Decentralized Social Networks vs. The Trolls

Derek Caelin

In the summer of 2019, the alt-right social network Gab migrated to the decentralized “Fediverse” of social networks after being booted from mainstream financial services and hosting solutions. Almost immediately, Gab was met by a dedicated movement to isolate it. The movement was largely successful; within a year, the Gab CTO announced they would leave the Fediverse. This talk will cover how moderators, activists, and developers in the Fediverse used human moderators, strong moderation tools, representative codes of conduct, and no small amount of organization to promote healthy online spaces.

We’ll review how some of the challenges faced by centralized platforms, which struggle with their own size and scale, have been addressed in networks of smaller, community run, more moderated servers. In the debate over how to make a healthier internet, the open platforms and open protocols in the model of the Fediverse may have some of the best resources to isolate bad actors, including Gab.

Derek Caelin is an Innovation and Data Specialist at Counterpart International (CPI) with experience in open source technology and social media. He has helped activists deploy technology for social good at CPI, PeaceTech Lab, and the United States Institute of Peace. In writing this article, Derek spoke with 80 people, primarily on Mastodon, including 12 interviews of Fediverse administrators and moderators as well as hate speech monitors and experts in dangerous speech. He also conducted a survey of Fediverse users with 670 respondents.

Questions & Answers available!

Q&A Session – Decentralized Social Networks vs. The Trolls
⬡ Hooray, the live Questions & Answers are available here


Derek made some impressive work, with professional video animation and content that would probably please @maloki. It’s a very good introduction to the Fediverse IMO, and the social dynamics at work.

I’m not certain about the conclusion about commercial social platforms that may follow suit… What does it mean? I’ve heard many times from prominent alternative social media people that they would welcome, e.g., Fakebooz to embrace the Fediverse – I can imagine a boa constrictor at work ; and I remember the time when AOL put up an IRC server on the UnderNet network: ouch, we went from under 3000 people actually conversing to being harassed by thousands of “asl”[1] requests: at the time I had no clue what that meant, but in retrospect I can tell that it was an eye opening experience for what followed with Gaggle and Usenet, Gaggle and the email federation, Fakebooz and social networking sites, and so on, and so forth. So, there’s no one single Fediverse – and it’s great, because it can remain diverse this way.

  1. Age, sex, location: a very impolite way to say hello in the AOL universe. Many IRC channels implemented autoban on such keyword. ↩︎