The Great Lockout
Yesterday, several active, valued contributors were locked out of their accounts for no clear reason. [This is what a locked-down account looks like.] They did not, that they or their friends can see, violate any rules. There was no warning given. They just suddenly were locked down, and then received a generic email listing reasons they might have been locked--none of which applied. They were told that if they want to keep their account, they had to defend themselves. Hard to do when you don't know what you are accused of. And many have sent at least one email, but gotten no response.
[Getting caught up in on-line drama is unhealthy for me, so I'm going to address this and get it out of my system. I wish I could set an individual post to no-comments, but as I don't want to set my entire account that way, I'm going to leave it open.*]
I love Ello.
Seriously, I am passionate about how great I think this site is, and how much potential it has to be a true creative community. So, when I criticize, I do it from this perspective. From wanting it to work. From seeing flaws in something I care about and trusting that the people who are invested here also want it to work.
I have criticized budnitz and the other founders/designers of a certain amount of naivete brought about from their position of privilege. This makes them prickly and defensive. And, truthfully, that very position and attitude is part of what allowed them to take on this great project. And I will say that, as they have encountered issues, they have developed their thinking and approach in smart ways.
For example, when I signed up, the rules said No porn. We know it when we see it. After having it pointed out that this was highly subjective and inadequate--they revised it. And have refined it a couple of times, while adding the NSFW option. I love the way this works. It doesn't take adult content off the site. It doesn't remove it from anyone's sight. It just puts it behind a link, and people can see it if they choose to.
They've dealt with other issues in a similar way.
So I am especially disappointed with their approach and attitude with regard to managing trolls.
I have confronted some of the users here who I considered to be crossing boundaries and being abusive.
There have been two notable sets--esophagus and his alts/friends, and "the galaxim collective" and his friends. (In the interest of not having it used against them, I'm not naming any other accounts.) Esophagus was homophobic, aggressive, racist, and a complete douchebag. A 4chan troll-type who thinks it's funny to call people retarded if they disagree with him. Good riddance.
The galaxims, however, are a more borderline case. They make fun of people, but are never violent, racist, homophobic, ableist, etc. I personally think they cross the line when they pick on specific people. Some folks think it's all harmless teasing. I think they clearly cross it when they use alternate accounts to pester someone that has blocked them. Some folks think that they have just "defended themselves" against slander. I think this is an excuse for harassment (with a small h, not the legal definition of--like a kid who won't stop following you when you say you don't want to play with them.) Others disagree.
But here's the problem: there is nothing in the rules against galaxim's behavior. Alts are allowed, and even encouraged. It would be easy to have a rule against using alts to communicate with people who have blocked you. But they don't. The founders seem to think it's covered by telling people to be cool to each other... The problem is, not everyone agrees on what that entails.
Given the above, it's clear that people on Ello, and the site owners, need a way to manage trolls. What we got, in addition to blocking, was a way to flag posts.
Nice start--but flawed. One user created an account to test how flagging works. They asked friends to flag a post. There's no notice to the person whose posts are flagged, and no chance to defend against it. After a handful of people flagged one post by this account, that account was deleted (not even locked down) the next day. No notice, no recourse. Perhaps this has been adjusted since then, but that makes post flagging a great tool to help trolls, not to control them.
As I said at the beginning--yesterday, several accounts were locked. A few were outright deleted. Many of them were alts of the galaxim collective. Again, there is no rule stating that once an account is deleted, you are not allowed to create another account. Or that, once one account is locked or deleted, all accounts of that user will be. I did see behavior from one that I thought was OTT, but didn't see anything that was harassment--but I have heard from others about behavior that could be considered to be. It's a borderline case.
But there were several other accounts locked that never behaved in any way other than fun, fair, and kind. That never violated a single rule, or social convention.
It looked to me like locking was done based on which accounts someone was friends with. Considering it's easy to be friends with someone and not see a large portion of their posts (since we can't track someone's comments), and, well, the generally repulsive idea of punishing people for who they follow... this is flat out wrong.
The other apparent possiblities are that someone targetted people and did mass post flagging, or people were locked for directly (though constructively) criticizing budnitz or other founders. Considering the number of accounts, I doubt the former. And, as I respect the founders and think they are on the up-and-up--I strongly doubt the latter.
And, while people were distressed that many of their favorite accounts were suddenly gone, with no explanation, budnitz posts something bragging about killing the trolls. No acknowledgement that it's a complex issue and it will take time to get it right. No recognition that they might not have erred. Just a "no tolerance" statement.
- If you are going to have zero tolerance for something, how about getting some clarity about what defines that thing? Right now, it seems like it's totally subjective and inconsistent.
- You are imperfect. This is Beta. How can you have zero tolerance, when mistakes will be part of the process?
- When multiple accounts are telling you that you messed up, you should acknowledge that promptly and promise to investigate, or you alienate your membership.
- Transparency, together with erring on the side of permissiveness, would be more conducive to a creative environment
Right now, many members are afraid to post their thoughts for fear of reprisal. Many are unnerved that some of their favorite accounts, people who are positive and constructive and supportive, have disappeared from their feed with no explanation that makes sense. This is having a stifling effect.
Running a social media site means that managing trolls will be a constant, on-going task. It will take frequent re-balancing and re-examination. There is a reason there are huge sub-contracted companies that do nothing but manage content.
Ello will get past this--but the question is, what will it look like afterward? With it be a highly and subjectively controlled site where anyone who doesn't match the founders' idea of "cool" is not tolerated? Or will it be messy and difficult--but vibrant and creative?
I, personally, would rather have to block a few alts and let it be more open... I hope that's the direction Ello turns.
Now, I will step back for a bit and wait to see what happens.