Aral Balkan @aral

Twitter has users. Mainstream (Silicon Valley) tech and drug dealers are the only two groups to use that term to describe people. And they're both obsessed with manufacturing addiction and exploiting those people. Calling people users is a form of othering.

Let's do better.

Mastodon doesn't have users. Mastodon has people. Call them members if you must. But not users.

Twitter, Facebook, and Google have users. We have people.

CC @Gargron

· Amaroq · 188 · 157

@aral @Gargron What to say about people here that come from Twitter?

@aral @Gargron but as you described, I feel like falling in one of either groups as I'm a long time user of twitter but I have never felt like one member of those groups.

@Gargron @aral Heck, I'm from Twitter, I followed people from twitter to here during the first population explosion, and I have never faced the people you're talking about. I'm sure there are still people like you and me there.

@aral @gargron what you're too good to use? social media is addictive, call it what it is, a virtual drug.

@aral @Gargron

How about
mastozens? (like citizens)

how would people see Mastodon it if we called them 'members'?

@jd @Gargron @aral i think the point is that we like to think of mastodon as more than just software or a service. it's a community of people working together.

@wxl @aral @Gargron

If #Mastodon people think of themselves as members or as citizens then a common ownership can develop, people will have demands and a method of discerning needs and wants can then develop. I think all software projects (including opensource) have a problem with democracy – I am not sure it can even work.

@jd @wxl @aral @Gargron benevolent dictatorship works better for network admin, but if you want a say in your own server make your own instance

@ZDP189 @jd @wxl @aral @gargron
This has always been the way online networks operated. whoever controls resources also has control over what they are used for. An old quotation commonly seen on Usenet was "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one" (apparently written by a US journo in 20th century). At least Mastodon makes owning one more feasible (but still not trivial).

@vfrmedia @jd @wxl @aral @Gargron members can vote with their feet. If an instance is badly run, members can migrate to a different instance.

Perhaps Mastodon can work on automated migration and bring their network of follows and followers. The trick is members would have to move, not clone themselves.

@ZDP189 @jd @wxl @aral @gargron a few people have already done that (not for any bad motives, usually due to tech issues with their original instance) but have had to export and import the data manually. Currently the network is small enough they've been able to find their friends again but as it grows that could be more problematic.

@vfrmedia @jd @wxl @aral @Gargron exactly. Also imagine if someone with a big following like 200k accounts tried migrating and the system had to propagate the changes across all instances! The traffic alone would be crippling.

Members will just have to experiment with different instances, read reviews of instances and trust in the admins.

@vfrmedia @jd @wxl @aral @Gargron

I wonder what will happen when instances max out. Few can afford the storage and traffic of a mature social network.

I foresee a time when certain instances become very exclusive, with a wait-list to get in and celebs and top content providers charge to bring their prestige.

@ZDP189 @jd @wxl @aral @gargron

I doubt if a network run on a shoestring with hobbyist level resources is going to be able to afford "celebs/top content providers influences" - or they would *want* them in the first place.

Folk here seem already happy to share what music/performers they enjoy, and/or what #tech / #cameras / other #gadgets they use, without really needing external "prestige"..

@vfrmedia @jd @wxl @aral @Gargron we haven't even talked about code divergence yet.

Right now, all the code is coming from one guy. Once the protocol is established, there's not much to stop instances implementing their own code. Different instances may eventually have different interfaces, with different features. At this point, who knows which instance will later prove to have been the best to have joined?

@ZDP189 @jd @wxl @aral @gargron this has already happened, some instances allow >500 chars toots , another tech example I have encountered (albeit one you defnitely try to conceal from end users) is differences in SIP protocol on VOIP telephones/endpoints & the servers they connect to. there is however a broad consensus on the *basic* features you expect from a VOIP phone (i.e voice calls, handsfree, caller ID etc)..

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@aral @gargron Words, words, words. People are so focused on coming up with new words every day, rather than taking real actions to effect change in the world.
I don't give a shit what you call me, it's your actions that matter.

@cc @Gargron Can we care about both? :) One reflects upon the other and vice-versa. While I agree that formalism is a scourge, what I call you matters as it reflects on whether I respect you or not, whether I dehumanise you or not.

