“I have no time for foolishness.”

The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.

Toni Morrison

This is the quote that came to mind as I watched a clip of CNN’s Dana Bash asking the governor of my state, Wes Moore, about Republicans blaming diversity policies for the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Governor Moore’s response to Bash’s initial question was the right one in my view, because he dismissed the Republican assertions as foolishness and talked about closure and comfort for the families of those killed in the accident, safety for first responders, re-opening the channel and port, and rebuilding the bridge. Bash persisted in asking the governor about the “DEI mayor” insult against Baltimore mayor Brandon Scott by someone from the blue check brigade on Twitter. Governor Moore’s response was similarly focused on Baltimore’s recovery from the accident, which he ended by saying “I’m focused on what matters right now.”

Unlike the poor journalism which animated my earlier complaint against the press coverage of the disaster (which leaves the racism of critics as subtext), Dana Bash’s line of questioning directly aids and abets racists and their critique by foregrounding it and asking the governor of the state to respond to it as if it is legitimate. There is of course no actual evidence that DEI had anything to do with a ship the size and the weight of a skyscraper plowing into the bridge and destroying it. So why would Dana Bash waste air time elevating the ignorant nonsense of GOP pols spewing racism on Twitter? My guess is that CNN wanted to appear “balanced”, but they failed at that in addition to wasting the governor’s time and that of their viewers. What does a Utah state representative have to say that could possibly be relevant to the issue at hand? As it turned out, absolutely nothing. What does a former member of the Florida House of Representatives have to say that could be relevant? Again, absolutely nothing. Remember–six people died as a result of this accident. As of this writing, some of the dead still have not been recovered. A key driver of economic vitality for the city and the state is now at risk. Dana Bash (and/or her producers) still chose to waste nearly two minutes of airtime on racist, conspiratorial nonsense from the fever swamps of Twitter.

Journalism isn’t economics, but opportunity cost is a useful lens through which to view the time spent on foolishness. The entire interview was just over seven minutes long, and most of the questions were good, prompting useful responses from Governor Moore. But about 20% of the interview time was taken up by GOP nonsense from Twitter. That’s time which could have been spent asking about potential future changes in policies and procedures for handling large cargo ships in the future. It could have been used to ask about the victims of the accident, who merited only a brief mention from Bash at the end of the interview. It could have been used for a deeper dive into the local economic impacts of the accident on the Port of Baltimore, and on the people who work there. Many port workers live in Dundalk, MD, a place that differs quite a bit demographically from what racists on Twitter seem to think.

Joy Reid’s interview with Mayor Scott, even while calling out the conspiracy theories around the accident as ridiculous, did surface the very same tweets from the fever swamp as Dana Bash did. Mayor Scott took the opportunity to respond to the racist assertions from Twitter, which is his right. But a large part of me wishes that he had followed the governor’s example and left the foolishness of the right-wing fever swamps to Black Twitter. Because if there’s anything Black Twitter does well, it’s turn insults on their head. Since DEI is the new n-word, here is a small sampling of what’s been done with it:

In my view, journalism continues to let social media be their assignment editor and set the agenda. Whether would-be centrists like CNN or NPR, or overtly left-leaning MSNBC, Twitter still figures far too prominently in their coverage and in their questions. Particularly when the owner of Twitter has made it his mission to platform Nazis and personally amplify the most offensive and extreme right-wing thoughts, integrating the worst output of such a platform into news coverage cannot help but make the news product worse, and less useful to us as citizens. Difficult as it is to find conservative perspectives on issues that are actually useful, the press needs to make the effort. Racist positions are not owed airtime simply because they are “the other side”. In researching this post, I found Ed O’Keefe of CBS’ Face the Nation did the same thing Dana Bash did when he interviewed Mayor Scott. Here’s a quote of O’Keefe’s question:

I’ve got to ask you one of the wilder things is some conservative critics blamed the bridge collapse on diversity, equity and inclusion policies in Maryland. Diversity, equity inclusion, better known as DEI to a lot of people. They called you, some critics, “the DEI mayor.” What did you make of that when you heard it?

