This case study covers the incident of raspberrypi.social, the official Raspberry Pi domain and instance, posting about a new hire on December 8th, 2022 (Aotearoa New Zealand Time), and the subsequent reactions and escalations over the following 8-10 hours.
This case study is most applicable to businesses considering or currently running their own dedicated Fediverse (Mastodon or other compatible software) instance on their own domain name, but some aspects will be applicable to businesses using an account on a hosted instance.
Raspberry Pi posted on Dec 8, at about 10pm NZT, about a new hire, Toby, who was previously a police officer who had specialised in building outdoor surveillance equipment using Raspberry Pis.
One of their initial follow-on posts to the criticism was “SOMEONE needs to keep an eye on us. The stuff we get up to in Pi Towers, I swear…”
The Fediverse considered this behaviour to be poor and responded accordingly. Seeing this behaviour from a well-loved brand like Raspberry Pi was taken as a betrayal of the predominately leftist attitude of many instances, and the many MANY criticisms of this post were met with responses like:
- “He builds lightsabers, James. Chill.”: link
- “Bye bye now”: link
- “Yes Sebastian. And if you can’t chill, you can unfollow. That’s how social media works. Just chill.”: link
- “Feel free to block or unfollow us” in response to “if only they’d not hire cops”: link
- “people can follow or unfollow us if they like” link
- “bye”, in response to someone saying “gross”: link,
- “bye bye now” to someone saying being dismissive was eroding trust: link,
- “but now you are on ours”, in response to someone saying that RPi wasn’t on their blocklist yet: link
- Blocking Matt Gray (a YouTube personality) for attempting to offer constructive criticism,
- Complaining that they are being required to not hire people from other previous professions, after being told that it’s not OK: link
- calling criticism “childish”, and calling concerns unfounded, and that the response was “bullying”: link
- Responding with “bye bye” to someone replying that RPi’s behaviour was insulting, in light of that person’s trauma: link
- Insulting a user for being “unable to read more than a few words in the headline”: link
- “Bye bye” to a user posting that they no longer felt good about RPi in the wake of RPi’s hiring of an ex-cop and RPi’s subsequent handling of the response: link
One extremely important response to Raspberry Pi was made by the Curator at artisan.chat, specifically,
On the other social platforms, you are free to be the ill-behaved children in the back of the bus. You’re driving a bus here. The expectations are a little different.
As the common theme from Raspberry Pi was to tell other users to unfollow them, and blocking any criticism, the Fediverse as a whole was very quick to react.
Due to the very different power dynamics of the Fediverse, it took less than two hours from the initial post and initial harmful replies before the official Raspberry Pi instance started being defederated, noted via the #fediblock hashtag. This public hashtag is a way for administrators to co-ordinate with each other in an attempt to reduce harm to their users, and hitting #fediblock is a strong indicator that an instance is being cut off from the the Fediverse until they improve their moderation abilities.
What Can we Learn
Much of Raspberry Pi’s social media response here was drawn completely from how they behaved on Twitter, where blocking and telling people to unfollow works, due to Twitter’s lack of moderation.
Fediverse Power Dynamics
In the usual interaction of a multi-user instance with another multi-user instance, individual users who have issues with each other have access to the built-in Report functionality. Well-moderated instances are then able to separate the two (or more) individuals who are fighting, and work to keep the fight from escalating into a Twitter-esque “Main Character” effect.
Why This Situation Escalated
This power dynamic breaks down on the Fediverse when one side of the equation is a small self-hosted Brand instance. In this case, a user who reports a post knows that that post can only be actioned by their own moderation team, and will be ignored by the remote moderation team (if any).
The Fediverse remaining safe requires both moderation teams to work to the same goal. They don’t need to communicate with each other (but may), but do need to both assert that behaviour is unacceptable and take steps to amend.
Raspberry Pi declined to do this, which leaves their peers with the only option available in the face of an instance committed to causing harm: defederation.
Now that Raspberry Pi has hit the #fediblock, recovery becomes considerably more difficult. Not only does Raspberry Pi need to withdraw their statements and issue unequivocal apologies, they must also apologise directly to the admins who defederated them, and demonstrate an ongoing commitment to change.
This commitment can be demonstrated through administrative and moderator changes, or demonstrated over a significant period of time. Both approaches will take time for trust to be regained.
On the Fediverse there is no singular entity such as Twitter, Inc. that financially benefits from the presence of a brand, or benefits from the extra engagement and associated ad sales that controversy will generate.
There is no incentive for other administrators to retain a brand if that brand misbehaves.
As a result, social media managers, going forward, will need to be extremely cognisant of the brand damage they can do not just in the immediate term, but also in the longer term by causing the business account to be banned or the business instance to be defederated.
The business instance being defederated will be a huge blow to any reach that might have been gained, as administrators and moderators seeking to ensure safety for their users are able to remove tens of thousands of their users in a few clicks.
If the brand account is on a hosted instance without their own domain name, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, an admin or moderator seeing the behaviours demonstrated by Raspberry Pi would almost certainly have banned their account very quickly, as the threat of the full instance being defederated would be extremely high.
Brands seeking to join the Fediverse will need to invest not just in a social media manager, but competent and long-time administration for the instance that is aware of the political dynamics of the Fediverse, in order to ensure that they are able to stay on the fediverse.
Update (Sat Dec 10, 2022)
In response to the incident on the Fediverse, Raspberry Pi spoke with Buzzfeed.
Update 2 (Sun Dec 11, 2022)
I’ve been asked to provide my opinion on the Buzzfeed article.
I find the claims that the reaction was not organic, but instead organised via Discord or a forum, to be laughable and I’m of the opinion that those claims demonstrate a support of this case study - the lack of understanding of the Fediverse culture, and being unwilling or unable to adapt to a different culture and mindset required for a markedly different social network.
I would also like to note that this is not the first “Main Character” event to have happened on the Fediverse, but I believe it is the first major event since the massive growth experienced in the network since the end of October, 2022.