Jack Dorsey, Bluesky, decentralised social networks and the very common crowd

“My big takeaway from this and every other Jack Dorsey news cycle is that I could easily get him to pay me $125,000 for a jug of something called Diarrhea Water in the understanding that it would ‘detoxify his beard.’”

David J. Roth

Twitter founder Jack Dorsey has been interviewed in Pirate Wires by Mike Solana about social media and why he left the Bluesky social network site and the Bluesky company board. [Pirate Wires, archive]

Solana works at Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, so Pirate Wires is the sort of reactionary twaddle you would expect from such a background. The “culture” section, goodness me.

Dorsey got Bluesky started, originally as the reference implementation for a distributed protocol to serve as a new backend for Twitter. He supplied a pile of cash and hired the original team.

The thing that really upset Dorsey: Bluesky users demanded moderation and Bluesky put it into place. Yeah, that was the whole issue.



Untrammelled freedom

Dorsey is obsessed with the idea of a social media platform that nobody can be kicked from. When he was CEO of Twitter, he directly intervened to make sure Donald Trump would not be banned for posts that would have led to anyone else being booted. Previously, Dorsey had personally made sure that literal neo-Nazi Richard Spencer would not be banned for egregious sockpuppetry. [WSJ, archive]

Elon Musk took over Twitter in 2022. Musk unbanned all of Twitter’s banned users, started reposting white nationalist conspiracy theories and personally encouraged and worked with far-right extremists on who to ban again. [Intercept, archive]

And so Twitter is shedding users and advertisers at a fantastic rate. Weird racists are not enjoyable company.

There’s a kind of person who is the reason that blocks and bans exist. They’re also the ones who argue loudest that blocking is evil, and you’ll be stuck in a filter bubble or an echo chamber if you deprive yourself of their sparkling wit. You should block these guys faster than anyone.

Moderation is the product

Ordinary users who want to talk to their friends and make new friends don’t like wading through poop. A social network’s product is its content moderation.

Dorsey took care to hire on for the Bluesky staff a collection of LessWrong rationalists, neoreactionaries, VibeCamp anti-wokeist race scientists and crypto developers. And Bluesky still had to asymptotically approach a tolerable degree of moderation and — eventually, despite the CEO and several devs being followers of the test case offender — ban the Nazis.

There is not a single mention in that Dorsey interview of what the real-world market of people who want to socially interact might want from a site that exists for social interaction. There are only Dorsey’s hypothetical ideas for a perfectly spherical social network in a vacuum.

Actual users have long just not wanted what Jack is selling here.

Here’s a thread from Bluesky developer Paul Frazee on this interview, on how to develop software protocols for end user products. Paul tends to keep his opinions to himself, but this nonsense from Dorsey was just a bit much. [Bluesky, archive; Bluesky, archive]

Decentralisation is not a user feature

Dorsey tried again and gave a pile of funding to Nostr, another decentralised social network that requires you to sort out a cryptographic key pair before you can log in. The only people who wanted Nostr turned out to be crypto bros trying to pick each other’s pockets.

Ordinary users were not interested in this weird nonsense. Decentralisation is an anti-feature for a social network because it leads to the sort of technical detail that hampers functionality.

There’s plenty of decentralisation-induced stupidity in Bluesky. All blocks are public because the back-end protocol requires it — despite the many trust and safety people who told them repeatedly that this was a standard vector for targeted harassment. Somehow Bluesky reached a reductio ad absurdum like this without wondering if perhaps they had a wrong assumption somewhere. [Bluesky]

This is even as the decentralisation in Bluesky is fake in practice, with the network depending on a huge centrally-controlled relay node. The identity server is also centralised. [Bluesky; Bluesky]

Guys, Mastodon exists

The Pirate Wires interview talks a lot about uncensorable, truly decentralised protocols — but somehow fails at any point to mention Mastodon or ActivityPub. The network commonly called “Mastodon” or the “Fediverse” has a few large nodes, but it also has thousands of smaller and personal nodes and three independent major lines of software (Mastodon, Pleroma, Misskey and their forks) implementing most of the shared protocol. You can just put up a server and join in.

The Mastodon network has millions of users. Its structure makes it unlikely to replace Twitter for a user base in the billions — the decentralisation means that so much of it just isn’t and can’t be a smooth experience.

But Mastodon is also unlikely to go away. It’s run by the sort of people who have opinions on Linux distributions. When Twitter and Bluesky suffered rolling overloads in 2023, Mastodon kept ticking along. True decentralisation is robust.

Despite its genuine decentralisation, Mastodon has also implemented a server covenant that does a pretty good job of excluding the far-right extremists by a purely social process — if you keep horrible arseholes on your server, you’re liable to be shunned. [Mastodon]

This has led to a “dark” Fediverse of sites that don’t go along with the covenant but still talk to each other. Gab is such a site, for example.

If you want untrammelled free speech social networks, they’re right there, right now!

For some reason, neither Pirate Wires nor Dorsey are interested in these existing real-world examples.

This is because these guys only care about their assumed right to force people who aren’t interested to listen. “Free speech” is when they can say awful stuff and you can’t answer back. When Dorsey calls Twitter — Twitter! — “freedom technology,” that’s the freedom he means. They can’t live without unwilling ears to bash.

Ew, the little people

Dorsey tells Solana:

And Bluesky saw this exodus of people from Twitter show up, and it was a very, very common crowd.

Ew, plebs. This quote from the interview has been particularly controversial.

The context, though, is that Dorsey’s final Bluesky post was a link to a podcast featuring Robert F. Kennedy Jr. A wave of Bluesky users proceeded to rip the piss out of him. These are his “very, very common crowd.” [Bluesky, archive]

This was always the use case for Twitter: when a famous person insists on making an ass of themselves in public and the ordinary people can throw rotten tomatoes at them.

The future

Bluesky is fun! I’m enjoying it a whole lot, and it’s lasted way longer than I expected. I’m @davidgerard.co.uk.

I deeply distrust Bluesky corporate, and I worry that Bluesky is still in startup mode, burning through its runway with no plausible business model. Its fellow aspiring Twitter successor Post.News is out of cash, for example. [The Verge]

But all platforms are grass. Tomorrow we die. Post the day.

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10 Comments on “Jack Dorsey, Bluesky, decentralised social networks and the very common crowd”

  1. Using “common” as an attempted insult in this day and age just suggests that Dorsey has spent an excessive amount of money on collectible card games. And he really must not get out much, if he thinks his vapid pseudo-spirituality and greebly Rasputin beard are somehow uncommon or rare in Northern California. I’ve looked almost that terrible myself, at times!

  2. “[Mastodon is] run by the sort of people who have opinions on Linux distributions.” Goddamnit, that’s one of those lines that’s so good it makes me wish I thought of it…

    1. when I have a question that actually needs nerd querulousness, Mastodon is absolutely my go-to

  3. I have repeatedly tried to use Mastodon. It is like going into an empty room. Nothing there. Its great if you want †o have a little group of like minded people to talk to. Here is a thing most critics of social media do not get. Its real purpose is to announce things. This is why twitter was, sometimes still is, the greatest newspaper in the world.

    A really useful platform would be something funded by a flat fee, like $5 a month. It would be seriously moderated. It would be organized by topics, with discussion annexes groups of people could set up. Why is this so hard to figure out?

      1. or Lemmy, if you want decentralised federation that’s cross-compatible with Mastodon and there’s still lots of people talking on it

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