I agree that words alone do not matter. I agree that actions matter. I feel, however, that words do matter also and that they affect actions, whether to incite them, legitimise them, temper/prevent them, etc.

@aral @gargron Words exist and they serve a purpose, but the problem is the value and importance that is placed on words.
I try my best not to use offensive words in a derogatory way. However, how am I supposed to be aware of every single word that is controversial? Not to mention all the acronyms that different groups come up with and expect everyone to know. (Continued)

@aral @gargron So I guess all Im saying is that more emphasis should be placed on the meaning and the context of what someone is saying, rather than the words alone, because everyone will have different connotations for those specific words, but the context is usually more clear.
You usually can tell if someone is intentionally trying to be an asshole, versus someone who means no harm, but simply uses a poor choice of phrasing.

@cc @aral @Gargron But history shows that by choosing words, we choose connotations, and over time bad connotations can be exploited. Trying to minimize it I see as a good thing and worth the effort. Just my 2 cents.

@crecca @gargron @aral Words are just symbols on a screen until we imbue them with meaning. It is up to us to choose what meaning we give them.

@crecca @aral @gargron There are different degrees of offensive words. One should not assume that all offensive words are equally known to all people.
This is particularly important for new-ish terms that have only been recently coined. It takes a while for language to spread, so perhaps a grace period is warranted.
You can be less lenient with older terms that have been well publicised and *most* people should be expected to know.

@aral Fascinating perspective. "dehumanization" sounds absolutely hyperbolic though.

@Johnny_of_the_swamp It is what it is. Anything that helps us think of a group of people as "the other" and thereby less as people helps dehumanise them.

And, to be honest, I don't know hyperbole is in a world where 8 men have as much wealth as half of the world's population combined (Oxfam, Jan '17) and where the "leader of the free world" is a reality TV show star who doesn't "believe in" climate change and toys with the idea of nuclear war. I don't know where I'd start… :)

@aral I'm not sure what kind of definition of "dehumanize" you're working with. It strikes me as particularly black and white thinking by assuming that 'otherizing' inherently strips agency. The idea that out group identification necessarily or even regularly leads to such characterization as non-human is frankly an outrageous claim. But I suspect that you and I have vastly differing philosophical perspectives.

@aral @johnnyoftheswamp some day soon that's going to be one man. One man who owns the world. The situation would be so absurd that it could be a powerful motivator for change.

@aral @gargron It's the convention in the UK to refer to disabled people accessing support services as "service users". I always assumed that when websites call people "users" it's just short for "service users".

@aral I'm feeling pretty addicted to mastodon so I think user still applies to me :-P

I'll be honest, this false equivalency bothers me and I don't know why.

@aral @Gargron meh. We are users, and people -- just the same as any social networks. Not better, or worse.

@Gargron @aral it is better if we avoid elitism, yes?

@Gargron @aral in the old mailbox times there was the German word Teilnehmer*in.

@aral @Gargron it literally means those teaking part (in the connection) and I think that is a pretty good word.

@aral @Gargon no, you're fundamentally misrepresenting the nature of this technology as a product intended for use. this not only tacitly validates the stigmatization of addicts, it displaces all blame of harm that any consumer technology does onto this nameless (and hence blameless) elite, as though what SV companies do is somehow different than what tech companies do in NY or anywhere else.

@aral @Gargon you can't solve those problems by referring users by a euphemism

@wolf I'm not talking about Silicon Valley as a place but as a model: VC-backed data farmers that monetise people (people farmers). Addiction is a core design criterion when your business model is based on getting as much data as possible which, in turn, is based on how well you can incentivise as much use as possible. Not all tech has that model. In Ethical Technology (, we don't refer to people as users. We call them people.

@aral this isn't a question coming from a position that supports ruthless capitalist endeavors (and that this needs clarifying highlights how disengaged from the problems at hand this polemic is), but how could a plan of action whose entire premise undermines the accumulation of profit be considered a business model?

