why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

Okay, so let's talk about this cohost thing for a bit.

It sounds great on the surface - a small-scale, worker-owned, sustainable social media platform, run by some trusted people! Great, right?

Not so much, unfortunately. If you click through a bit, you'll find that it's run by "anti software software club llc", which claims to be a "non-profit software company". Except that's legally false (LLCs are not non-profit), and practically very unlikely to actually work out like you might think. In reality, it's an unaccountable power structure, and one that is bound to end in disaster.

They're not the *first* to do this - both YourAnonNews and npm (the JS package registry) have a very similar origin story. A small hobby project by some activist-minded people, trusted by the community, incorporated into a for-profit legal form to keep the lights on, promising to always keep serving the community. Of course, there's a reason I'm mentioning them - both of these projects turned into large unaccountable power structures that ended up doing far more harm than good, and significantly damaging a movement.

They scaled up, and whether through naivete or otherwise, the founders were unable to continue acting in the best interest of the community and broader society. Both of them became a blight on their respective communities, actively interfering with the efforts of others in that community to right the ship.

But they'd grown "too big to fail", too big and closed-down to replace or disavow. They ended up *controlling* the community rather than serving it.

A company is not a community. It is hierarchical; it has owners, employees, people with a specific role who decide how it gets run. This makes a worker-owned company a decent option when the decisions being made only affect the workers, as there's good representation.

But... that is not what's going on here! There is *no way* in which a worker-owned company can accurately represent the interests of a community of people *who do not actually work there*. Worker-owned companies are not magical fairy dust that guarantee equity and representation. You need actual community governance structures for that.

So... cohost is problematic. It is a power structure which is prone to abuse (deliberately or otherwise), not accountable to anybody, with no proper community governance model nor any real room in its incorporation form to *create* such a governance model, it is a proprietary and closed system that does not interoperate with other systems, and most worryingly of all it is a platform that becomes more valuable as it grows.

In other words: all the ingredients for a perfect storm of power abuses and harm several years down the line. Whether you personally trust the founders doesn't really change that - it's set up for failure from the very start, even assuming the best intentions.

As an activist community, we really need to do better on this - recognize such problematic power structures *before* they grow big enough to cause widespread harm, and encourage people to select governance models that *don't* suffer from these issues.

addenda re: why cohost is problematic 


also, they're already deciding to uphold u.s. law w/*all* users unprovoked.

also also...white.

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

@joepie91 your starting statement, that an llc cannot be a nonprofit, is flat-out wrong. an LLC straight up can be a nonprofit. also, all existing social media, fedi very much included, involves some level of trust surrounding whomever runs your server, and an understanding that there's always the potential that they might have to comply with the laws of the country in which they're based. while I think federation is a more stable model overall, I think this post is fearmongering and completely out of proportion.

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

@apisashla So I've looked into the non-profit LLC thing a while ago, in the context of a very similar situation. There were indeed supposedly "non-profit" LLC forms, but crucially they were not actually held to any operational standards to ensure that they actually were non-profit in the common understanding (like *does* happen for non-profit incorporation forms elsewhere), and it's generally very easy (too easy) to 'flip the switch' to an explicitly for-profit form.

From a quick skim, I can't find anything in that article that contradicts that, though please do tell me if I overlooked something.

Regarding trust: yes, it is correct that you are always investing trust in some people. The problem with a non-interoperable platform like cohost is that you don't actually get a choice in *who* to trust - the governance is directly tied to the entirety of the platform's userbase, no different from Twitter or Facebook. You do not really have a choice.

That is what is crucially different about federated networks like the fediverse - you get to choose for yourself who you invest your trust in, *without* immediately breaking your entire social life.

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

@joepie91 and that's great, and I think federation is a more sustainable model for social media, and I don't plan on getting off fedi anytime soon. but there is no need to preemptively cast these people as automatically sellouts or warn people away from this platform just on the basis that there is an llc and that the mods are not... elected? is that what you're looking for in terms of accountability to the user base? in any case, I still think the level of bad-mouthing is completely out of proportion to what is happening here.

