FOSTA/SESTA changes nothing

FOSTA – the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 – and SESTA – the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 are some likely unconstitutional, certainly unnecessary jackassery. While I agree with the EFF that this is terrible law, I don’t think it’s the end of the world.

FOSTA says:

(Sec. 2) This bill expresses the sense of Congress that section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 was not intended to provide legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution and websites that facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims. Section 230 limits the legal liability of interactive computer service providers or users for content they publish that was created by others.

By no plausible interpretation is Free Radical a website meant to “unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution” or “facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims”. I’ve never seen such a post in the fediverse, let alone one that originates on Free Radical, and it’s certainly not meant for that purpose any more than is any other general public forum.

(Sec. 3) The bill amends the federal criminal code to add a new section that imposes penalties—a fine, a prison term of up to 10 years, or both—on a person who, using a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service (or attempts or conspires to do so) to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.

Same as above. I have never and would never own, manage, or operate a website to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person. Regardless of whether prostitution should be illegal in the first place, it’s not something I’m going to directly participate in.

(Sec. 4) The bill amends the Communications Act of 1934 to declare that section 230 does not limit: (1) a federal civil claim for conduct that constitutes sex trafficking, (2) a federal criminal charge for conduct that constitutes sex trafficking, or (3) a state criminal charge for conduct that promotes or facilitates prostitution in violation of this bill.

Again, I’m not going to be promoting or facilitating prostitution. Note that this is different from carrying traffic that may incidentally facilitate illegal activities. For example, I guarantee that people use Gmail to do illegal things. That’s not its designed or advertised for, though.

(Sec. 5) The bill amends the federal criminal code to define a phrase related to the prohibition on sex trafficking. Currently, it a crime to knowingly benefit from participation in a venture that engages in sex trafficking. This bill defines “participation in a venture” to mean knowingly assisting, supporting, or facilitating a sex trafficking violation.

Key word: knowingly. I won’t be knowingly doing any of that stuff. I explicitly don’t read, monitor, analyze, or moderate all traffic flowing through the system. I don’t pretend to. I specifically don’t want to.

I side with the EFF that this is a bad idea and I oppose it. That said, I can’t imagine a plausible scenario where FOSTA/SESTA affects me – an American admin using American hosting resources – in any way. And if some dipshit prosecutor sees it otherwise, I’ll fight it. As an EFF member and friend to many a lawyer, I’m not going anywhere any time soon. These ridiculous bills won’t scare me away.

edit: Upon the excellent suggestion of a friend, I’ve added:

No solicitation of prostitution

to Free Radical’s Code of Conduct.

When good people disagree

I kind of fell into a heated argument between well-intentioned people. While I actively do not want to become involved in every disagreement in the fediverse, enough people ended up participating that I wanted to offer my outsider’s take on events.

What happened

A new user, Pat, joined Free Radical a few days ago. They were active on birdsite but had heard about our growing community and wanted to check it out. I had a few chats with Pat about what makes the two networks different, and they were eager to get started exploring.

Some time last night, Pat found another user, Jan. Jan believes that people in Pat’s demographic have caused a lot of political and societal problems for people in Jan’s demographic. Pat, fresh from birdsite, saw this as an invitation to debate the point.

Things got a little heated.

At 3AM I woke up because our new comforter only has one temperature – “infernal” – and I thought I’d drop in to see what was happening online. Turns out quite a bit was happening and I was hearing about it. Pat and I had another chat about the social differences between birdsite and Mastodon. I went back to sleep.

This morning I woke up to more, ahem, discussion and a request from Pat: “Mastodon isn’t the place for me right now, please delete my account, and best wishes”.

I deleted their account.1

Observations

I’ve received no moderation reports on either party, and this post isn’t my reaction to anything external to my own thoughts. I’m just piecing together the implications of an unusual situation.

I read what Pat wrote. I think they’re a good person with good intentions who ended up in a disagreement. They felt like they were being attacked and responded to it. Their mistake – if you can call it that – was engaging in an argument with someone who wasn’t offering to argue with strangers. Pat came in from a network where such random arguments are much more common and accepted as normal.