Ed O’Keefe interviewing Mayor Brandon Scott on Face the Nation, March 31, 2024

To steal a line from President Mohamed Irfaan Ali of Guyana, “Let me stop you right there.” No, Ed O’Keefe, you don’t have to ask the mayor of Baltimore about conspiratorial nonsense from aspiring governors and congressmen from Utah and Florida just because they happen to be Republican. Not only do they not represent Baltimore, they would probably be lucky to be able to find the city on a map. They don’t have relevant expertise in shipping or ports or bridge-building or disaster response. Don’t be the journalist who makes a conversation worse by bringing voices to it that have nothing to add beyond ignorance and racism.

Now Sharing to the Fediverse, My Threads Account

When I checked in on my Threads account recently, I saw that the Fediverse sharing feature was available and turned it on.

As you can see above, I’ve added my Threads account in the last available metadata entry on my primary Fediverse account. In testing the new link before publishing this post, I found that Ivory desktop and mobile clients appear to rewrite the link to @genxjamerican (which doesn’t work). Clicking the Open in Browser button that comes up after the first failed site visit gives you another rewritten URL, https://www.threads.net/user/genxjamerican#. (which also doesn’t work). When I visit my profile in a browser however (at https://hachyderm.io/@genxjamerican), clicking the Threads link takes me directly to the profile as expected.

A search for my handle in the Ivory desktop client now shows my Threads account and my Mastodon account. Only time will tell whether or not the anti-Meta fedi pact I posted about last year has a meaningful impact on the growth of Threads in the fediverse. Meta could just as easily sabotage its own growth through strategic errors. One of the fediverse’s most consistent advocates and contributors, Dr. Jorge Caballero, makes a persuasive argument that paying for “good” Threads posts is one such mistake.

I haven’t really set up anything to cross-post the same content to multiple social media accounts beyond what Jetpack Social supports. My blog posts are automatically posted to Tumblr and to my Mastodon account. I might change that just to see how different the levels of engagement are. IFTTT is probably where I should look first, having set up a bunch of automations there in the past. So far, when it comes to sharing posts from this blog, followers on Mastodon engage far more often with them than in any other social media network where I have a presence.

Unremarked Corners of Social Media: Substack Notes Edition

It’s been about 5 months since Substack introduced Substack Notes. Some Googling to refresh my memory regarding the timing of the announcement and the impact surfaced articles like this Guardian piece that detailed Elon Musk’s petty response to the launch of a (much smaller) competitor to Twitter. The shenanigans regarding blocked links, searches, and false “unsafe link” warnings have long since ended. An alert from one of the Substackers I follow prompted me to look at the service after some time away.

Here’s my Substack profile:

I wasn’t sure what the Claim Your Handle thing was about, so I clicked through to see:

Instead of the suggested handle, I went with the one I’m increasing using on all social media (and this website):

The Notes feature itself is nicely laid out, making it easy to see your “restacks”, original notes, replies, and other engagement from the Substack community. I only follow a few writers here, and I suppose Notes makes engagement easier. But it’s such a small audience it’s pretty easy to see why Substackers came to rely on Twitter so much to drive engagement with their pieces. It might not even be fair to Substack Notes to call it a social media option. I definitely could see engaging with Substack Notes more if I had a Substack newsletter, but I don’t write long enough or consistently enough for that to make sense (I also prefer to own my words, hence the choice to maintain this blog rather than let any one social media option own them).

Everything Old is New Again: Social Bookmarking Edition

According to this TechCrunch article, a Fediverse-powered successor to del.icio.us is now available. Back in the olden days of the web, I regularly posted links there to articles that I wanted to share or read later. I moved on from del.icio.us to Instapaper, and used it a ton (and actually read more of the content I saved there) because of the send-to-Kindle feature. Enough years have passed that I don’t recall exactly when I switched from using Instapaper to Pocket, but it might have had to do with original creator (Marco Arment) selling a majority stake to another company.

