First off, I wanted to say hi to all the new members we’ve had join in the past month. Thank you for joining us here at Beehaw. A community doesn’t exist without its members, and it’s exciting watching this instance grow.
I’ve always been a proponent of keeping explanations as simple as possible and allowing discussions to clarify the finer points, but I’ve noticed that I’ve been repeating myself a lot recently with the influx of new users and lot of fantastic questions about what we are, what we’re doing, and why we’re different.
This is to be the first post of a series in which I’m going to share my own thoughts on the vision of Beehaw and how I hope it can be brought to fruition. It’s also a place for me to share my thoughts on what’s wrong with other social media platforms, such as some of the major pitfalls of most moderation systems. To be clear, I don’t speak on behalf of everyone who’s been involved in starting this instance and I certainly don’t speak on behalf of everyone here, so this isn’t meant to be a manifesto, or a set of rules etched into stone tablets for you to obey. I will try to frame ideas that I hold through my own eyes (I), and ideas which I believe the establishing community holds through the lens of our eyes (we).
A condensed history of the formation of Beehaw
The group of users who created Beehaw used to exist on another platform. Many of us came to that platform from many other platforms before it. We were sold on the idea that it was a different platform, where discussion would be encouraged, and things would be different. While the platform was still small, there was a much higher feeling of cohesion and community and users being aggressive or hateful to each other was incredibly rare. When they were mean, it was often over emotionally charged issues and typically resolved itself with apologies or slight changes in who interacted with who. Over time this platform, like many others before it, got infested with a group of people I like to refer to as rationalists.
I’m simplifying their mindset to that of the rationalist, because rationalism touts itself as a belief that opinions and actions should be based on reason and knowledge, rather than belief or emotional response, and they often touted such ideals. While I agree that beliefs and emotional responses can get in the way of important work, the kind of rationalist that I take qualms with is someone who doesn’t understand that their own beliefs or emotions are clouding their judgement. At times they repeat racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted narratives because they are not as learned as they think. They often end up causing a lot of harm to minority individuals who already struggle to get society to listen to them because bigoted notions dominate the common narratives found in society.
On this platform I attempted to address this emerging problem of rationalism. To be clear I do not view these people as bad people. I simply think they are misled or unintentionally ignorant. When I was younger, I found myself in possession of many of the thoughts they discuss because I was also taught them through the lens of a colonial oppressive system. It took a lot of work to undo some of the brainwashing that I had gone through and to realize the harm that I was causing by ‘debating’ these issues online.
Unfortunately for me my attempts to address this problem on said platform were met with ire by the creator of said website, and I was told in no uncertain terms that I should cease these meta-discussions altogether. That message and that final thread that I had created on the matter lead to a discussion on an informal community for the website where likeminded individuals began to lay the groundwork for what we felt was wrong with this system of moderation and the problems we saw in modern social media platforms.
The spirit of Beehaw
The issue as I see it with modern social media is the way in which rules are enforced. There are many good reasons to itemize specific behavior which is not allowed, but the downside is that extremely specific rules are easy to maneuver around. We’ve all experienced someone who’s a real jerk on the internet but manages to never get banned because they never explicitly violate any rules. I’m not sexist, they’ll claim, but happen to post a lot of articles calling into question modern feminism or criticize the wage gap.
I think many people today would agree that someone ‘debating’ the benefits of phrenology in the open would constitute racist behavior, but there was a time and place in the world where it was considered real science, despite many scientists distancing themselves from this field very early on and critics writing scathing commentaries on this emerging field. This same guise of civility is frequently exercised by bigots, with modern examples of sexism, homophobia and transphobia being easily found on nearly any major social media platform.
Humans are pretty good at figuring out when someone is being a dick online, even if they are acting within the defined rules, and one solution to this problem is to recenter humans in our online social platforms. The idea of not having a ton of explicit rules, and instead having simple rules like “Be(e) nice” is a startling one for most, because it upends what we’ve come to know and expect from the internet. However, by keeping the rules simple and instead attempting to enforce the spirit behind the rules, we’re able to deal more effectively with problematic individuals and create a space in which you aren’t worried about whether you’re going to have explain to someone why you’re a human and why you shouldn’t be subject to incessant bigotry online.
What is (and isn’t) Beehaw
That brings us to the fundamental question of what Beehaw is and isn’t. Beehaw is a social media platform. So, we do want you coming here and sharing links to news articles, websites you find, starting discussions, connecting with others, and in general doing what you see on other social media websites. We want you to do this while being nice to each other. If you aren’t nice, we’ll remind you to be nice. If you continue to be problematic, we’ll escalate from there, but it’s going to be on a case-by-case basis. If your first reply when we ask you to be nice to each other is to fuck off, I’m going to respond in kind. I also understand that being emotional is a normal part of being a human and that some of us struggle with anger more than others, and I’d like for this to be a community which is open to the idea of reversing actions, such as bans, if you’re willing to talk with the community about why you think it should be reversed. Of note, we simply do not tolerate intolerant behavior. Being explicitly racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or bigoted in any other fashion is not tolerated here.
But how might one determine when it’s okay to be intolerant towards people you believe are being intolerant or who are being intolerant but doing so because they are uneducated or have not spent time deconstructing their own privilege? Many philosophers have written extensively about this subject, and I simply don’t have time to write an entire manifesto. In simple terms, I am not advocating for tone policing. I believe that being outraged and angry at people who are destroying our society is a good thing to do. When the supreme court removes protections for abortion, it’s okay to be outraged and to take action into your own hands - they have done something intolerant. When someone advocates online that you don’t have the right to your own body, it’s okay to tell them to fuck off. In fact, I greatly encourage it. This is being intolerant to the intolerant.
However, when someone online shares an opinion and it feels like they might be intolerant and you jump to the conclusion that they are intolerant and you launch into a tirade at them, this is not nice behavior. You didn’t check if they have the opinion you think they have, and that’s simply not nice to someone which you don’t know.
It gets even more complicated when you consider someone who is sharing an opinion they have which is actively harmful to many individuals in the world, but it’s due to their ignorance. I personally believe that so long as this person is not actively spreading this intolerant viewpoint and are working on themselves to become a better person, that it would not be particularly productive to launch into a tirade against them. I understand, however, how someone could be quite rude in response to such intolerance and I agree that this person may desperately need to be educated appropriately, but there is no way for that discussion to happen on this platform in a productive manner while lobbing insults at each other. I can understand why, at first brush, some might consider this tone policing. However, I disapprove of the intolerant viewpoint, and I approve of it being corrected, but I also approve of the intolerant person attempting to become a better person.
The only way for a platform which is hoping to exist as an explicitly nice place online to avoid taking sides in a situation like this is to withdraw from the quandary entirely. This kind of nuanced political and philosophical discussion is just simply not meant for Beehaw. I’d like to think that I’m aware and learned enough to avoid ‘debating’ things like phrenology, which are obviously racist, but I’m also smart enough to realize that there’s likely some ideas which I’ve internalized or been taught by a colonialist western society which are harmful to other minorities. I want to be able to learn about how everything I was taught was wrong, and to be corrected, and that space can only exist when we don’t let users berate each other over ideas they project on others (whether that projection happens to be correct or not).