From the early stages of conceptualization of what we wanted to do differently, up through the feedback we’ve been getting as Beehaw has been growing, there’s been a consistent narrative and push back from certain individuals about how we’ve decided to run things here. To be clear, these are the individuals whom are either on the fence, those who are not enthusiastic about our mission and voice it elsewhere, and to a lesser extent comprise of some of the individuals we have since banned from our platform. The narrative typically takes the side of ‘open/free speech’ is tantamount and that any suppression of said speech is unwelcome (typically said in a much more hostile way). As I’ve experienced this push back, I’ve slowly gathered my thoughts and realized what I believe is a fundamental disconnect between those who have earnestly and openly adopted our platform and those who fight against it.

Beehaw is a community. Communities are organic. As a community grows and shrinks, everything about the community fundamentally changes. Most online social spaces don’t operate as communities on the same level that communities do offline. When communities are run in a way that the members of the community do not like, the community often splinters, or leaders are ousted. Websites tend to have much stronger incentives to stay on a platform and leaders (platforms) are much more resistant to this kind of natural control by the members of the platform (you can’t exactly overthrow Facebook). However, communities still need to have some kind of rules, and because the size of a community is much more amorphous online (in general also much larger), the default state we’re used to online is one of semi-authoritarianism with explicit rules.

If you’ve ever spent some time deeply involved in an offline community, especially if you’ve done so as an organizer or otherwise involved in the management or running of a community, you’re probably at least somewhat aware of the kinds of discussions that communities regularly need, in order to keep them running. Communities are not perfectly homogeneous, and many communities value diversity. However, get enough humans together and there will always be disconnects of values, boundaries, wants, and needs. Navigating these disconnects can be as simple as ensuring that two people don’t sit near each other at an event or as difficult as engaging the majority of the community in a discussion about what kinds of behavior are acceptable and what aren’t. Discussions happen at all kinds of different levels and involve different groups of people to reflect where the disconnect happened and involve the parties necessary to resolve the disconnect as well as to manage the emotions, needs, wants, values, or boundaries of people who were hurt when this disconnect happened.

If you’re not familiar with running communities, you’re probably at least aware of this from simply living with other humans. It’s rare that two people both desire everything the same- disconnects over how clean a house should be, where to place objects such as kitchen utensils, how to interact with or ask for permission to use objects owned by another person or that are for shared use, and other such disconnects are commonly discussed when cohabitating with another human. These discussions can be as simple as asking your housemate to clean their dishes within a day of using them to allow for the space you like in a kitchen when cooking or may be as complicated as months or years of discussions, debates, or fights and can cause a serious strain on the relationships between the involved parties. Many children are often ecstatic to move away from their parents because they’ve been strained by these kinds of disconnects and the often inadequate resolution of conflict.

While there are some limitations with regards to governance and some design considerations on the kind of community we would like to grow here, ultimately Beehaw is a community and at the core of that community is the desire for a stronger community experience. One thing that offline communities do a much better job at, is navigating these discussions. Online communities often operate at a scale which being cold is the only feasible way to operate a platform, and thus explicit rules enhance the ability to scale moderation and enforce behavior. Unfortunately, this kind of framework results in pushing out minority individuals, reinforcing an echo chamber and in some cases promoting some very not nice behavior. Our goal is to create a platform in which nice people will want to stick around so that the experience is less toxic than other websites and because of such it needs to resemble an offline community - the rules must be more open to interpretation and the way the rules are interpreted needs to be a community effort.

Which brings me to the reason I’m writing this post in the first place - many free speech advocates and others who’ve pushed against the lax rules have offered suggestions of making the rules more explicit, of weakening the need for community discussions. Many individuals who’ve participated on this website and received bans have explicitly resisted having a discussion about whether their behavior was acceptable or not. These are both incompatible with the vision of this website. We want this to be a community - this means that discussions about behavior should organically arise. When someone violates a rule they aren’t banned immediately, but rather reminded that they need to behave appropriately. In the offline world, this might resemble a friend asking you about how you treated their friend, a pastor pulling you aside and talking to you about how you’ve seemed on edge lately, or security asking you not to vape inside their establishment. What this resembles depends on the severity of the behavior, who’s around to witness the behavior, how others react to and respond to said behavior, and a variety of other factors. The more severe the behavior, the more severe the reaction. Extreme measures are reserved for the most heinous of actions and the analogous behavior online (preemptive banning from our platform, de-federation, etc.) is treated with the hesitancy and respect it deserves. Someone being banned from an establishment they’ve never attended doesn’t happen out of the ether - it happens because people in the community express this wish and it involves a serious enough crime for it to be justified (such as a history of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or other heinous acts).

If you’re worried about how our rules are explicitly open to interpretation, that’s on purpose and I hope the text above helps to clarify the vision that I have (and others of the community share) around how I’d like to see this community evolve and what we’d like to think we’re doing differently on this website. I’m not banning people for no reason or simply because they don’t agree with me. I want people to disagree with me. I want diverse opinions in here. But I also need this place to be nice and members of the community need to be willing to hold each other accountable in creating that kind of space. Of note, I’ve never banned a single person without openly discussing what happened with other individuals who participate in this community and asking for their input. I can’t promise this will always be the case, but I can promise that I’ll be open to having a discussion with any community member who feels that something unjust happened with another user or to themselves.