In the true spirit of the decentralized web, Postmarks is available as code in GitHub that you choose where to host (and connect to the Fediverse) yourself. Per the readme file, the creator of Postmarks put his thumb on the scale in favor of Glitch as a place to host your own instance. I played with Glitch briefly back in February when I first heard of it and found it to be a quick and powerful way to stand up new static or dynamic websites for whatever you wanted (within reason). So I started by visiting the default site the creator of Postmarks set up, pressing the Remix on Glitch button, and started renaming things per the instructions.

I used 1Password to generate the ADMIN_KEY and SESSION_SECRET values for my remix of Postmarks. I initially changed the username from the default (bookmarks) but since the Fediverse name Glitch-hosted sites resolve to is @bookmarks@project-name.glitch.me, I though the default (@bookmarks@genxjamerican-links.glitch.me) worked quite well. Other changes I’ve made to the remix so far include changing the size of the read-only textbook on the About page with the site’s ActivityPub handle and changing the background color from pink to more of a parchment color.

Other minor changes I expect to make include:

  • Fonts
  • Unvisited and visited link colors

I’ve tried searching for the new handle with the Ivory client but it hasn’t shown up yet. There are other features I haven’t tried yet, like the Bookmarklet and Import bookmarks features that I will write about in a future post.

The Social Media Shakeup Continues: Bluesky & Threads

Over six months have passed since I first started exploring Mastodon. I’ve switched servers (to hachyderm.io from mastodon.cloud), updated this blog’s sharing settings in Jetpack Social to post to Mastodon automatically (replacing the deliberately-broken Twitter integration), subscribed to the Ivory for Mastodon mobile app, made 1813 posts and gained 338 followers. I only follow 196 accounts, but between that and folks in the Local feed on hachyderm.io I find it to be an informative, enlightening, and fun social media experience.

A little over a month ago, I joined Bluesky thanks to a friend’s invite. The protocol it runs on (the AT Protocol) is federated, like ActivityPub. But as of now, bsky.social is the only place you can sign up (and signups are currently still invite-only). Nor does it appear that you’ll be able to host your own AT Protocol server anytime soon. Bluesky does implement a few interesting ideas that other social networks should borrow (or steal): (1) app-specific passwords, (2) feeds, (3) domains as handles.

I first learned about app-specific passwords in a Mastodon post (which I have not been able to find again because that whole hashtag search thing) announcing the Ice Cubes for Mastodon app had added support for a bridge instance (skybridge.fly.dev) that would let you connect to and use your Bluesky account and your Mastodon account(s) in the same app. The sign in page recommends using an app-specific password instead of the real one and the link text takes you directly to the UI in the Bluesky app to create one. In my limited use of the Ice Cubes account for this purpose, the disclaimer about the bridge not working for every Mastodon client proved true often enough to be annoying. The sign in page recommended the Ivory app as providing the best experience—we’ll explore whether that advice proves true in a future post.

Feeds are the way Bluesky packages algorithms that show certain posts and topics. Beyond the Following feed (the default feed for every Bluesky user), I’ve added feeds including Mutuals (posts from people you follow who follow you back), Likes (every Bluesky post you’ve liked), and Cat Pics (the content of which should be obvious, but occasionally includes pictures of raccoons and opossums). Bluesky has made a feed generator starter kit available on GitHub.com, but I haven’t gotten that code working yet. If I do, and happen to feel particularly ambitious the next step would be to publish and host a custom feed for other Bluesky users to subscribe to.

Domains as handles lets you use a custom domain as your handle (instead of a subdomain of bsky.social). Since I own genxjamerican.com, I took the opportunity to update my handle using the instructions in Bluesky’s April 28 blog post. The process was quick, and the handle change was reflected almost immediately in my Bluesky mobile app (I had to refresh) and immediately in my Ivory app (no manual refresh required). If Mastodon were able to adopt this feature, it might at least make server switches much easier for people with custom domains.