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

@apisashla Considering that they are constructing a closed silo under centralized control using leftist/activist language while not actually implementing the corresponding ideology: yes, I do in fact think it is necessary to call this out early, *before* it can do harm.

You'll notice that nowhere in my original post did I accuse them of malice. That was deliberate. I can believe that this is naivete. But *that does not make it any less harmful*, and harm needs to be called out. Not just left to fester until it's too late.

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

@joepie91 my blog is also a closed silo under centralized control. I do not think that means it's evil. my contention is not that it couldn't get bad (it could, easily!) but that it is unlikely to be worse than an average fedi instance founded on similar principles. federation should be considered as a pragmatic choice, not as a moral imperative.

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

@joepie91 I would also add that the incentive not to "flip the switch" here is simply that if a nonprofit corporation becomes for-profit it then has to pay taxes. that's the primary material incentive for being a nonprofit in the first place. it's always possible in any system that someone comes by with a bucket of money and just changes how it works. that doesn't mean it's possible or desirable to avoid anything that *could* be co-opted.

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

@apisashla Actually yes, we *should* be doing everything that's reasonably possible to prevent co-optable power structures.

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

it also just seems to throw interoperability and data portability in the garbage?

governance is complicated on fedi, but at least if you disagree you can move. where is the freedom of movement and the pluralism that emerges from allowing disagreements on a centralized platform like this regardless of how it ends up structured legally? I may be biased as a loooong time fedi user, but I think the design choices themselves are problematic as well.

we already have weird organizationally funky "co-ops" on the fediverse, but at least here you can export and reimport your data and connections elsewhere.

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

@joepie91 it all has similair vibes to the "anticapitalist software license" people to me. Love using popular lefty jargon to sell you on shit that isn't open and provides (compartively) no protections when you actually read the fine text. Just assuming that anything labelled a co-op is automatically good and trustworthy despite external market pressures and zero design safety mechanisms to prevent corruption, lock-in, and other abuses of users/members

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

@joepie91 thnx ☺️

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

@joepie91 LLC is a reporting structure (with alternatives including S-Corp, C-Corp, and others depending on state). It’s mostly orthogonal to “non-profit” which is a Tax status (501c3 are the most common, but there are alternatives). In some states you *can* legally have 501c3 LLCs. They are rare (most 501c3s are C-Corps or S-Corps for maximum tax advantage), but possible. I don’t know about Cohost’s company specifically though.

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

@joepie91 Though it is a useful reminder that 501c3 is a *tax status* and people tend to elevate “not for profit” to have charitable meanings and think they are special “goodly” companies, rather than just tax requirements and shareholder restrictions on top of otherwise normal companies, but they aren’t actually that “goodly special”. There are plenty of examples in history of 501c3s that were scams or just tax dodges or anti-labor

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

@max Right. This is actually one reason why I'm skeptical of activist projects that are incorporated in the US in general - "non-profit" generally means a lot more in other countries, including some sort of legal obligation to act in line with the defined mission statement and/or public interest. That's really the bare minimum protection-from-corruption you'd need when incorporating into a hierarchical form.

(When I say "non-profit", that is also what I am referring to, not to the typical US incorporation forms or tax status)

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

@joepie91 (gosh I love the longer posts here!)

It's true that a worker-owned collaborative isn't a panacea - community governance would be awesome

on the flip side, a BDFL like Eugene isn't necessarily a savior or obligated to do what the community wants them to do.

why cohost is problematic (long) :boosts_ok_gay: 

@risottobias Oh, for sure, I have a lot of issues with how Eugene runs things as well. It's the difference between the "well, that sucks, you'll just have to deal with it" of a silo vs. "we don't *have* to do what this guy says" of a federated network that's important to me :)

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