Federated Fandom

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Synonyms: Distributed Fandom, Fediverse
See also: A Network Of Our Own, Fandom Migration
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Federated fandom is a term used to describe the movement towards creating a home for fans in decentralised, or federated, social platforms instead of traditional centralised social networks.

Proponents of federated fandom argue that these spaces give fans back their agency and control (as they can be run by individual fans instead of a single corporation) and help them to avoid, or minimise the impact of, the purges that have affected fans in the past (such as Strikethrough and Boldthrough and the Tumblr NSFW Content Purge). The movement began picking up momentum in late 2018 and early 2019 in the wake of the Tumblr NSFW Content Purge, thanks in part to the existence of platforms like Mastodon and Hubzilla.

The Federated Fandom Wiki describes the advantages of federation for fandom as follows:

In a fannish context, what Federation means is that individuals within fandom host servers that run one of the Federated Platforms, which allows us to interact without relying on a centralized platform like Tumblr, Twitter, or Facebook.

This means that when someone like Tumblr changes their TOS, it won't affect us. If the instance you're on changes their policies, you can move to another instance and still follow the same people (unlike if you went to Twitter and tried to follow someone on Tumblr).

Because these platforms are open source, we can also change things that we don't like about them directly, instead of waiting for a corporation to listen to us when it might not benefit their bottom line.[1]

A Discord community, distributed_fandom, also exists for fans who are interested in helping with or participating in the federated fandom movement to share ideas and knowledge, start projects, build websites and learn about federation.

Examples of Federated Fan Spaces

Hubzilla

Mastodon

Mastodon is a social media network service founded in 2016.

  • Mastodon (software) on Wikipedia
  • berries.space was a diversity-focused Mastodon instance, and on of the first created in response to the Tumblr Purge. It was shut down in May 2019.
  • fandom.ink, run and moderated by alis, is the most prominent general fandom space on Mastodon. It was set up in the wake of the Tumblr NSFW Content Purge, and describes itself as a small instance designed for fans, fandom, fandom content creators, or just people who think the domain name is cool or whatever.[4] It aims to recapture the feel of pre-Strikethrough fannish spaces like LiveJournal as well as fan conventions.

Plume

Plume is a federated blogging application with an interconnected network of posts called "instances".[5]

Despite attempts from fans to set up an instance of Plume for others to join,[6] there are not yet any general fandom-centric instances. However, individual fans have created their own blogs on different instances of Plume.

PeerTube

PeerTube is a decentralized and federated video platform. It uses a network of hosting providers to reduce load on individual servers.[7]

Fan Reactions and Commentary

The federated fandom movement has generated many positive reactions from fans who think it will be beneficial to fandom, but also criticism from those who are unsure how viable it is, for example from a technical standpoint. Below are some excerpts from fan reactions and discussions, divided by topic.

Privacy Controls

I’ve been poking around a tiny bit at some other parts of the Fediverse and Hubzilla looks really really good in a lot of ways, at least in terms of the different sorts of things you can do with it: social media posting in a Facebookish/blogging style, make wikis, discussion groups, web pages … and with really really good privacy controls. Plus you can “clone” stuff to another server which means if where you started is down for maintenance, you can login to the other site and have access to your stuff, and any updates you make will end up getting synced.[9]

Technical Know-How/High Barriers to Entry

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

Format

god tumblr is so good because youve got so much fucking ROOM and you can FORMAT TEXT like mastodon is good in theory but the entire fediverse is just too twittery and everything about twitter sucks. a character limit? and you dont even have MARKDOWN formatting nevermind a rich text editor? the entire concept blows.[10]

Moderation

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

Individual Fannish Liability/Illegal Content

One of the main principles of federated fandom is the idea of fans hosting and moderating individual servers or "instances". Because of this, fans have raised concerns about the idea of being liable for what they host or for what other fans might choose to post to their instance.

In a Dreamwidth post entitled 'Questions about Federation', user muccamukk raised a number of queries about aspects of federated fandom, including:

11. What if I post a drawing of two underage Harry Potter characters having sex? Which is illegal in quite a few countries.

12. What if I'm a criminal and actually posting actual child porn? Where is that illegal content getting hosted, who is paying for that hosting, and how responsible are they for hosting illegal content?[11]

The following discussion ensued in the comments:

[sheron]

I'm kind of worried about the level of personal responsibility that individual users would have to take on to figure out who is a responsible admin and who will "protect" them and their content.

Like, the nice thing about tumblr or DW or whatever "single site" is that they tend to have a reputation. (e.g. You know the difference between posting nsfw fic on AO3 vs posting nsfw fic on tumblr) If you're joining tumblr, you know you're joining a #hellsite and you know how they treat their userbase and you accept those risks for the features you get in return. But with federated fandom, you're now potentially joining instances with a wide range of different relatively unknown admins/policies and how do you know what they decide to do with their instance tomorrow when they woke up on the wrong side of the bed and didn't have their coffee. So then it basically puts the responsibility for making good decisions when picking which instances to go to entirely in the hands of a single user rather than fandom as a whole, so to speak. (If I understand the model correctly).