Without much time on Bluesky, I haven’t done much posting, gained many followers, or followed many accounts yet. Some of the people I follow on Twitter for news (like Phil Lewis) and commentary (like Adam Serwer) are on Bluesky as well (along with fun accounts like Bodega Cats).

Threads is the newest kid on the social media block (launched July 5th) and already has over 100 million users, courtesy of its ability to leverage the large installed base of Instagram users as a starting point. Unlike Bluesky, Threads plans to join the fediverse so its Threads users can follow and interact with people on other fediverse platforms. But before Threads was even officially named and launched, numerous instance admins joined an anti-Meta fedi pact. The instance admins in the pact agree to block any fediverse instances owned by Meta. As for the app itself, there are the sort of privacy controls and account settings that will make Threads safe for users (and especially for brands, compared to the anti-woke haven Twitter seems intent on becoming)–but not much else. You can invite your friends to Threads via WhatsApp, text messages, email, or just about any other method you can think of. As of yet there are no custom feeds, or lists, or any other features that might let you filter what posts you see. Since Meta is really about selling ads, I presume its only a matter of time before we start seeing (and scrolling past them) in Threads.

Between the three social media apps I’ve been spending more time with since last year, Mastodon is still the one I most enjoy using. I’m still on Twitter, but less often than last year–primarily to engage with a DM group I joined made up of black professionals and academics. When Twitter first looked like it was on shaky ground, some of us exchanged emails to keep in touch, others shared their Instagram accounts. If and when Bluesky shifts from invite-only to broader adoption, it looks like the social media option with the most tools to recreate the sort of community we found on Twitter beginning in the pandemic.

A Nation Without Mercy

Yesterday, Daniel Penny was charged with second-degree manslaughter for the death of Jordan Neely from his chokehold. In response, Florida governor and presumed presidential candidate Ron DeSantis tweeted the following:

The anti-Semitic dog whistle is bad enough, but DeSantis’ branding of Penny as a Good Samaritan is equally troubling to me. DeSantis has plenty of company in this opinion, including the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, and the congressional representative of Texas’ 38th district:

I presumed this branding to be an egregious perversion of the meaning of the parable itself, but found it to be even worse than I recalled when I went back to read the parable in its full context. I reproduce it below (with my own emphases):

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37, New International Version

It is easy to forget that the original context in which Jesus told this parable was in response to the question: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It is this that should be, but too often is not, the animating principle of those of us who call ourselves Christians. The expert in the law quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 when Jesus asks him what is written in the Law. I highlight verses 29, 36, and 37, because it is how many of those in social media have answered the question “who is my neighbor?” that reveal us to be a nation without mercy.

As we observed last week (and unfortunately continue to observe even now), the prevailing sentiment of too many on social media (and in the nation at large) regarding Jordan Neely can be summed up as “he had to die, just in case”. Within hours of his death on the floor of the F train, the media made sure we knew about Neely’s mental illness, his long arrest record, previous violent assaults, even one of his public anti-LGBT outbursts. This latest impromptu obituary of a black man after a violent death had the same effect of those written before–to tell the public that the dead man deserved his fate.

The priest and the Levite in the parable are understood to be fellow Israelites–who nevertheless left their countryman in the road to die. The Samaritan by contrast, despite being someone for whom Israelites had such contempt they would not travel through Samaria or associate with them in any way, had mercy on the man. So if there is any parallel to be drawn between the parable of the Good Samaritan, and what happened on the train it is this: we are the priest and the Levite. By “we” I don’t just mean the people on the train, I mean all of us. A journalist named Issac Bailey has written this sentiment far more eloquently than I have, despite having treated a homeless man in New York City with far more humanity far more recently than I have in the place I call home. My days as a soup kitchen volunteer, feeding the poor and the homeless in the greater Washington area are years behind me. Far more recently I’ve stared past them, pretended they weren’t there, anything and everything other than actually trying to help them.

