2018-08-30 Dogpiling Wil

Wil Wheaton left Mastodon and he wrote a long blog post about it.

What happened? Here’s what I understand:

Wheaton is famous and gets to see a lot of comments directed at him that he doesn’t care for. When he was on Twitter, he started using block lists. I can’t find the post right now but at one point I thought he used Good Game Auto Blocker by Randi Lee Harper; on his blog post regarding blocklists, trolls, twitter’s systemic inaction against abuse, and the responsibility of wielding great power he mentions Block Together and Twitter Block Chain.

Here’s an extract from Good Game Auto Blocker:


A major problem with social media is the lack of flexible filtering controls. Twitter has a block mechanism, but a user has to initiate contact in order to be blocked. For most forms of harassment, this is an effective way of moderating conversations. Unfortunately, as more social campaigns use Twitter as their basis for communications, this approach becomes less effective. While it’s suitable for use against a single harasser, it’s useless against a large number of accounts targeting a single user. These tweets needed to be stopped before they land in the user’s notifications.

how it works

Good Game Auto Blocker compares the follower lists for a given set of Twitter accounts. If anyone is found to be following more than one of these accounts, they are added to a list and blocked.

That means the blocker will automatically block people that are following people on the block list. It’s contagious, trying to block people before they have actually done anything worth blocking them for. The other side argues, as shown in the quote above, that preventive blocking is necessary when you’re faced with a relentless onslaught.

Apparently, this list contained a lot of trans women. People concluded that Wheaton was therefore a transphobe. He denies it, of course. I haven’t seen any other evidence except for this: he used this blocker, promoted it, and people feel it contained false positives. Wheaton says he removed people who contacted him, except when he felt that they were overreacting, at which point he decided he might want to keep blocking them.

This gets us into the entire topic of tone policing. Marginalized people feel righteous anger, but at the same time Wheaton feels entitled to not having to face it.

And then there’s another element to it all: Wheaton is friends with Chris Hardwick who allegedly abused Chloe Dykstra. If you search the web for these names, you’ll find articles like ‘Speak up, Wesley’: Wheaton Wheaton under fire after he asks for time to process sexual abuse allegations against his best friend, Chris Hardwick. I’m not sure what to think of this. Chloe Dykstra’s story is terrible and heart breaking. Rose-Colored Glasses: A Confession. I couldn’t read it all. I skimmed large part of its. This is very painful. And there’s Chris Hardwick responds to Chloe Dykstra's allegations of sexual and emotional abuse, too. The entire disaster here is beyond words and there never was a trial and there’s no confession, so nobody knows whether it’s true or not. Dykstra’s story sounds compelling and Hardwick’s story is simply a denial. And now what?

Do we always believe the victims, no more fair trials? As a society we’ve struggled for hundreds of years to improve our judicial systems and I’m not yet ready to dump these principles. I want to believe and support victims all I can. But this is a story about Wheaton, and by extension about Hardwick. My heart goes out to Dykstra and everybody in a similar situation. You are not alone. I hope that it does get better. But the rest of this post is about the men in this story – and I cannot in good conscience punish the accused without a fair trial. So, with misgivings, and wishing it was different, the affair remains inconclusive.

In this situation, one might wish Wheaton to clear it all up, make a strong statement, help us decide whether Dykstra is right, whether his friend Hardwick is a terrible person. But it isn’t going to work that way. Wheaton was apparently faced with a constant stream of questions regarding Hardwick, some insulting and some not, but from his point of view, it was simply dogpiling, harassment (Wikipedia: “Harassment, under the laws of the United States, is defined as any repeated or continuing un-consented contact that serves no useful purpose beyond creating alarm, annoyance, or emotional distress.”)

Mastodon was supposed to be better than Twitter because each instance has their own maintainers, their own rules. But Wheaton was being reported 60 times per day and the administrator of his instance decided to kick him. Clearly, this system doesn’t scale, these tools don’t scale.

I am disappointed in how it all turned out. Dykstra’s story is sad. I wish I knew Hardwick was a good man. I wish Wheaton could clear it all up. But as a society, I think the most important thing is that we must be able to live and coexist in a world where these things happen, where these issues cannot be resolved. My wife used to work for the judiciary and now she works for the police and there are thousands of similar situations. Something terrible happened and there is not enough evidence to convict anybody. We try to help the victims, and I think the state could do much better in this respect, but when we cannot convict the accused, we must presume innocence. Sure, we don’t have to be friends with these people, but we shouldn’t punish them, and thus we should not harass them. No “repeated or continuing un-consented contact that serves no useful purpose beyond [...] emotional distress.” We can block and mute them all we want. But don’t send them a constant stream of tweets and toots.

At the same time, there are toots like the following:

POC, LGBT, women, literally EVERY community EXCEPT white guys have been continual targets of dog-piling and harassment from since day one, but when a famous white guy gets a small taste of the abuse... – @Are0h [1]
All the white men crying how disappointed they are in mastodon didnt lift a finger when women were being harassed shut up white men forever – @Laurelai [2]
Most hated star trek actor runs to mommy after girl says a swear – @eweish1 [3]

Ouch! Am I feeling white fragility? (see my post about white emoji.) I need to remind myself: one wrong does not justify another. Well, perhaps they also oppose the dog piling, they just mock the dismay people like me feel at witnessing it as we apparently didn’t lift a finger before. I don’t know. My first impulse is definitely to not engage. And perhaps I’m therefore similar to Wheaton in this respect: I feel like life is too short to deal with unfriendly people. And they of course feel they have a right to unfriendliness, having suffered under the oppression of people “with some or all of the P7 traits (Pale Patriarchal Protestant Plutocratic Penis-People of Power),” as Charles Stross called them in his blog post Dread of Heinleinism. I have no answer to this conundrum. This doesn’t lead to a constructive solution. We will be better off living in separate bubbles.

