As an almost 42 year old who remembers logging into university servers before AOL to chat with friends/relatives to get around Long Distance telephone charges… I have been on the Internet a Long Damn Time. Also, my entire career seems to be “You have been saddled with this anxiety that will make you spend your imagination wondering what could go wrong… so you should spend some of that time pre-write-ing ‘I Told You So’ notes/warnings for money.” I also was a 20-something who royally botched being a forum moderator as I have no goddamn chill… So, with regards to the meltdown of mastodon.lol’s admin, I feel like I am uniquely qualified.
In previous posts, I mentioned my excitement around mastodon, and this “seems like twitter before it became a torment nexus” server called mastodon.lol that had what I needed at the time I hit the “let’s blow this pop stand” button on Twitter: It seemed super gay, and had open registration.
Being the smarmy little stinker I am, I went ahead and joined the patreon to support mastodon.lol because running an activity pub with as many users as mastodon.lol had is kind of expensive and it was an excellent way to thumb my nose at Twitter’s new owner (“I won’t pay for your bullshit, but I’ll pay for this!”) The admin/owner of mastodon.lol, happy that so many people were donating, admitted via Patreon that there was a surplus and asked what we should do with it.
I, who royally botched being a moderator in my 20s and had watched a LOT of websites/forums/social-media-empires die due to a combination of “shiny new thing” and “shit moderation turning it into a torment nexus” in my 30 years on the Internet… was like “Oh, use some of that extra money to train and pay mod staff!” Alas, the admin/owner found that idea disagreeable. “I want to run this like a forum.” they said. “I have some mods but they are close friends. I don’t want it to feel like a job”.
My hackles went up. Forums run by “some gay and their besties” more often than not, will feel very much like “High school, but this time the mod and their besties are popular” and users of Internet Forums don’t want to feel like they are in high school with a new set of popular kids. Those users tend to do rebellious little things like point out where the mods/admin/owner are bad at being a mod/admin/owner knowing that criticism will hit extra hard and that mod/owners set up like a high school clique don’t have well defined rules and how they are enforced and thus a lot of arbitrary decisions can be put under the spotlight and discussed right out in public.
Unfortunately, good moderation will often feel like a job. Worse, it’ll feel like a thankless customer service job. It is a paid job in all pre-enshittified social media companies. Making it a job often involves the rules of behavior and what happens if they are broken for users, mods, etc. Having to slog through petty disputes and deciding how someone might have violated the rules even (especially) when someone gets very upset about something on the Internet is boring work that robots can’t do. Hence, it feeling like a job is a good sign you are doing it right, and paying people to stay around and keep doing it (at least as a ‘in case of a shitty week, break to buy booze’ bonus) is the easiest way to make that kind of job-like work happen consistently.
If you aren’t ready for that, then suddenly moderation feels like charity work, and when it gets difficult, it feels like charity work that the benefactors don’t deserve, especially when the benefactors constantly question your decisions and/or idly pontificate that you made decisions because of personal failings or weak character.
And that is exactly what happened to mastodon.lol: The “Wizard TERF game” came out and the shenanigans started, the admin made a very poor decision about when and how to dissuade some of the shenanigans that caught them a lot of flak and got them called a lot of names, and then they had a huge meltdown, deleted the patreon (where I and others had made a lot of ‘no really, pay mods and start running your server like a business or you’re gonna get upset and shut it all down in a fit of pique like every other forum owner pushed to the brink’…) said the server would shut down in three months and that everyone would have to leave, bemoaned the cruel treatment they had received and how something they loved was ‘ruined’, and likely as not, checked back frequently to check on reactions that boiled down to “don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out”.
The shutdown made tech news sites. “Mastodon.lol has a bunch of users and now it’s shutting down… how is mastodon supposed to beat twitter if a bunch of mastodon instances are also going to be run by whiny titty babies that can’t deal with sass!?” was the general gist of the articles. People debated whether it was the users or the admin that were at fault, but as more and more people saw the admin basically spent most of their time leading up to the meltdown crowing about how they have no problem getting money and being excited for an upcoming extended travelcation to romp around Asia before telling critics to off themselves mid hissy-fit… the debates didn’t last too long.
One of the nice things is that Mastodon as an activitypub protocol does make it easy to migrate your users and account to a new place. A bunch of the old posts I posted at Mastodon.lol are still showing up in my new servers’ caches… even if the pics arent, but those pics are elsewhere anyways. and if anything it’s taught me to treat microblogs/tweets/toots as inherently ephemeral like little cards posted on the outside of a mailbox or something… Usually just saying “oh, neat!” or directing folks who follow you to something you thought was nifty.