  • If this post resonated with you at all or you have been enjoying this community, we could really use your donation. We’ve only got a few months left in the bank to keep running this website. If you have a few dollars to spare, please donate. If you have any questions about what the money is going towards, the linked opencollective page has more information and transparency and myself or would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

  • Rules can only do so much as it was written down. They incentive burocracy.

    The narrative typically takes the side of ‘open/free speech’ is tantamount and that any suppression of said speech is unwelcome (typically said in a much more hostile way).

    I’m not too sure about US in specific, but there are democratic countries’ law where free speech is not an absolute guaranteed right; it cannot go against other laws, human dignity, …

  • Yes, my country has “freedom of speech” but it is not absolute. It is criminal to shout “bomb” in a crowded place like a theatre or at an airport, as it is also for being racist, sexist, ageism, etc. So what is being discussed is more about partial freedoms which imply some lines being drawn. Some lines are criminal boundaries and others are societal.

    This is a community with it’s rules and we can choose to be here, or we can join a different instance with different rules that suite us (that is our freedom of choice), or even start our own instance if we wish with our own rules. Certainly, on some other instances with greater “freedom” of speech, there has been a lot of unhappiness (not everyone liked that freedom), and many left those instances, because they felt abused.

    The whole point of the Fediverse and decentralisation is NOT to be the same everywhere. We have different likes and dislikes and even interests, so pick an instance that is closest to your values and go with it. There is no need to stay where you don’t feel a reasonable fit with your own values.

  • Asked GPT4 to create a TLDR for the above post. Would you say that it was able to get the gist of the post in the following paragraph?

    “Beehaw, an online platform, aims to build a community that values a stronger communal experience and is more akin to an offline community, emphasizing on handling disagreements and behavioral issues through organic discussions and shared accountability, rather than resorting to explicit rule enforcement seen on other platforms. This approach, while inviting critique from free-speech advocates and those advocating for more explicit rules, seeks to avoid the alienation and echo chamber issues that come with stricter, colder enforcement methods. While the guidelines may be open to interpretation, it’s intended to foster an atmosphere that is both diverse in opinions and pleasant for users, with serious actions like bans treated with hesitancy, being reserved for the most egregious offenses, and typically involving open discussions with the community.”

    • If you’re pressed for time its an okay summary, but I would prefer someone actually read the post, as there are nuances in each of those sentences that are addressed in the post body. The entire post is 1,253 words. I think that if this is a community you value or want to understand better, that you could take 8-12 minutes out of your life and read it. If you aren’t willing to take the time to do that, please do not be surprised if you do not understand the content.

  • Yeah, I like this approach. It helps slow the formation of echo chambers and can invite more open discussion. I think as long as the discussion is respectful and not overly ad-hominem, there’s room for arguments from all walks of life. I think that would be close to my ideal and Beehaw seems to align with my views the closest.

    • That’s a great point; the echo chambers. Supported by the lack of the downvote button, it’s one of the most impactful things Beehaw can do in fostering its goal of community.

      Any platform that measures success by engagement (eg: for ad traffic) tends to evolve into either of two extremes: content that makes you feel good, or contact that makes you feel afraid/angry. Usually both: something to get angry about and degrade each other, and then share to your echo chamber to yes-man each other. Very little constructive discussion takes place.

      Echo chambers deny people the growth opportunity that being exposed to diversity of experience and opinion brings. It entrenches people into ideas, including [self-]harming ones. Even good/benign ideas at their core can rapidly become steeped in tribalism, supremacy and animosity, particularly in conjunction with content that is engaging because it sparks anger or fear.

      The most powerful things humans create are the things they create together. The most progressive decisions we make are the ones we make for the collective other. The easier it is for humans to form into competing cliques (especially as encouraged by algorithms), the more divided we become. People with similarities will draw arbitrary lines over their differences, enforced by algorithms and divisive moderator principles.

      A community doesn’t require that we all agree to thrive - only that whenever we disagree, we know we all still belong.

  • If nothing else this is a different way of organising than what has been tried on most other systems. Will it work? Maybe, maybe not. What we do know is other methods have been tried and had outcomes that this team does not want to replicate, so trying a different method makes sense.

    I am reminded of the difference between the spirit of the law and letter of the law systems. In letter of the law systems if something is not explicitly illegal it is permissible. It is the duty of the lawmakers to explicitly prohibit the behaviour by creating a prohibition and if they fail to do so correctly then the act is permitted. In spirit of the law systems things a little more interpreted rather than directly read, so if you have an act which fits very well the spirit of the law, being something the law was specifically intended to prohibit or limit, then the law will be interpreted as applying to that behaviour and that case will be used as an interpretation in future for other cases. This is actually what we use in most of the world and does make sense, even though it does mean that sometimes laws exist that are not enforced or some things that are not explicitly prohibited by law are prohibited by case law.

    I think in the case of a system that has to change over time this will inevitably happen. Something new happens, people figure out what they will do about it today, then that becomes the rule going forward.