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The Threads dilemma: a lesson in cooperative decision-making

Colourful threads being woven

As a member of social.coop, a cooperative social network that uses Mastodon, I’ve recently observed our community grappling with a significant decision. Meta, the company behind Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, announced that their new platform, Threads, would join the ‘Fediverse‘ — a collective of instances compatible with federated social network protocols like ActivityPub. This sparked a debate within social.coop about whether to block any federated instances created by Meta, a decision that had to be made democratically.

However, the way this decision was introduced was problematic. A member, who hadn’t been active in prior discussions, suddenly proposed a vote. This rushed approach led to a low turnout, with only 68 out of several thousand members voting. The result was inconclusive and not representative of the community.

What followed was a convoluted discussion with multiple threads (no pun intended!) that were hard to follow. Many comments were made without considering previous discussions. Two more ‘formal’ proposals were brought forward, but neither provided a clear path forward. The lack of structure and process was evident and concerning.

The issue escalated to the point where some members suggested splitting the co-op along the lines of those for and against defederating with Threads. This is a situation we should strive to avoid. Cooperatives work best when there are defined and well-understood processes, leading to productive discussions and timely decisions. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case in our response to Meta’s announcement about Threads.

My concern isn’t so much about the decision to defederate from Threads, but rather the process by which we arrived at this point. The discussion was exhausting and unproductive, with endless notifications about new opinions that often repeated what had already been said. This felt like an endless cycle of debate without resolution.

Cooperatives should not rely solely on consensus or voting. Instead, they should use consent-based decision making, which focuses on whether members object to a proposal rather than whether they agree with it. This approach acknowledges different perspectives and experiences and allows us to operate together towards a shared aim.

To improve our decision-making process, I suggest the following:

  1. Proposals should follow agreed guidelines. If a member is unsure how to proceed, they should consult with a working group.
  2. There should be separate areas for discussion and decision-making.
  3. Proposals should be high-level and only brought to the whole membership if they aren’t covered by an existing policy.
  4. We should use consent-based decision-making, asking whether people object (i.e. have critical concerns) rather than necessarily wholeheartedly agreeing.
  5. Our mantra should be: is this good enough for now and safe enough to try?

By adopting these solutions, we can ensure that our cooperative remains a place for productive cooperation and informed decision-making. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by discussion and debate but the cooperative movement has solved problems in this area, and I think social.coop would benefit from adopting them.


Photo by Stephane Gagnon on Unsplash

Returning to social.coop

social.coop logo

After time away from social media while on holiday, I’ve come to the decision to leave fosstodon.org and return to social.coop. You can now find and follow me at dajb@social.coop!

There are several reasons for this decision:

  • Home timeline — Fosstodon has grown in membership quite a lot over the past couple of years, which is great in and of itself. However, the ‘local’ timeline is important to me, and as Fosstodon has grown I’ve found it’s less relevant to my context.
  • Reply-guys — there are some people (mostly middle-aged white guys) who seem to think it’s their duty in life to point out that a particular thing isn’t 100% FLOSS (Free, Libre, Open Source Software). There’s only so much of this I can tolerate.
  • Co-operation — while I’m still very much interested in making the world more open in every way (including Open Source) I think what the world needs more than anything is more co-operation. I’m a founding member of a co-op, and part of a network of co-ops. This is how the world gets better and, right now, I want to have my home timeline full of ways we can do that.

I was part of social.coop for a year from 2017-18. I left after some drama, which was ultimately resolved. In my interactions with the team while applying for membership, I’ve been informed that it was very much a learning experience and things are in place now (see the wiki!) to prevent such things happening again.

For those keeping track, I’ve now gone mastodon.social → social.coop → fosstodon.org → social.coop. It’s easy to migrate accounts, although posts don’t come with you (I delete them every three months anyway!)

Many thanks to Kev Quirk and Mike Stone for setting up Fosstodon, and for the excellent moderation team! I’m looking forward being a member of the social.coop community again and, of course, still being part of the Fediverse 🤘

Chronological social interaction

A couple of months ago, over at Thought Shrapnel, I posted something I entitled Losing followers, gaining friends, which linked to an article by Steve Lord about how the web, and in particular social media, foregrounds ‘System 1’ type thinking. The fast, reactive-style thinking which makes judgements based on incomplete information. This is opposed to ‘System 2’ thinking which is slower and more high-level, involving data analysis.

I’ve been thinking about this I continue to interact with people primarily through Mastodon, Slack, and email. I’ve given up on other things like Twitter at this point, and haven’t been near social stuff owned by Facebook for well over a decade. But even these spaces are arranged chronologically. Steve Lord references Amy Hoy as saying how problematic this chronology has been for the social web:

When you produce your whole site by hand, from HEAD to /BODY, you begin in a world of infinite possibility. You can tailor your content exactly how you like it, and organize it in any way you please. Every design decision you make represents roughly equal work because, heck, you’ve gotta do it by hand either way. Whether it’s reverse chronological entries or a tidy table of contents. You might as well do what you want.

But once you are given a tool that operates effortlessly — but only in a certain way — every choice that deviates from the standard represents a major cost.

[…]

And the damn reverse chronology bias — once called into creation, it hungers eternally — sought its next victim. Myspace. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Pinterest, of all things. Today these social publishing tools are beginning to buck reverse chronological sort; they’re introducing algorithm sort, to surface content not by time posted but by popularity, or expected interactions, based on individual and group history. There is even less control than ever before.

What would a social network look like that wasn’t chronological? What would a workplace chat app look like that didn’t just put one damn thing after another? What about an inbox that didn’t just stack messages up by the order in which they were received? 🧐

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