The diaspora* planet

blog posts by our community

A number of journalists have responded to our recent blog post about Islamic State accounts on diaspora* with articles under headlines such as 'Diaspora cannot ban IS accounts'. This is simply untrue, and misrepresents what our last post said. This may come from a lack of understanding of the distributed nature of the network. We hope this follow-up post helps to clarify the situation.

diaspora* can and does deal with inappropriate usage. As with everything in a decentralized project, the ability and responsibility to deal with inappropriate usage are devolved, from the one central body of the centralized corporate model of Facebook or Twitter to individual podmins and individual community members.

We have always had mechanisms in place to deal with inappropriate usage of the network. Some time ago this was made a lot easier and more efficient by the introduction of the report feature. Using this, each diaspora* community member is able easily to report any post or comment they believe is inappropriate to the administrator of their pod. Once alerted, it is the responsibility of that podmin to decide how best to deal with that content. This decision will be based on their personal policy on dealing with such content, as well as the local legislation governing the hosting of such material which applies where they live and where their pod is hosted. This system has worked very well.

It's worth repeating: diaspora* does indeed have mechanisms in place to deal with inappropriate usage. Like everything else in diaspora*, these mechanisms are decentralized. That is the point our last post addressed.

As our last post made clear, by the time that post was written all of the most active IS accounts had already been closed by the podmins on whose pods those accounts had been opened. One podmin had technical difficulties in removing accounts which caused a few hours' delay, but in each case the decision and action was swift once alerted to the presence of those accounts.

As we said in the last post, if you find user accounts on a diaspora* pod which are a cause for concern, please be a responsible member of our community by contacting the administrator of that pod; most pods display a link to contact the podmin. If you cannot reach the podmin directly, you can send us an email and we will attempt to contact the person concerned.

Various newspapers have reported that members of the Islamic State (IS) have set up accounts on diaspora* to promote the group's activities. In the past, they have used Twitter and other platforms, and are now migrating to free and open source software (FOSS).

diaspora* is a completely decentralized network which, by its nature, consists of many small servers exchanging posts and messages. There is no central server, and there is therefore no way for the project's core team to manipulate or remove contents from a particular node in the network (which we call a "pod"). This may be one of the reasons which attracted IS activists to our network.

The diaspora* project team is, however, concerned about the activities of these members inside our network, because of the potential legal difficulties that hosting such material may cause individual pod administrators ("podmins"). As a FOSS project, anyone is able to use diaspora*'s software in any way they choose. We cannot therefore prevent anyone from using the software; we are also not able to influence the decisions of podmins.

As many of the members of the core team are pod administrators ourselves, we know it can be hard to detect such users. We rely on our community members to use the report function to alert their podmin to any post or comment they believe to be a cause for concern. However, because this is such a crucial issue, we have also accumulated a list of accounts related to IS fighters, which are spread over a large number of pods, and we are in the process of talking to the podmins of those pods. So far, all of the larger pods have removed the IS-related accounts and posts. This includes a high-volume account on JoinDiaspora.com which was apparently used as a main distribution channel.

The decentralized nature of the network and the FOSS philosophy of the project are two of the key strengths of diaspora*. However, they can make it more difficult to act swiftly when there is inappropriate activity on the network. Each pod administrator has final say over the content hosted on their pod, and we, and our entire community of members, work to help our podmins to keep the network healthy and growing.

We will continue our efforts to talk with the podmins, but we want to emphasize once again that the project's core team is not able to decide what podmins should do. If you find user accounts on a diaspora* pod which are a cause for concern, please contact the administrator of that pod; most pods have a link to contact the podmin. If you cannot reach the pod administrator, you can send us an email and we will attempt to contact the person concerned.

We're pleased to announce a new major version of diaspora*, which includes 302 commits from 29 contributors.

Here are the new features in this version:

  • It is now possible to add a poll to your message: an easy way to get answers to your questions!
  • You can now report a post or a comment to the podmin by clicking the exclamation point icon. Use it to signal inappropriate content, such as spam.
  • The notifications page has been completely redesigned. You can now filter notifications by type, and show only read or unread notifications. The notifications dropdown in the header bar has also been improved: it now displays some text from the post and provides a better way to mark notifications as read.
  • The mobile view has been improved and now includes a drawer which provides easy access to every page. Icons are more visible and easier to click, and the search field is directly accessible.
  • Hovercards are now available on bootstrap pages (currently single-post view, conversations page, notifications page).
  • The single-post view and the conversation page designs have been improved.
  • There have also been many bug fixes and much refactoring work completed. Find out more about them in the changelog.

As all the development of diaspora* is done by community contributors, we would like to express our thanks here to the people who did all the code work. In order of commit count:

  • Jonne Haß has done a huge amount of work all around the diaspora* code base. In addition to contributing code and testing updates to gems, Jonne has as always been doing a lot of work reviewing other contributors code and generally helping out with his Rails expertise. Larger contributions from Jonne include the message renderer refactoring.
  • Lukas Matt contributed the post report functionality that allows users to report spam and inappropriate content to the podmin.
  • Antoine D. (Flaburgan) and Erwan Guyader did some awesome work with the mobile view, including a drawer to make navigation inside Diaspora easier.
  • Steffen van Bergerem rewrote the notifications page and dropdown and ported it to bootstrap, in addition to various smaller changes.
  • Jannik Streek added a much requested poll feature to status messages.
  • Petru Hincu helped finalize the poll feature and also contributed many other fixes.
  • Florian Staudacher ported the publisher to Backbone.js, in addition to other changes, which clear the way for many other tasks relating to UI changes.
  • Jason Robinson contributed fixes to the new publisher and other components.
  • Fabian Rodriguez removed lots of redundant code to clean up the code base.
  • goob fixed various items in the UI level.
  • Anton Ilin contributed some improvements to hovercard functionality.
  • manwithtwowatches ported the help pages to Backbone.js.
  • Greg Tangey contributed a change to speed stream loading and helped fix the account deletions bug.
  • arlo gn contributed a fix for the HTTPS YouTube embeds and some visual changes.
  • Darshan Rai helped with the mentions code.
  • Gabriel Lima fixed a bug relating to email content language in invites.
  • Raphael Sofaer helped lighten background processing relating to post federation.
  • Faldrian contributed to the atom feed code.
  • Marien Fressinaud helped clean a duplicate settings checkbox.
  • Johannes Brunswicker contributed a fix for the atom feed relating to deleted reshares.
  • Mehmet Atif Ergun contributed a template fix.
  • Oliver Azevedo Barnes helped fix the problem with the account deletions.
  • Sharif Olorin contributed a grammar fix to the admin interface.
  • Vittorio Cuculo contributed some UI fixes.
  • Florian Bigard contributed a script typo fix.

In addition we would like to thank Dennis Schubert for maintaining the project infrastructure, all the translators who have helped with localize the application and of course all the community members who have engaged themselves in discussing ideas, filing issues, testing - and of course using diaspora*. Without all of you this project would not exist!

We hope you'll enjoy using this new version of diaspora*!

Podmins, before updating to this version please read the changelog for information about the manual steps necessary to upgrade to this release.

The diaspora* planet

The planet is a collection of blog posts written by members of our community and represents the views of individual community members. All posts are owned by their authors, see the original posts for further information.

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