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Indymedia and the fediverse
The Global Network of Independent Media Centres, more commonly known as Indymedia, might be a useful historical model for understanding some of the disagreements among fedizens about the future of the fediverse
Indymedia was very much understood as a political network. Although the software used by Indymedia news sites was usually Free Code that could be used by anyone, federation with the rest of the nodes was a political relationship, not an automated technical one. The default answer from the network governance organs to a request to join was "no", until a set of minimum conditions were met (I remember going through these for Aotearoa Indymedia). I suspect some people think this is what the fediverse is, or what they want it to be.
For me, the verse is a permissionless, open network, like the net and the web beneath it. Federation with other nodes is an automated technical relationship, not one based on any kind of political alignment. The default answer to a request to federate is "yes", unless moderation conditions are triggered. If they are, this could result in Limit or Suspend actions. But these are case-by-case decisions, made for each node by its admins, not at a network governance level.
Now, in theory, you could certainly build an Indymedia-style media activist federation using fediverse tech. There are people trying to do just that. I think its worth noting that they've made no significant progress. Whereas the verse as a whole continues to grow in ever-increasing waves, and the technology continues to evolve.
Without wanting to contemplate my navel in public too extensively, I think there are cultural reasons for this. Reasons that David Chapman captures in his Meaningness writings on the failures of the countercultural and subcultural modes of cultural innovation. Although a lot of the people on the front lines of Indymedia (like me) were from the subculture generation ("Gen X), it could be seen as one of the last international projects led primarily by members of the counterculture generation ("Boomers").To me, it's collapse followed pretty much exactly the trajectory Chapman lays out in his piece of why countercultures fail.
The fediverse, on the other hand, is primarily a project of the subculture generation. Although a lot of the grunt work is being done by members of the atomised generation ("Millenials"). For those used to subcultures, individual and small group (eg server) autonomy is assumed, and the idea of needing permission to join a federated network of them seems weird and suspicious. The network topology of ActivityPub - and OStatus and Diaspora before them - implements this subcultural logic.
Subcultures too inevitably fail, according to Chapman. The events that have unfolded in and around the verse over the last few months very much reflect Chapman's description. The arrival of large numbers of "mops" (from "Members Of the Public"), followed closely by psychopaths of various kinds, looking to squeeze various kinds of capital out of the subculture and the mops attracted to it.
It's worth quoting Chapman at length on the various ways geeks can try to protect their subculture, and the people participating in it, from entryism by psychopaths. Anyone who has been paying attention ought to recognise versions of these options from the debates raging over what to do about Meta's Chains* DataFarm, and its potential entry into the fediverse. But that's just the most obvious set of psychopaths we need to be wary of.
"Geeks can refuse to admit mops. In fact, successful subcultures always do create costly barriers to entry, to keep out the uncommitted. In the heyday of subcultures, those were called poseurs. Mop exclusion keeps the subculture comfortable for geeks, but severely limits its potential. Often there’s a struggle between geeks who like their cozy little club as it is, and geeks who want a shot at greatness—for themselves, or the group, or the New Thing. In any case, subculture boundaries are always porous, and if the New Thing is cool enough, mops will get in regardless.
... Alternatively, you could recognize sociopaths and eject them. Geeks may be pretty good at the recognizing, but are lousy at the ejecting. Mops don’t recognize sociopaths, and anyway don’t care. Mops have little investment in the subculture, and can just walk away when sociopaths ruin it. By the time sociopaths show up, mops are numerically most of the subculture. Sociopaths manipulate the mops, and it’s hard for the geeks to overrule an overwhelming majority.
... 'Slightly evil' defense of a subculture requires realism: letting go of eternalist hope and faith in imaginary guarantees that the New Thing will triumph. Such realism is characteristic of nihilism. Nihilism has its own delusions, though. It is worth trying to create beautiful, useful New Things—and worth defending them against nihilism. A fully realistic worldview corrects both eternalistic and nihilistic errors."
I'm thinking in public right now. I don't have a conclusion. But having stumbled through to a recognition of these patterns, I do have some more useful questions and interpretations to think about.
* I refuse to call it "Threads". This is an attempt to trademark and thus privatise a generic term in common use in the verse, and on the net as a whole.
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