I feel like this is the long shadow of Gamergate, which I see as an extension of the culture war.

@zlg said: “No matter where you go on this planet, people are still the same.” Is this wisdom or cynicism? I don’t want to turn into a cynic old man who has no hope, but it is increasingly difficult. It’s like 1984: not only do you get punished but you must agree to it in your heart of hearts. And in the end we will see the planet burn and pat each other on the back and laugh because we will all agree: we deserve it.

The best takes on the situation ignore the details of who is right and who is wrong and focus on how we will enable healing to happen, what to watch out for, what to avoid. Things that concern the future. Watch out, both linked posts are about child abuse.

@fraying recommended this: “That vicious little voice inside you that cheers when you lash into someone — that voice is not your friend. It will never help you reach people. It will never change hearts or minds. It cannot build bridges, it can only destroy. It will never let you be happy, and it will never let you heal, because it will never, ever let your abuser die, because it lives inside you and comes out through your voice, your hands.” – It’s up to you, by yesivebeenthere2

@buzz recommended this: “Which is of course why it is so dangerous to join a mob… any mob, no matter how “noble” the stated purpose may be. The mob is almost surely led by a malignant narcissist. And that narcissist is using you.” – Narcissists: Sexists, Racists, Child Abusers, Saboteurs, Internet Trolls, also by yesivebeenthere2



I enjoy Mastodon but, long term, it won't be better than Twitter, by @baldur.

Wil Wheaton Has a Listening Problem, by Amber Enderton.

Mastodon and the challenges of abuse in a federated system, by @nolan.

Social Media Mobs, by @brentsimmons. The article describes how it feels to be on the receiving end of a mob.

Proposals/Discussion on the 'wilw' Incident, by @SuperFloppies. This one comes with links to Mastodon issues related to defence.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-08-30 and beyond

I’ve been chatting with @mxfraud about @wilw. They had an interesting point: famous (or rich?) people shouldn’t rely on free services (like hosting and moderation). I hadn’t considered it before and I’m not sure I agree. I earn enough money, for example. Does that mean I should find a paid solution? Also, perhaps Wheaton would have donated to the instance’s admin. I wouldn’t know. But the idea itself is interesting. Who deserves free service? One thing I know about myself is that I often don’t feel like paying for Free Software or free hosting because I feel like I’m already giving back, writing Free Software and offering free hosting. I feel like I’m involved in a kind of “pay it forward” scheme already.

We also talked about the need to listen before joining a new platform. Get a feel for the culture, the vibe. At the same time, I know how hard it is. Just looking at the number of people complaining about other people butting into their conversations with unwanted advice. I’m assuming that’s how any sort of advice would have come across to Wheaton. That’s why I don’t fault him for not listening. I’ve also seen the kind of advice offered to him on a thread or two on mastodon.cloud and in sum it was bad. The good advice was hard to spot.

As for hurting trans women, I’m not sure what the accusation is, exactly. The one I do understand is that he used Randi Harper’s block list to block thousands, and later learned that Randi had blocked some trans people too, but the steps he took to counter this were weak, and by that time the block list had spread, cutting some of them off from their income. Is that it, or is there more to it? If that’s the only accusation, then I understand his position, though: compared to the thousands of trolls, and given the ludicrously bad defences we have on social media, a crude blocking mechanism is the only way to be online in any meaningful way. From his point of view, he used a crude hammer, and he’s sorry, but it isn’t obvious to me (and to him) how this makes him guilty regarding a specific subset of innocent people banned. How is he responsible for other people using the tool he is using if it does the job: making existing on social media bearable? How is he responsible for some people using Twitter as an essential tool for their livelihood? And taken together: if some innocent people are losing their income due to the crude defences deemed necessary on Twitter, isn’t that a problem of the platform? How does that make him guilty, in a moral sense? Surely a lot of other innocent people were banned, but one individual banning another is par for the course, that’s your right (except if you’re the president of the United States of America, apparently, according to Reuters).

Anyway, to focus on the more constructive aspects of it all. I interested in seeing how the moderation tools and defence mechanisms of the fediverse evolve to meet this challenge. And I keep thinking that we need to let go of a Manichaean world view where people have to be all good, all the time, in order to be accepted. That’s not how it works offline and I personally feel that’s also not how it should work online.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-09-03 06:14 UTC

I took the liberty of correcting the second yesivebeenthere2 link. You accidentally linked “It’s Up to You” twice.

zlg 2018-09-15 03:29 UTC

Thank you very much!

– Alex Schroeder 2018-09-17 06:25 UTC

On the topic of blocking, I’ve written a tool, Mastodon Blocker. And @codesections wrote Mastodon De-Mob.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-09-17 06:29 UTC

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