I read what Jan wrote. I think they’re a good person with good intentions who ended up in a disagreement. They felt like they were being attacked and responded to it. Their mistake – if you can call it that – was accepting the offer to argue instead of ignoring an unwanted message. I truly understand that it’s easier said than done, though, especially when Jan had no intention of talking directly to Pat in the first place and almost certainly had no wish to have someone explain how they were “wrong”.

Mastodon truly isn’t “birdsite but on a different server”. This was largely built by and for minorities who’ve had a raw deal and want someplace safe to hang out. “Safe” does /not/ mean “echo chamber”! I’m continually exposed to opinions I don’t share, /and that’s great!/ It means I’m reminded that decent people I enjoy talking to sometimes have opinions significantly different from my own. It does mean that when you hear something you dislike2 that the best course of action is usually to try to listen, understand the speaker’s point of view, and then move on.

Even though Pat made the first mistake, in my opinion, I think they left on a high note by realizing that they weren’t in their element and bowing out gracefully. I would welcome them back as long they were willing to act within Mastodon’s social mores.


  1. I didn’t really delete their account because Mastodon doesn’t support that. I did disable their login and delete all their toots. 
  2. I’m talking about run-of-the-mill political disagreements, etc. I don’t expect anyone to keep quiet when they experience harassment, oppression, or other speech that actively seeks to make others feel unwelcome. 

Mastodon makes the internet feel like home again | The Outline

Mastodon makes the internet feel like home again, by @srol@mellified.men

Having been on the service for nine months myself, I can confirm Mastodon is not a replacement for Twitter. It’s much better. It is the first place on the internet where I have felt comfortable in a long time.

Thoughts on logo commission

I want to have a cool logo but I can’t really justify paying to commission one to my family. Conversely, I’m not going to ask an artist to work for free, because I value their work and don’t want to imply that I don’t. So, how I can I reconcile these seemingly incompatible requirements? I’m not sure, but I’ve been tossing this around:

  • One or more artists submit rough drafts of their ideas,
  • I select one that resonates with me and help the artist develop it,
  • That artist gives me exclusive rights to the design so that there aren’t 43 instances with “my” branding, but
  • The artist keeps all merchandising rights, and I help them advertise stickers, t-shirts, etc.

Releastically, that probably wouldn’t generate a lot of revenue (although I’d certainly buy some stuff for myself). However, the artist would get 100% of all income from it. If I’m the only one who buys a t-shirt, it’s not that great a deal for them. If I help them sell a hundred shirts or somehow become Internet famous, that could be a nice chunk of change, of which my cut would be $0.00.

I’m neither a businessman nor an artist, so I’m not clear if this idea is brilliant or terrible. What do you think?

We’re here for you and for good

I’ve had a hard time going cold turkey with birdsite but it gets easier by the day. I still think of it as the early service that was new and different and exciting and wasn’t being used as a machine for spreading hate. I need to break that habit, but it’s hard.

This morning I drank deeply of that cesspool and was shocked at how horrible it is. Was it always that bad and I was just used to it, or has it taken a recent and sharp turn for the worse? I don’t know. Either way, here we are.

I’ve been committed to Free Radical since its launch, and I want to publicly and explicitly reaffirm this: we’re here for the long haul. The world needs a good, distributed, self-hosted social media network and I think that we’ve found it. I might not have posted a lot lately – life happens – but I’m here for you.

Let’s build something good!

Welcome to my living room

Several times I’ve compared this instance to my living room. I think that’s a powerful and accurate analogy and I’d like to explain what I mean by that.

Even if no one else came around, I’d still have my home and my living room. It’d be boring and quiet, though! I’d much rather be surrounded by friends, and if you’re in my house, I assume that you’re my friend. I’m glad you’re here and want you to have a nice time! I also imagine that we’re in an apartment complex, surrounded by other people who also have living rooms and have invited friends over.

Continue reading Welcome to my living room

The Brand Comes Around

Mastodon is our nice little safe haven away from the rest of the world. No one wants to see it packed with ad content, so we’ve all put things like “no commercial stuff!” in our site descriptions and patted ourselves on the backs.

When companies discover Mastodon and come calling, none of that is going to help one bit.

Continue reading The Brand Comes Around

Our first silenced instance

I silenced our first domain this morning (and updated the status page) because a user pointed out questionable content and I agreed with their assessment.

Much has been said about that particular instance and I’m not getting into all that. It did want to comment on the rationale behind the action, though:

Continue reading Our first silenced instance