On permanence and safety | Manyverse

An announcement from André Staltz.

When you open Manyverse for the first time, you’re presented with a welcome screen that explains how Manyverse and SSB function, and what you can expect from the app. One of the expectations we try to set from the start is how there is no possibility to delete content, in case you regret publishing something.

We call this “Permanence”, and it’s a distinct characteristic of SSB. Some people have said this is a good thing and they would love to preserve it. Others have said this is a deal-breaker, and either they’ve left the community, or they’re still inside but making their voices clearly heard. I am listening to these both sides, allowing them to shape my opinions, and developing a new opinion about this tricky and sensitive topic.

This week on Twitter

Amid all that, this week I saw this tweet by someone who was previously in the SSB community, criticising the Permanence screen in Manyverse with words such as “LMAO”. This person had not reached out to us in private to share their concerns for our mistakes and suggest improvements. My reaction was to respond harshly, which I regret. My tolerance for such tweets is typically low, but the circumstances I had at that moment were tough: I was preparing a new app release which would fix crashes and memory leaks, only to discover another crash right before hitting “publish version”. A stressful situation compounded by another one, and I should have refrained from interacting on Twitter.

Good points were made on Twitter, and I created a highest-priority ticket to update the way we talk about permanence on the onboarding screens in the app. I originally wrote the Permanence text exactly 3 years ago and my opinion about the topic definitely has evolved since. The current text in the app doesn’t reflect my current thoughts about the topic, but in the midst of being busy with a hundred other important things, I forgot that this text needed improvement. I would have warmly welcomed a friendly reminder to revise that text. Worth noting, the text ends with a “Learn more” link which takes the user to an FAQ page with more nuance.

I earnestly apologize to users who have been misled or otherwise hurt by the assumptions built into these texts. Permanence has a dark side, and it’s my job to acknowledge that, and mitigate it. As a result, I’ve updated the FAQ page, and the next release of Manyverse is going to have a new text on the Permanence screen.

Deletes: past, present, future

In the past, the SSB community (and myself) have thought of permanence as mostly a positive thing, and that deletes are impossible. While we learned something new through that radical opinion (such as: there is a bright side to a network without deletes!), that opinion is now in the past, giving place to more nuance and a careful approach.

Through frequent reminders from insiders and outsiders, it’s now clear that deletes (of various kinds) must play an important role in the SSB network. This was not prompted by this week’s Twitter drama. In the beginning of the year, I set a plan for Manyverse to focus on three key areas: Sustainability, Onboarding, and Safety, what I call “S.O.S.”, a plan to rescue SSB from impending disasters.

The Safety theme involves many efforts, such as Private Groups, Trustnet, and different kinds of delete features (blob deletions, blocked feed deletions, message deletion, account reset, etc). Private Groups are being actively worked on by a team of five. Trustnet is still in the design phase (we had a video call with nonlinear and cblgh in September), but approaching implementation phase.

In August, after months of development, we released a feature that allows you to delete all data from blocked accounts (because those accounts would actually occupy storage on your device), along with Compaction to so-to-speak “empty the trash bin”.

In October, we released a feature that allows you delete your account locally and start over from scratch if you so wish to.

Compared to zero deletes, this is progress, and we’re not nearly done. This week, on Tuesday (before the Twitter drama), on a video call with the Private Groups grant group, we considered what would it take to support per-message deletion as supported by ssb-buttwoo-spec. And we came to the conclusion that this topic is too intricate, too important, to be done in haste as an appendage of Private Groups. We would prefer a new grant project dedicated to that theme. Today, on a video call with Zelf (she coordinated the SSB NGI Pointer grant), I shared this idea with her.

Zooming out

There is a lot we can and should do as technical solutions for safety in SSB, but I’m aware that techsolutionism must not be the focus. We need to better understand the effects of our actions on society, we need to better communicate who should avoid SSB at all costs, and we need to engage in debates. Communication of the risks is something I can already now take action on. On the philosophy side, I’m fond of the academic work Eden and Kate have done studying SSB, and have high regards for their work. We’ve had very respectful exchanges with them. And in the Private Groups team, we’re collaborating with Emmi Bevensee to review our plans from a point-of-view that resists networked hate and disinformation.

I’m extremely busy, and at any given week I have a list of dozens of very important concerns that people are bringing me. I care about all the issues people regard as important, and I’m left with the tough work of picking which of those to work on next. We’re under-resourced and so we move slower than we’d like to, but I take all this feedback seriously, when it’s given respectfully and in goodwill. Reach out to me by email, send me SSB private messages, keep sending bug reports and feedback on what we can do better. I want to hear them. I don’t always have the time to type each of you a long answer, but I’m always listening and adjusting my opinions and my plans.

Thank you.

– @andrestaltz

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