Solving the Moderator’s Trilemma with Federation
On Tue (Mar 7), I’m doing a remote talk for TU Wien.
The classic trilemma goes: “Fast, cheap or good, pick any two.” The Moderator’s Trilemma goes, “Large, diverse userbase; centralized platforms; don’t anger users — pick any two.” The Moderator’s Trilemma is introduced in “Moderating the Fediverse: Content Moderation on Distributed Social Media,” a superb paper from Alan Rozenshtein of U of Minnesota Law, forthcoming in the journal Free Speech Law, available as a prepub on SSRN:
Rozenshtein proposes a solution (of sorts) to the Moderator’s Trilemma: federation. De-siloing social media, breaking it out of centralized walled gardens and recomposing it as a bunch of small servers run by a diversity of operators with a diversity of content moderation approaches. The Fediverse, in other words.
In Albert Hirschman’s classic treatise Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, stakeholders in an institution who are dissatisfied with its direction have two choices: voice (arguing for changes) or exit (going elsewhere). Rozenshtein argues that Fediverse users (especially users of Mastodon, the most popular part of the Fediverse) have more voice and more “freedom of exit”:
Large platforms — think Twitter, Facebook, etc — are very unresponsive to users. Most famously, Facebook polled its users on whether they wanted to be spied on. Faced with overwhelming opposition to commercial surveillance, Facebook ignored the poll result and cranked the surveillance dial up to a million:
A decade later, Musk performed the same stunt, asking users whether they wanted him to…