Beyond the immediate moment, we haven’t pushed back against the active and ongoing dehumanization and criminalization of the poor and mentally-ill. Both the rhetoric and the legislation of those we put and keep in power are an unfortunate reflection of our national contempt for those Jesus called “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” in yet another parable, that of the sheep and the goats. That parable too, like that of the Good Samaritan is really about eternal life and how our earthly deeds reflect whether or not we love God, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Exploring Mastodon Continued: Moving to Hachyderm.io

After almost 4 months of using Mastodon, I found the community on Hachyderm.io (and its administrator, Kris Nóva) so interesting that I decided to move from the larger instance I initially joined (mastodon.cloud). The advice in my first post about sticking with a larger server unless you come across a particular server/community that really interests you still holds. The specific way I applied it is tied to a Mastodon feature I didn’t fully grasp the utility of back then: the Local timeline. I wrote about timelines later, but what only became clear after creating an account on hachyderm.io and using Local timeline was that because the vast majority of people there are techies like me, there was a much higher volume of interesting toots there than on a large instance like mastodon.cloud.

One of my Mastodon mutuals switched from mastodon.cloud to hachyderm.io due to racist harassment being directed at his account from a domain they don’t block. Not only does hachyderm.io proactively block that domain, they do things like give you a chance to review certain follow requests even if your account isn’t locked, as shown below:

Screenshot of follow request approval on hachyderm.io

The actual steps I followed to migrate were a combination of this article, and this post from Eugen Rochko (in that order). Migrating doesn’t delete the old account, but it does disable the old account so it looks like this:

My disabled account on mastodon.cloud

Migrating to a new account meant updating my account metadata as well to verify that new account belongs to me.

Only the posts from my original Mastodon account can’t make the move to hachyderm.io–but only because I don’t control the instance. If I were willing to run my own Mastodon server, it might be possible to import the archive I downloaded from my previous account and republish them there.

In addition to migrating to hachyderm.io, I provided a small donation to the administrator through ko-fi.com. In addition to the charitable giving I’m doing this year, I’ll be putting more into these tip jars for online services that I find valuable. I contribute a bit to the main Mastodon project through Patreon.

Owning My Words, Revisited

A few years ago, I wrote this brief post, after Scott Hanselman re-tweeted one of his blog posts from 2012. In the wake of last year’s takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk, I’ve been pointing people to Hanselman’s decade+ old advice because I’m seeing it repeated in various forms by others (Monique Judge of The Verge is the most recent example I’ve read). In the time since that November 2019 post, I’ve published at least 60 posts (with a couple dozen more still in drafts). But the best-written and fiercest piece I’ve read on the subject is this Substack post by Catherynne M. Valente.

Her piece is well worth reading in full and sharing with friends. I’m just 5 years older than Valente, and reading it gave me a flashback to the very first page I ever put on the web. It was probably back in 1994, since the Mosaic browser had just come out the year before. I was a sophomore computer science major at University of Maryland then, so it would have been wherever they let students host their own pages. It was just some fan page for the team they used to call the Washington Redskins.  I somehow figured out how to take an image of the team’s helmet and make it look debossed under everything else I put on the page.  It was the first time I got compliments from strangers for something I did on the internet (in a Usenet newsgroup for fans of the team).  Usenet is how I joined my first fantasy football league.  Many of the guys I met online in that league back in 1993 are still friends of mine today. I later met a number of them in-person when I visited the Pacific Northwest for the first time (and I’ve been back a couple more times since).  Usenet is how dozens of us Redskins fans ultimately met in-person and attended a Redskins game together in San Diego (LaDainian Tomlinson’s rookie debut in 2001, and Jeff George’s debut as Redskins starting QB).  So much life has happened since then that until I read a post like Valente’s, it’s very easy to forget all the different ways in which much less sophisticated tech than we have today proved to be very, very good at helping us make meaningful, durable connections with each other.

