A Very Playvicious Christmas
This Christmas season, we all received a gift: Ro is blogging about Playvicious.social. He currently has four posts with more on the way:
I came across Ro’s work while Playvicious was running sometime in 2018, and I made a note of it – and then forgot. I got distracted by a major project: my co-authored book on disinformation, Social Engineering. I put off my Mastodon/fediverse studies in order to understand social media and propaganda, especially in relation to US presidential elections.
While I don’t regret diving into disinformation, I do regret not witnessing Playvicious’s run. It was an early, if not the first, Black-run instance on the fediverse. It was a source of joy for a lot of people. As Ro puts it, the idea of “play vicious” is
The energetic, unfiltered, sometimes uncomfortable, but the relentlessly progressive pursuit of understanding ourselves through creativity. It defined us as a group of thinking and feeling people who wanted to burn away all unnecessary details and get to the essence of why we loved what we loved and exist in that space for however long we could.
But that energy attracted some hate. As Ro will no doubt relate, Playvicious.social faced harassment and racism. Ro shut it down after watching as his moderators were traumatized.
I missed its run online. And I really regret that.
But Ro (and others – I think more folks are starting to talk about PV) is giving all of us a great gift: an inside view of this most important Mastodon instance.
The story Ro is telling is intensely personal. It’s also deeply important for the big questions of the fediverse, such as content moderation, how instances should relate to one another, and how societal injustices are replicated again and again online.
As Mastodon grows, a big stain has been not only the end of Playvicious.social, but also the experience of Black Mastodon members more generally. When people left Twitter after Musk’s takeover, it included the community known as Black Twitter. But Black Twitter ran into casual racism on the fediverse, and currently people are struggling to create #BlackMastodon. (I recommend following that hashtag and boosting posts).
Fortunately, while PV.social is gone, Ro is not done. He’s building new software to this day, he hosts a microblog (a Misskey instance), and he’s contributing moderation tools to the fediverse – even in spite of all he and his colleagues went through.
I’m grateful to Ro (and other PV folks) because I believe I cannot write my current book (Goal 2!) about Mastodon without talking about Playvicious.social. But it’s also not my story to tell. It’s Ro’s and other folks’ story. My job is to talk about it in the contexts that I can dig up through research and interviews.