This post was written in response to the modifications that Purism and their developers for hire made to Mastodon source code prior to the rebranding of their fork now known as Librem Social. The events discussed are contemporary and should be read with the context that this was written shortly after the launch of the platform. There is little public information available and so some of the contents are provided here “as is” without any guarantee.
I am a current denizen and the fediverse and I do not agree with the modifications listed here.
Mastodon is a self-hostable federating social media platform that is free software and forms the basis of Purism’s new Librem Social launch. Librem Social is a Mastodon instance whose code has been modified to reject any reports and private posts that any user tries to send to the instance. These modifications were made on behalf of Purism by the Mastodon’s developer lead, Eugen. While Purism and Eugen are in their full right to make these modifications, that doesn’t mean that they’ll sit well with everyone, including Eugen himself.
One of the first modifications that a newly minted Librem Social user might notice is that you can’t post privately. This is not a problem for someone who’s never used Mastodon before but for those who were looking for something that’s a little more privacy oriented than your average instance, you’d be out of luck. An example of why this is generally an issue is that not everyone will be on Librem One’s suite of services and if you want to contact them through Librem Social to share your private contact information, there’s little secure way to do so. Without a way to privately message other Mastodon users, you’d have to shout your personal contact information into the abyss known as the fediverse.
Another modification made to the Librem Social instance is that you cannot report anybody locally or from another instance. This works both ways. What I mean by that is that remote users cannot report a Librem Social user to the Librem Social instance. This means that without a lot of digging to find out who actually administrates the Librem Social instance, they won’t be made aware of problematic users that use their platform. There hasn’t been a case of this at the moment and it’s unlikely to happen, but the potential for abuse is there. Without a way to report a Librem Social user to the instance, other instances would either be forced to block the whole instance or instruct users on their instance to block the problematic user.
My theory on the rationale, echoed by Eugen, behind this is that they didn’t want to have the ability to censor their users’ free speech. Would-be users paid for a platform on which free speech was championed and that’s what they should get.
There are no federated or local timelines. The only timeline that you have is that of people that you follow. This, of course, more closely resembles Twitter than Mastodon, which kind of makes sense. The project could be said to be targeted more towards the general public rather than those who already use Mastodon. This might be a more palatable introduction to Mastodon as a platform. It’s hard to say if that’s going to be the case, however, whenever someone encounters a user from outside the Librem Social instance. How Purism decides to educate their users on the situation remains to be seen.
I think it should be noted that Eugen had his own qualms about the modifications Purism got him to make for Librem Social.
In conclusion, the motivations for the modifications that were made are certainly justified but I think the effects of them might be unexpected to the Purism team. This is a social media platform and given the recent developments on other platforms, this should have been more carefully considered. Only time will tell what will become of Librem Social but what you can be sure of is that in today’s climate, Purism will be held personally responsible for any shortcomings or consequences these changes bring.
UPDATE: Purism’s CSO, Kyle Rankin, has left a comment on a community submitted pull request aimed at reverting the commit that disabled reporting saying that reporting would indeed be reinstated.
UPDATE: Purism has released a second blog post detailing the rationale behind their disabling of the local and federated timelines. You can see the post on their blog by clicking here.