The 12-point plan of how online communities are created and ultimately destroyed is the heart of her piece. A lot of the friends I first made on on Usenet, or even email distros have migrated through a lot of the same sites Valente listed as having fallen victim to that plan. The migrations to Mastodon (or Instagram, or Slack, or Discord, or Reddit, or SMS groupchats, etc) sparked by Twitter turning into $8chan (as some only half-joking call it now) is a reminder of many previous site & app migrations. Personally, I’m splitting the difference–spending a bit more time on Slack with friends, an ongoing chat with my cousins via GroupMe, and more time on Mastodon in favor of a bit less time on Twitter (less doomscrolling at least). Particularly in the depths of the pandemic (which sadly still seems far from over), some of my Twitter mutuals found and formed a real community in a direct message group. There are nearly 20 of us, all black, in business, tech, academia, science, and journalism among other fields. They’ve been some of the most encouraging people regarding my writing beyond my own family. One of them gave me the opportunity to be a panelist on a discussion of diversity in tech. I continue to learn from them through our ongoing conversations and value our connections enough to have shared other contact info with them if Twitter does go down.

Some of us have already learned that the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere when it comes to social media. What’s being done to Twitter by Elon Musk right now–as much value as I still personally gain from using it–has been an opportunity to reconsider how I engage with social media. I’ve been much more selective about who I follow on Mastodon (just 85 people vs over 800 on Twitter) and am seeing a lot more technical content as a result. This change in my social media experience is intriguing enough that by this time next year I may be one of those people who went from having just a basic grasp of how Mastodon worked to self-hosting an instance and writing all about the experience.

Your Mastodon Experience May Vary–And Not Always in a Good Way

While my own experience on Mastodon has been a positive one so far, my experience is by no means universal.  As more prominent accounts from Twitter have joined, particularly those of black folks (and especially black women) I’ve followed there for awhile, they’ve begun to share details of consistently negative experiences on Mastodon.

Her experience has been difficult enough that the Mastodon post sharing that she was taking a break from that platform linked to the tweet above.  It’s hard to imagine a more damning indictment of how a platform treats people from marginalized communities than posting that criticism on Twitter, a site that has done far less policing of slurs against black people in the wake of Elon Musk’s purchase.  Trying to summarize her thread wouldn’t do it justice, but if there is any common thread between her negative experience and that of other black people on Mastodon it is around the content warning feature (abbreviated CW as shown below).

Mastodon posting window with CW button circled in red

Dr. Prescod-Weinstein’s objection to the name of the feature is a function of being a rape survivor.  The other pushback I’ve seen most often is around the use of the feature for posts regarding racism.  Elon James White, who I first started following during his coverage of Ferguson in the wake of the protests of Michael Brown’s shooting death by police officer Darren Wilson, refuses to use it for discussions of racism.  Mekka Okereke, director of engineering for the Google Play online store, has a more nuanced viewpoint, which separates whether or not white people want to hear about racism from what is effectively a mislabeling of the feature.  He summarized his feelings on this as follows:

Feels very very much like “Ban teaching civil rights, so white kids don’t feel bad.”

When I did a bit of searching to try and learn more about content warnings and trigger warnings in their original context, it seems that the original scope of such terminology was limited to things that could cause someone to recall a traumatic experience they had.  My primary takeaways from one piece in particular was that broader, more casual use of the term “triggered” ended up both being conflated with people being “too sensitive” and conflating trauma with mere discomfort.  “Conflating trauma with mere discomfort” ends up being a great summation of the way far too many white people still respond to black people merely describing the racism they’ve survived.

