The Purpose of Social.Coop?
I’ve been listening, discussing both privately and publicly, and reflecting a great deal as the controversies of the past week have roiled Social.Coop. There are many elements and dynamics that could be dissected ad nauseum, but I want to focus here on one thing that I think it’s essential that we clarify if we are to pick up the pieces in one way or another and move forward: our purpose.
In the beginning of the instance, the implicit purpose was broad but sufficient: an experiment in building and operating a user-self-governed co-op instance to challenge the hegemony of surveillance capitalist social media. In ways that, in retrospect, mirror some of my experiences with the Occupy movement in ‘11-’12, this broad, ambiguous purpose allowed people with diverse, and perhaps contradictory, goals to see space for them within the project, and our community began to grow.
This worked for a time when stakes were low and the level of trust was supplemented by the many relationships that people brought with them from the co-op and platform co-op movements, from which the lion’s share of early members were drawn. However, as the stakes grew as new members joined and established significant Fediverse networks from their social.coop accounts, tensions between un- or semi-articulated understandings of social.coop’s purpose began to rise, and the recent controversies have surfaced a number of them into clear view.
The three that have become apparent to me are outlined below, and I’m sure that there are others. My strategic question is whether these purposes can continue to exist under a singular umbrella, or if it would be healthy/necessary to fork into more than one co-op instance, with existing members welcome to choose the one that suits their needs best (or to join more than one)?
Collective v. Representative Governance
This question of whether a strongly participatory and flat form of governance is core to the project has come up off and on since the project began. A few months back I started this thread in the Governance/Legal working group expressing my sense of the need for a board-like body to handle our scaling. It was greeted by a mixed reaction, with Mayel expressing that if such a thing were adopted he would view the project as having failed. As such, I tabled the issue and focused my efforts on getting the Community Working Group moving towards a functional operations team.
Early in the present controversy, I decided to take a straw-poll on the question, and the results revealed a cleavage in our community. Of the 47 respondents, 46.8% were for a board or board-like entity, 38.3% were against, and 14.89% were neutral. This clearly is an issue around which there is no strong unified “sense of the co-op”; rather, there are significant blocs of members who support each approach.
Subject-Specific “Common Bond” v. General Membership
The question of whether the target membership of social.coop is co-op practitioners or a more general population was explored a bit in this thread about 6 months ago, and Leo recently lauched this poll asking about the desirability of more co-op-related content.
Talking to folks who recently joined (and some who subsequently left), a common reason for joining because the idea of a cooperative instance appealed to them, but their primary purpose for being here was not co-op shop-talk.
Whether we exist for the former or the latter both has a big influence on how much scale we need to plan for (a few thousand v. potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of users), as well as how much community norms can be expected to influence member behavior.
Relational v. Rule-Based/Administrative Moderation
In the code of conduct development process, there was definitely some tension between the desire to create a set of clear, enforceable rules, and spelling out what has been referred to as “soft” conflict resolution strategies. Upon reflection, I think this seems to have come from a desire on the part of some members for social.coop to be an “intentional community” of sorts, in which, beyond agreeing to abide by a set of standards, members consent to relate to each other in ways thought or hoped to be more deeply transformational.
One way that this tension seemed to come to a head in the recent controversies was around the perception that including such language places potentially onerous expectations on marginalized people who desire a clearly articulated plan for keeping them safe, not a more ambiguous framework for a form of deep/transformative participation/communication.
While we’ve not had a poll to explore this particular question, it does appear to be an issue where some members would prefer to trust a form of administrative justice as a primary tool of the co-op, while others desire a more intentional community approach where such tools are used as a last resort.
Two Possible Ways Forward (among others):
- Reform Social Co-op: Looks pretty much like what Michele has proposed in his recent open letter. A body with strong, intentional diversity is s/elected to steward the re-launch, and one of its roles is to define the ‘why’ of social.coop in light of the above tensions and other factors before re-opening the instance to new members.
- Fork Social Co-op: The most obvious “successor co-ops” I can conceive of would be a Collective, Subject-Specific, Relational instance, and a Representative, Rules-Based, General Membership instance. However, the reality would almost certainly be more complex, so rather than defining the potential successor instances, if a fork is the desired path, we would need a process by which teams could propose their forks, and through which the financial resources of social.coop could be divided up among those proposals that garner a critical mass of support.
I’m still processing all that’s happened, and want to emphasize that the above list(s) are in no way exhaustive. I’m very interested to hear others thoughts.
I do feel strongly, though, that unless we can define a clear answer to the why? of social.coop, it’ll be difficult to chart a viable path from here.