There's....higher risk, I guess? Of things going very badly wrong not for the fandom at large but for a particular user who picked the instance poorly.[12]

[Impertinence]

There is definitely risk, yeah, especially since while the fediverse as a concept & community is established, fandom doesn't have a super strong history with it. The fediverse in general does have some established norms - like, for example, a ton of instances block pawoo because of content that's illegal in lots of countries. Instances with substandard moderation also often end up on blocklists. So the concept of blocking an instance is used as norm-enforcement, and I assume fandom would adopt that pattern of behavior pretty quickly.

[snipped]

I think one strength of this is that there is such power for community moderation, but yeah, the same tools that let you do that also carry the potential for data loss. The network as a whole is potentially more robust than, say, Tumblr, but individual instances are of course going to be subject to more instability. The benefit is that individual instances are run by people with a stake in the community (even if the stake is "fuck yall!") - Tumblr has no stake in fandom.

So, tl;dr you're right about the risks. I think mitigation would be centralization in data backup and some basic norms with regards to fannish directories and blocklists - but not centralization of the actual *network*, if that makes sense.

Another discussion took place on 'Federated Fandom', a Dreamwidth post about Hubzilla by arduinna:

[ratcreature]

I could probably manage joining this from the technical side (as a long time Linux user I'm not easy to scare off, lol), but I have yet to see explained how the federated model solves the fundamental P2P problem that you host and distribute other people's content, and could end up distributing things that are illegal to distribute in your jurisdiction, especially if your local laws differ in key points from the US laws.

[snipped]

But right now as far as I understand my situation as a non-lawyer here, if I look at (and thus at least temporarily download) a fanart piece with say bestiality or violence I'd be fine as acquiring and owning such is ok here even if it was considered porn, but uploading to someone else might not be, because you are not supposed to distribute it.[13]

[cesperanza]

My understanding here is that if you're on any social network already at all, you have a bigger problem with this than you would on a Federated Instance. Cause you'll only see what you sub to, and you have granular, person by person choice of who you sub to; moreoever, you could join an instance that had a set of rules that fit rules that were legal/best practice for you, and lock yourself down to that if you wanted. But I don't see how it's any different than being on Facebook or Twitter--or rather, it's safer than being on Facebook or twitter. The idea of federation is that each instance is only 150-200 people, so it's Dunbar's rule in action--an easy group to moderate. I've been told that it's on Tumblr and Twitter etc. that you're likely to stumble on something that's NSFW/illegal/a problem, because there's no abuse or moderation on those enormous sites; and of course, people who are into seriously illegal stuff are often on servers where they are locked down themselves and don't want to risk interoperating with anyone who could report them. So I don't see how you're more likely to have, say, bestiality or violence on a federated instance than through a random Tumblr tag?[14]

[ratcreature]

(Some replies omitted in between) I still think it remains an issue, because right now big hosting providers at least in the US have a level of protection that they are not responsible for user content they host as long as they take action as soon as they notice. Smaller servers won't have that protection so their exposure risk will be much higher and they would probably have to really carefully moderate. And in Germany with much less expansive free speech protection it would be even more of a problem to provide a server than in the US, because you are held responsible more (people hosting message boards in Germany have run into legal trouble with this for user posts). And if you need one fan with a server for every 250 fans, a *lot* of fans need to be willing to host for this to scale.[15]

Additional Reading/Meta

References

  1. What Is Federation, Federated Fandom Wiki. Accessed December 28, 2018.
  2. Welcome to Federated Fandom!
  3. Fandom gets closer to the metal, issue 6: “IT FEDERATES!” by hit_the_books via Fandom After Tumblr, published February 3, 2019 (Accessed March 16, 2019).
  4. About fandom.ink
  5. Plume: a federated blogging application - retrieved May 2019
  6. Fandom gets closer to the metal, issue 5: Pesky Plume and milestones! by hit_the_books via Fandom After Tumblr. Published January 27, 2019 (Accessed March 16, 2019).
  7. Take back control of your videos ! #JoinPeerTube - retrieved May 2019
  8. Fanvid: About
  9. I've been poking around a tiny bit at some other parts of the Fediverse by theemperorsfeather via Tumblr. Published December 11, 2018 (Accessed March 16, 2019).
  10. text by codegoth via Tumblr. Posted October 6, 2018 (Accessed March 16, 2019).
  11. Questions about Federation by muccamukk via Dreamwidth. Published February 2, 2019 (Accessed March 16, 2019).
  12. Comment by sheron, published February 2, 2019 (Accessed March 16, 2019).
  13. Comment by ratcreature, posted February 2, 2019 (Accessed March 16, 2019).
  14. Comment by cesperanza, posted February 3, 2019 (Accessed March 16, 2019).
  15. Comment by ratcreature, posted February 3, 2019 (Accessed March 16, 2019).