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Federated Filter Lists

A potential alternative to the flawed concept of instances blocking other instances.

The Problem

Instance blocking sucks. It harms users of the instance doing the blocking, first and foremost. To quote an excellent recent article, “it means that they are cutting all of their users off from being able to interact with any friends and potential friends those users might have had in [a] blocked instance.”

To use a more fun analogy, instance blocking is dropping a nuke on a city to get rid of the cockroaches.

At best, it hurts users while hiding them from things they’d prefer not to see. At worst, instance blocking is a tool used by power-tripping administrators to exert their will on the users of their instance. I often hear “but you can always move instances,” and while there will always be a core of instances that refuse to block anyone else — Free Speech Extremist and the like — there will also always be a subset of instances that insist on being insular and restricting whom their users can talk to, and no amount of changing instances will solve that.
This is compounded by the fact that not blocking anyone is grounds for being blocked yourself (see the Isolate Gab hysteria, which was pointless because Gab was isolationist itself), making full federation, even of single user instances, impossible.
Instance blocking turns from a single-instance annoyance into a network-wide social issue.

The Proposal

In order to help this situation, I’d like to suggest the concept of filter lists; some form of list, containing filters, that users can choose to subscribe to — or unsubscribe from. These filters could be used to completely ignore, automatically flag or apply content warnings to, or hide attachments on posts.
Servers would be able to support users publishing block lists for others to use, and automatically update block lists for their users.
Administrators would configure default block lists for new accounts on their instances, providing good defaults.

How does this help? Consider:
A user signs up for an instance. Along with the rest of their account, they are given the instance’s configured default block lists — maybe the administrator’s personal block lists, maybe imported from elsewhere. The user can choose to forego the filter lists they were given, if they wish to interact with people that would otherwise be hidden or filtered from them.
The user can also choose to subscribe to additional filter lists, to remove things they don’t want to see, or, indeed, create their own; server software could support both filter list creation and publishing.

The end result is putting control back into the hands of the user rather than the instance administrator and, hopefully, the tactical nuclear weapon that is instance blocking would be shunned. The administrator is still responsible for providing good defaults, but users are not restricted if they don’t want to be.

Additionally, this has some useful side effects:

  1. Filters would be transparent by way of a HTTP request
  2. Filter lists would be auto-updatable, removing the need for “Block Recommendation” posts and users manually updating their filters.

Conclusion

Having user-controlled filter lists, allowing users to curate their own experience, will hopefully prevent the Fediverse turning into multiple isolated walled gardens, each with their own rules and culture, resembling the structure of IRC networks today.

By Izaya
2020-01-26 15:14 +1100

Tags: tech software privacy society fediverse

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