Juli 20, 2023

I’m finally starting to sort through my vast amount of re:publica23 notes. I’m starting with a session whose topic is currently very important to me. Because I want to contribute something to the learning group „Feminist Learning Politics“ initiated by Gabriele Schobess … and safe and equitable communities are for me an essential part of feminist oriented learning.

(By the way, this is also my first blog post in English because the session was held in English by english-speaking people and I hope to reach some of them involved with these notes).

The session „Can the promise of safe, equitable community-run platforms be fulfilled?“ was offered by Chinmayi S K (founder of the Bachchao Project), James Tomasino, Michał Woźniak and Philip Kopetzky in my favorite re:publica location, the Flutgraben workshop space. I was impressed by the awareness and care with which the hosts invited people to talk together and made sure that everyone who wanted to contribute was able to do so.

The aim of the session was to jointly work out what distinguishes communities that offer their members „safety and freedom of expression“ (because the need to work this out and to build and maintain appropriate communities clearly arises from the toxic, hate and insecurity breeding structures of social media platforms that dominate today). Michał pointed this out at the beginning of the session. For example, the unavailability of certain features on Mastodon was once a conscious decision to promote a healthy culture of communication (I also mentioned this briefly in my post on Mastodon as a learning booster, but in the meantime the need for some features has changed due to newly arriving contributors.)

Although some of the session hosts have a strong affinity to Mastodon and most of the participants were familiar with Mastodon and the Fediverse, the session was deliberately not Mastodon-specific, but infrastructure-independent related to community-run platforms where the community has agency to set the rules.

Drawing of my 9 year old son

What is a „safe“ community?

First, we started with a collection of qualities that can make a community more safe:

  • Harrasment dealt with
  • Rules enforced
  • Transparency of rules and (non) accepted behavior
  • Data security and privacy
  • Psychological safety and comfort
  • Trust
  • Awareness of dangers
  • Common understanding / values
  • Continued reevaluation of safety
  • Ability to educate

In particular, the last point, the „ability to educate“, raised questions. The hosts suggested that this could be seen, for example, as education for recognizing and being able to act on toxic behavior … also own ones. Privileged groups, for example, needed tools to recognize threats that their privileged situation prevented them from recognizing. He called this „Geiger counters“.

We also reflected on the differences between developing these tools from within the group versus bringing them in through community moderation…because in some circumstances, moderation can also have the risk of excluding or biasedly promoting certain behaviors.

Therefore, in a „safe“ community, there are certain types of responsibility:

  • for the work of moderation, education, creating rules, listening,
  • for decisions related to moderation,
  • regarding technology related to moderation, because technology is political … see the aspects of feature decisions or decentral infrastructure of the fediverse I mentioned above!

What makes a community „equitable“?

First, we spoke about differences between „equal“ and „equitable“ via using the popular illustration by the Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire:

To promote equity in communities, we should always ask „who has the spoons?“, based on the „spoon theory“, the hosts emphasized. This means that people have different amounts of ressources, for example health, time or energy, which needs to be taken into consideration.

A central question concerning the creation of equitable communities is what the needs of community members are, arising e. g. due to marginalization, disabilities, lack of stable income, caregiving etc. … and how to make these needs visible. Who is in the community and who is the community for?

An equitable community needs a system of values, diversity, respect, a way to build consensus and flexible enough structures to find a healthy and needs-based balance between comfort and safety, between safety and equity. „Safety issues are loud, equity issues are silent“ was a quote that I noted down.

This balance is probably one that requires a lot of attention and awareness from the community and a functioning sharing of responsibilities. That’s why we talked about it quite extensively and diversely … and my notes are becoming sparse at this point.

Significant in this balance is the role of established members who have been in the community for a long time. How can we support their work so they don’t burn out in the long run? On the other hand, how can we prevent „entitlements of old guards“ which themselves might become a problem for an equitable community?

At the end of the session, we closed the circle with reflections on how we support and protect safe and equitable communities in terms of infrastructure. Infrastructures need resources. It means getting used to the fact that safe infrastructures are not seemingly available gratis, but that we also financially support the operators‘ efforts. And, that it is absolutely okay to limit the size of the community. Threads, I can hear which way the wind is blowing …

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