Peter Cai

@PeterCxy

Some random guy out there. en_US / zh_CN

https://sn.angry.im/@PeterCxy Guestbook

"Blocklists"

There just really can't be any idea worse than blocklists.

As a Mastodon instance administrator, I've seen the growth and popularization of Mastodon as a decentralized social media, especially after the recent case of data leakage of Facebook. This can't be a better phenomenon as to us, since we have always hoped that people will one day wake up from the dream that large entities, such as governments and companies, would ever protect their freedom and / or privacy. However, while the amount of users and administrators of Mastodon increases, unexpected things also happen, due to the fact that some of the users just followed others to join Mastodon without knowing what they are actually doing. One of these is the emergence of Mastodon blocklists.

I saw such blocklist for the first time on a Mastodon post, which was published as an artical on Telegraph [1]. To be honest, it was really disturbing to me at the first sight, because I was not expecting this to happen so soon on Mastodon -- I was just talking about the possibility of such things happening on Mastodon with my friend that morning. Not surprisingly, this blocklist is, just like every other blocklists I've seen, full of personal prejudice and unjustified / unclear criteria. What's more disturbing is that people are actually requesting Mastodon to introduce auto-subscription to these blocklists [2], with unmanned scripts to download and apply every line in the blocklists published by some unknown and maybe prejudiced guy.

To make it clear, I am personally totally fine with the idea of doamin blocks / account blocks that is present in Mastodon for a long time. These are essential tools for some Mastodon instances to be legal, because instances have different values and different applicable laws. To maintain federation, these differences must be respected. What I am entirely against is to brainlessly take some random guy's blocklist and apply them blindly to your own instance, believing that the list completely correspond to your own value, and thinking that you have avoided a lot of extra work of blocking SPAM / Child Porn / ... instances and accounts.

Once people got the power of "control", they're making there own place where they escape from before, there is nothing new under the sun.

This was the response from my friend @AstroProfundis on this issue.

Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. It has not been long after the case that an activitist on Twitter was blocked by a popular blocklist that everyone just blindly follows [3], and people are fleeing from Twitter and Facebook for their overwhelmingly centralized power, and now people are again building their own centralized kindoms using blocklists, pretending that every instance is still independent even when they are using the same list of blocked users and domains. Well, unless you call them federate laws.

What are we hoping from a federated social media in the first place? Think about it. To me, it's the ability to scatter users into different instances with diverse values and views of the world. It's the possibility that if several instances are compromised or act against what users want, they can simply switch to the others and still get the same happy life as before. It's also the opportunity that every minority group can have their voice conveyed through the entire Fediverse. Sure, instances can each have their own rules of blocking, but they will never affect the Fediverse as a whole, and, as I personally believe, there will never be a consensus so wide that most of the instances will block a particular group of people. And, our lovely well-crafted blocklists will completely ruin these.

I've set up my own e-mail server before, which is a federated protocol with an idea similar to Mastodon, and what I discovered is that, with the blocklists, one will be essentially prevented from doing so if he / she wants the e-mails to be delivered properly to most of the e-mail hosts. These lists, by trusting popular IPs and distrusting unpopular ones, are essentially favoring gigantic hosts that owns the resources to perform complex machine-learning based fancy filtering algorithms on their outgoing e-mails. (Or even filter the outgoing e-mails by hand? Huh.) Moreover, once blocked, the process of disputing and unblocking will be overwhelmingly hard and complex for any individual e-mail host to get through. Yes, there are multiple lists following seemingly different standards. Yes, there are ways you could get yourself unblocked providing that proper justification is given. Will these make any difference? No. Even North Korea says that its people can put up disputes against their jurisdictional decisions -- despite the fact that this would never work.

I really hope that there will be some study on how much of these blocklists reflect their criteria written on paper, without much prejudice. Since there has been none, I can only conclude from my personal experience that such blocklists tend to become prejudiced while growing. This also includes a blockbot that is present recently in the Chinese community of Telegram users, which blocked a bunch of innocent people just for their ideas being in conflict with the maintainer's. Our lovely followers of this bot, without knowing anything, blocked such people from every controllable group.

Blocking is a destructive operation. It should be the last resort following failure to communicate, rather than something to be automated and to be blindly followed. If the maintainers of blocklists call them Hatelists, I will be completely fine for them, since by doing so they are actively informing people that this will include personal ideas, and this is not something to be subscribed to without further thinking. As long as they are still called Blocklists, I would say a big, big "NO" to them.

Dear Mastodon administrators, please always remember that, unless you share the same value with the maintainers of blocklists now, forever and for all the possible foreseeable future, do think twice before you follow someone to block a domain or a user. Do not ruin the Fediverse by your own hands.

Because I really don't know what will be the next Mastodon Fediverse to go to.

References

  1. Blockchain Blocklist Advisory
  2. PR #7059: Domain blocking as rake task
  3. When do Twitter block lists start infringing on free speech?

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