I left Mastodon 27 days ago

A follow-up to “I left Mastodon yesterday

Apologies for the title. 27 days isn’t a tidy amount of time at all, but “I left Mastodon slightly less than 4 weeks ago” is much worse.

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When I decided to leave Mastodon, I said on Mastodon itself and in the Medium article that there were some things that could bring me back.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it. I posted to get it all out of my system and to explain to my followers why I was abruptly leaving. I and others had been complaining about (or leaving over) a lot of the problems for a while, so I didn’t expect it to make any difference at all, but maybe if Gargron read it he might understand that perhaps these issues are a bigger deal than he realised.

In the month since I posted it all, each one has found closure.

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The ability to edit toots

  • Status before I left: wont-fix
  • Status now: Done (compromise)

At the time of writing the original article it was one of the older issues on the list, and various iterations of it had been closed with the understanding that they just weren’t going to happen.

There were legitimate concerns that it could be open to abuse, so an alternative was proposed and endorsed by several people: a shortcut button, that deletes your first toot and pastes its contents and any media into the new toot area, allowing you to easily fix any typos and repost.

Gargron rejected this idea, and the possibility of version tracking or time limiting or even just an “edited” note. It was too much work, he said, when people can easily delete and repost manually.

What happened?

Shortly after I said I was leaving, Gargron got into a conversation with another user, who pointed out that an easy-delete-and-repost feature was proposed and ignored long ago. Gargron wrote a pull request for it, without acknowledging the user who reminded him of the original idea or anyone else who had suggested or fought for it, and Mastodon had the edit-and-redraft feature within 24 hours of me announcing that I was leaving.

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Mutes and blocks that work

  • Status before I left: wont-fix
  • Status now: Done

At the time of writing, you could accidentally see posts by people you had blocked or muted by visiting the profile of someone who had boosted them in the web UI. Again, one of the oldest issues on the list, and Gargron refused to implement it because he personally liked it that way, even though it made blocks and mutes fairly ineffective. If you don’t want to see the blocked person anywhere ever that’s fine, just don’t look at anyone’s profile, right?

What happened?

Despite the original bug report being over a year and a half old, a White Guy Avatar opened it as a new issue and Gargron replied. He objected, but when the original poster and a new person replied to disagree with him he opened a pull request — two days after I said I was leaving. (Edit: The White Guy Avatar in question just told me that they’re neither white nor a guy! I’m not sure how it impacts my point but I felt I should make an edit to point that out.)

One rebuttal from White Guy Avatar was all it took, when the rest of us have been reporting this bug for 19 months. I’m pissed that he isn’t acknowledging anyone who fought for this feature, and I’m pissed that he won’t listen to the vulnerable and marginalised people who need it but he will listen to a White Guy Avatar.

Folks will make excuses and point out that there are flaws in my assessment. Maybe I am taking things out of context, and it’s a case of coincidental timing, and White Guy Avatars have asked for this in the past and been ignored too, right? But marginalised and chronically ignored folks will recognise this pattern and find it very familiar, in Mastodon and in the wider FOSS community.

The point is that people are not aware of their own biases — and Gargron refuses to even acknowledge that he has biases at all, let alone participate in a system that ensures his harmful biases are curtailed by the marginalised communities who are negatively affected by his decisions the most.

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A keyword mute

  • Status before I left: On the roadmap, but not happening
  • Status now: Done

Originally there was a filter added to the Home timeline and the public timelines, but it was regex — meaning you had to know what regex is and how to use it, and most people don’t. What’s more, it only affected one column, so if you want to mute toots about Trump everywhere you had to type it in several times — and you’d still see Trump toots in notifications and profiles.

What we needed was a single intuitive UI in settings that hides any post containing entered terms, site-wide. Twitter has something like this, and it’s extremely helpful.

What happened?

At the time I left (start of June 2018), it had been on the issue list for over a year, and it had been on the roadmap for weeks at least.

Gargron implemented the keyword filter on 29th June, less than a month after I walked out.

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A little maturity from Gargron

  • Status before I left: Not happening
  • Status now: Still not happening

A long shot, I know, but if he can straight-up say “this feature has been removed due to community opposition” without being vague and passive-aggressive and then storming off, then maybe there’s a chance for reasonable community management.

What happened?

