thinks about it.

He doesn’t like these services because his posts are in competition with advertisements. There are advertisements because the services cost money to run. Gamma has a nice job though, and earns more than enough money. He’d be willing to pay one, or even two dollars a month, to have an global audience that can hear his message without there being sponsored advertisements. Surely, something like that exists?

And, wouldn’t you know it: it does, in the form of the Fediverse, a conglomerate of federated online services, mostly microblogs like Twitter. There, each server is small, and paid for with donations from its members, or just out of the pocket of the server’s admin. They’re small; it’s cheap.

But more important, there’s no corporate accounts or centralized admin team. Finally, Gamma’s posts will be judged by their merit.

So Gamma, he starts to post. At first the posts don’t get noticed, but soon he starts to get some followers and they start to share some his opinions to his own followers. Finally, someone is paying attention to what Gamma is saying.

The attention isn’t what Gamma was hoping for, though. He keeps getting called a “techbro,” and this one person even called him a “fascist.” But Gamma knows he isn’t a fascist: he’s a normal person like anyone else: a late-20s straight white man who works in tech.

Gamme is confused. On legacy social media, Gamma would say these things and no one would bat an eye - here, people are literally calling him a Nazi. Certainly it’s these people that are missing the mark: if Gamma was a Nazi, certainly someone would’ve told him before? He thought these were good and clever notions, developed after working long hours in his field. He’s a logical, reasonable person: if he believes these things, they must be reasonable beliefs. These people just writing them off as “oppressive” must be wrong, or misunderstanding. And, Gamma knows it’s rude to call people names: if these people are calling him names, they must not have a reasonable complaint about what he’s said. He was just politely sharing his opinion in this public place, why can’t they do the same?

What Gamma failed to realized is just how much the walled garden of legacy social media coddled him. Motivated by the same commercialization he dislikes, legacy social media neuters criticism of the kyriarchy by diminishing voices of its opposition while turning a blind eye to its continuation: a video showing the fatal actions mercenaries hired by Coca-Cola is blocked, while Coke ads show up every third post. It’s a subtle domination of the conversation, but it’s there.

Without being centralized, there’s no superstructure around the Fediverse which is able to maintain a similar cohesive bias. Certain parts lean left, certain parts lean right, and others are completely foreign - literally, Gamma encounters huge parts of the Fediverse speaking languages he honestly doesn’t even recognize.

This means that any given opinion that gets circulated around the Fediverse, not just a subculture, is going to get judged not on how well it fits into the “normal,” but judged on its merit. Which is, after all, what Gamma wanted.

But that certainly isn’t how it feels. Now that the harm of his opinions is no longer being protected from criticism by the platform, it feels like he’s suddenly being silenced and oppressed. It feels like everyone is attacking him and his opinions, which, again, must have some merit; he’s been allowed to hold them for YEARS.

It’s a harsh reality for Gamma to face. The only reason his opinions seemed clever was because he is so privileged no one was around to tell him they were wrong. But here, in an environment where a straight young white man working in tech has no more privilege in conversation than anyone else, it’s made clear: his opinions are underdeveloped, bordering on juvenile. What’s worse, they’ve spread to his whole belief system; it’s all a house of cards predicated on some un-examined assumptions that no one questioned when he first floated them as a Facebook post in 2007.

I don’t envy anyone who has to come to terms with that.

There’s a quote, “when you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” That’s all that’s happening here: Gamma can tell he’s lost something, but he doesn’t recognize that it’s a loss of privilege, not a loss of equality. Gamma copes with this the same way of his peers would: by knowing he’s a reasonable and logical person, so any reaction he has to this situation is the right and rational one.

First, he reactively dismisses other’s opinions as “caring too much,” about the topic, ignoring that perhaps he doesn’t care enough - or at least, if he cares so little, maybe he shouldn’t have spoken up?

Second, he says that their over-caring is the real problem at-hand, not his own opinions. Gamma might not know what’s right, but he knows: those who disagree with him must be wrong.

Third, if all these people so quickly can dismiss an opinion he’s held without a problem for a decade, they must be really dumb.

So, there’s this place. It’s not filled with advertisements, which Gamma thought he would want. But in its place, it’s full of over-opinionated people who care too much about stuff Gamma has already made up his mind about, and what’s more, is those people are wrong and dumb.

That’s an impressive amount of conclusion to come to without even needing to look at what criticism people are saying to him: without even needing to listen, Gamma gets to know that he’s right, and everyone else is illogical, emotional, wrong, and dumb.

And why would Gamma want to spend time talking to, let alone listening to, those sorts of people?

So, he returns back to the legacy social media, into his walled garden, where he might be mediocre and invisible, but at least he’s right.

  1. And his name is “Gamma” because I didn’t want to use a real white person name. [return]

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