Mastodon (and the Fediverse)’s turn in the spotlight, and the negative experiences of at least a few black people on it I follow make it a microcosm of both the best and the worst aspects of tech more broadly.  A few of the best aspects: software a young man named Eugen Rochko first started writing in 2016, has held up rather well all things considered against a significant increase in usage and attention.  It’s open source, so not only can you see how it works, you can suggest changes, or even make a copy of it and make changes yourself if you have the time and expertise.  It uses a decentralized social networking protocol that doesn’t just interoperate with other Mastodon servers, but with other social networking applications that use the same protocol.  Despite the good–which is significant–Mastodon is just as susceptible to some of the negative aspects of the for-profit tech industry it intends to be an alternative to.  The most obvious negative aspect is the gatekeeping.  Despite beginning my professional career just a few years after the founder of Mastodon was born, it would take over 15 years of that career before I would find an employer where there was more than one other person who looked like me writing software for a living.  Software engineers who are Hispanic or Latino aren’t that much less rare than black software engineers.  Today, the percentage of women in technical roles is projected to be around 25% by the end of this year.  But the history of computing predates the machines that do it today, and a much higher percentage of those literal human computers were women.  Those women who do persevere through the gatekeeping that would prevent them from entering the industry ultimately end up leaving at unfortunately high rates because of the hostility to women that still persists in too many work environments.

Tim Bray (co-author of the XML spec and contributor to numerous web standards), shared this piece as one of his first posts on Mastodon.  I have no doubt that he meant well, and that the author of the piece meant well, but when you title a piece “Home invasion” when talking about new users of a platform you’re used to, that comes across as incredibly hostile.  The same author that talks about trans and queer feminists building the tools, protocols, and culture of the fediverse makes not a single mention of people of color in his piece–not unlike the commercial tech companies in general, and Twitter in particular that are among the targets of his critique.  The entire piece is worth reading in full to understand the author’s perspective, but I will pull quote and highlight one paragraph that seems most emblematic of the blind spot that some veteran Mastodon users appear to have:

This attitude has moved with the new influx. Loudly proclaiming that content warnings are censorship, that functionality that has been deliberately unimplemented due to community safety concerns are “missing” or “broken”, and that volunteer-run servers maintaining control over who they allow and under what conditions are “exclusionary”. No consideration is given to why the norms and affordances of Mastodon and the broader fediverse exist, and whether the actor they are designed to protect against might be you. The Twitter people believe in the same fantasy of a “public square” as the person they are allegedly fleeing. Like fourteenth century Europeans, they bring the contagion with them as they flee.

To see yourself (as a new user of Mastodon and a long-time user of Twitter) be described as someone bringing contagion hits a lot differently when you’ve endured racism in real life as well as online, and when you’ve had to overcome–and are still overcoming–so many barriers in both places merely to be included, much less respected.  And were the author to be called on this huge blindspot publicly, I have no doubt that he would respond with the same sort of defensiveness that Dr. Prescod-Weinstein described, and that Timnit Gebru, another recent joiner of Mastodon has also described.

As I said at the start of this piece, my own experience with Mastodon has been a positive one so far.  Some of it is a function of having participated in online communities for decades (as far back as the Usenet newsgroups days), and even becoming a private beta tester one of the newer ones (StackOverflow.com) before it went public.  But those communities too had their gatekeepers, mansplainers, and jerks.  Certain open source projects are unfortunately no different in that regard either.  There’s something to be said for understanding the pre-existing culture of a place–even if it is virtual.  That said, the idea that culture is static–and should remain so–is a perspective that it seems some Mastodon veterans would do well to change.  Otherwise, they risk perpetuating the same harms as commercial social media–just without the financial rewards.

Exploring Mastodon Continued: Timelines and Federation

While checking out the Mastonaut desktop client for Mastodon, I came across the following diagram explaining the visibility of a toot:

The Visibility of a Toot

Still reading? I appreciate your patience. I don’t blame any of the folks who noped out of this post after seeing that diagram. It’s a consequence of the servers thing I mentioned in my previous post on exploring Mastodon. It’s one of many features that highlight who the target audience for Mastodon really is (people like me who used to write software for a living, or still do).

Even for me, the Home timeline is the only relevant one because it will display toots from people I follow–regardless of what server they’re on–toots those people boost, and your replies. The Local timeline shows toots from people on the same server where you registered whether you follow them or not. The Public or Federated timeline appears to show toots from people across all the Mastodon servers (again, whether you follow them or not). We’ll see if more time on Mastodon confirms or changes my understanding of the timelines.