We watched the cycle that folks who’ve been involved with Mastodon for a while will be familiar with. When community pushback to a poorly-reviewed feature reaches a certain level, Gargron starts listening and responding to our needs as we state them without arguing so much, but he subtoots about people who disagree with him. He’s less likely to say no because reasons, but we get that vibe of simmering resentment and he won’t admit that anyone else is right. For a couple of weeks maybe, things improve and we get some features that make life better for people in marginalised groups. He doesn’t credit the people who raised the issues or pushed for the features, and he boosts people who say how unfair it is that Gargron is getting pushback, but there’s hope that maybe things are getting better. And then things shift back to how they were before.

This time, we saw him add delete-and-redraft, fix the mute/block issue, and add a decent keyword mute, and all of these changes are very positive. But coding new features and fixing bugs to help out the more vulnerable members of a community only addresses part of the issue. He’s still lashing out at the people who are trying to help make Mastodon better and only want respect and acknowledgement, as shown by his actions with hoodie two days ago. Hoodie posted:

hey. you might know me as ‘the gal who invented mastodon’s society shaping Content Warning feature’. you also might not, since gargron refuses to credit me or pay me for doing so. maybe drop me a few bux so i can afford to live another month. https://www.patreon.com/hoodieak

Fae’s angry, but the implication is that recognition or acknowledgement of feir work would be enough. And in response, Gargron closed every issue fae has ever created on the Mastodon issue list.

[hoodie] has submitted a whole array of feature requests, and way after that decided that they need reimbursement for it, even though there was no such agreement in advance. I see no other way than to close all feature requests by that user, and not use them.

A lot of the issues he closed were marked high priority, had a lot of supporters, and had many 👍s and ❤️s. He posted the explanation on one issue, but ignored valid queries in others asking why perfectly good issues were being closed without comment. There is no way he can avoid implementing various quality-of-life and common sense fixes that hoodie originally suggested, so now hoodie will get even less credit for feir ideas.

So yeah, nothing has changed in Gargron’s attitude. He’s using my posts (and others’) as a guide to placating the userbase because they got a lot of attention, but that cycle is still just going around and around.

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A fair review process

  • Status before I left: Not happening
  • Status now: Still not happening

A panel of users, about half of whom are non-coders, and about half of whom have experienced social media abuse first- or second-hand, who test out new features before they’re rolled out and then vote on it.

What happened?

The important thing is to make sure that the project is not a one-man dictatorship, and there is no sign that Gargron’s branch of this project will ever change for the better in this regard. His closing of all of hoodiek’s issues is a pretty clear demonstration of this.

But the momentum of dissatisfaction among members is being channeled into a fork of Mastodon, one of the (occasionally problematic) strengths of FOSS. Anyone who wants change is free to copy and modify the software to suit their needs, and in fact this is strongly encouraged. The glitch.social fork is well-established, it has a bunch of cool features that vanilla Mastodon doesn’t, and any instance running it will connect with the rest of the fediverse in the usual way and follow all the same friends, so there is no conflict.

In my first article I mentioned the #ForkTogether project, whose motto is Community Over Code, which I love. The project is promising, and is open to people who are curious to help out — you can find their Mastodon account here. The Discord link for the first meeting on 30th June 2018 (today!) is here and it’s open to anyone who wants to see what’s going on. (Update: The meeting ended after 2 hours but is not finished. It continues on 8th July 2018 and there’s still time to join in.)

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In conclusion

Even though some positive changes have come out of this, we’re still seeing the same old patterns repeating.

Every software feature that I said that I would need in order to come back to Mastodon has been implemented, less than a month after I left. There has been no response or acknowledgement from Gargron to me at all, but I find it very hard to believe that these new features are completely coincidental. If his improvements to Mastodon were inspired by my posts it would be totally in character for him to not personally or publicly acknowledge that.

What’s more, those improvements are not changes that Gargron really wanted to make, and my experience suggests that this will all happen over and over again. There’s no sign of the sensitive and mature project management that we need, or even an awareness that this is lacking, so even though I’m theoretically able to come back to the fediverse I don’t feel good about being on Mastodon at all when I know that it’s Gargron who’s making decisions from a place of defensiveness and selfishness.

As for me, I think I’ll be taking a little more time to see how things play out, and keep an eye on the upcoming fork. A good and safe place in the fediverse is worth waiting for.