@aral people use ibuprofen and they use heroin. the motivations for each respective consumers is the difference between satisfying a need and an instantly gratifying desire. consumer technology by a wide margin falls into the latter category, it'd be absurd to claim the innovations funded by VCs get returns because people truly _need_ another iphone app. facebook isn't heroin, but i don't think you can justify it as being non-conspicuous consumption

@aral "ethical design" from how it describes itself sounds oxymoronic, as all three tenets are more PR-friendly incentives to consume products designed "ethically", bypassing the entire point

@wolf It’s the best I could come up with after four years of working on the problem. I look forward to your contributions and, if they’re better, I’d be happy to adopt and use them instead.

@Gargron @aral People on Mastodon are members of individual instances. "Members" just plain makes more sense, subversion of the usual corporate speak is an added bonus.


> Calling people users is a form of othering.

God no. No no no. Don't bring toxic idpol into this. "Users" is a commonly accepted term for anyone who uses a computer or network.


@aral @Gargron I suddenly associate the word "username" with a barcoded hospital bracelet - which, so true, that's all it is

@dredmorbius @aral @Gargron Yeah, Ello is cool but Mastodon goes a step further. It has no central authority that controls it.

@onreact @aral @Gargron Rather frustratingly, Ello also doesn't have any means to contribute much-needed fixes / features to the project.

* Markdown support.
* Comment / edit - eating.
* Search. My. Fucking. Gods. Search.

@aral Considering the time I have spent this afternoon, I would say Mastodon is pretty addictive too.

@aral @Gargron well, for completness, Stallman has even greater distinction, and refers to exploited users as "useds".

@aral @Gargron

Every endeavor which engages with people has specific words to indicate specific roles. There's nothing dehumanizing about calling people students, clients, passengers, or customers, and there's nothing dehumanizing about having a word for people who are engaged with technology. It's a historical accident and not a conspiracy that "user" was the word landed on to describe people who use both tech and drugs.

Uhhh, Unix and Linux have users too, so does macOS and Windows and most OS paradigms. Don't get me wrong, I too though multi tasking without multiple users was great, but CBM is bankrupt the Amiga is no longer being manufactured. Don't twist nonemclature to your propagandist whims. TRON, and sysadmins fight for the users, while BOFHs may pejoratively call them lusers. People don't necessarily use computers, computer *users* do. @aral @Gargron

@byterhymer @Gargron I feel you're missing my point: I'm not denying the status quo (that everyone calls people who use various technologies “users”), I’m saying we should change the status quo and leave the term to Silicon Valley, where it makes sense, and make a conscious decision to use a term that is impossible to use for othering and which actually pushes us to think of people as people.


@aral @gargron @byterhymer it's a standard term. You'd need to persuade a large number of people to change a large amount of source code if you wanted to call users something else. The chaos might be considerable. Also being a user doesn't preclude being a producer simultaneously.
@bob You can't really solve this problem with a new name for users anyway. You can't convince people that a dog is a person by forcing people to call dogs "Daves" instead; you can't make people consider other users as people by telling them that it's people, not users. The root issue is that some people don't think of words on a screen as coming from a person. That's not a naming problem, that's a problem of thinking habits.
@dbrz I'm not sure that calling users people would work, because sometimes they might not be. i.e. users can be other systems, or used purely for isolation of privileges.
@dbrz of course it's true that the majority of users are people, but #notallusers
@dbrz I expect that this is why when the first generation of Unix hackers were emerging from the primordial slime they decided on "user account" rather than "person account".
@bob I figure, the issue of de-humanizing the people we talk to on the 'Net is an issue of human stupidity. It's something that humans do when they're not actively thinking about it. It is fundamentally something that a person has to solve for him- or herself, not something you can teach.
@dbrz I don't think it's so much about stupidity (although sometimes it is) as about affinity. The degree to which you share priors and narratives. In monolithic systems like Twitter users with very little affinity are forced together and then of course clash because their narratives are too divergent. To have a good community the network topology needs to match. One size doesn't fit all.

@aral @Gargon no, you're fundamentally misrepresenting the nature of this technology as a product intended for use. this not only tacitly validates the stigmatization of addicts, it displaces all blame of harm that any consumer technology does onto this nameless (and hence blameless) elite, as though what SV companies do is somehow different than what tech companies do in NY or anywhere else.

@aral you can't solve those problems by referring to users by a euphemism