A-Community-Genesis

Scott Alexander repeats a point of his that he’s held for a while, about the difficulty of forming new communities as old ones collapse:

I wrote before (1, 2) about the sort of dynamics this situation produces. A couple of years ago, Reddit decided to ban various undesirables and restrict discussion of offensive topics. A lot of users were really angry about this, and some of them set up a Reddit clone called Voat which promised that everyone was welcome regardless of their opinion.

What happened was – a small percent of average Reddit users went over, lured by curiosity or a principled commitment to free speech. And also, approximately 100% of Reddit’s offensive undesirables went there, lured by the promise of being able to be terrible and get away with it.

Even though Voat’s rules were similar to Reddit’s rules before the latter tightened its moderation policies, Voat itself was nothing like pre-tightening Reddit. I checked to see whether it had gotten any better in the last year, and I found the top three stories were:

The moral of the story is: if you’re against witch-hunts, and you promise to found your own little utopian community where witch-hunts will never happen, your new society will end up consisting of approximately three principled civil libertarians and seven zillion witches. It will be a terrible place to live even if witch-hunts are genuinely wrong.

The example Scott gives is accurate, and it looks like the dynamic he fears took place here.

And yet, this is fatalistic to the extreme, and does not match my own experience of transplanted communities.

The difference is Scott isn’t really talking about founding “your own little utopian community”, he’s talking about winning. This conception of Voat isn’t “a place where I can have rational discussion” but a desire to burn Reddit to the ground so it knows it made a mistake. What more, because Reddit is one of the largest and most influential communities on the internet, it means supplanting them and becoming your own extremely influential online presence. And since it’s the internet, it means doing that in a matter of days.

You can not build the bonds of a world spanning community of millions in a few days. What you can do, if you want dramatic growth, is get the attention of thousands of ideological trolls who follow the most sensationalist, polarizing clickbait. They do not see themselves as friends with a special chemistry who share links each other will like… they see themselves as a vanguard of a cultural revolution that will save the world.

If you genuinely want a new community, then you must drop this fixation on hypergrowth. Your aim is not “millions of users who can help change the world.” If you genuinely value community, your aim should be “like six people who I enjoy talking with.”

If Reddit becomes terrible, you can just… PM the people you like, ask them to come to this other website, have some fun discussions there, and see what happens. It’s not splashy and dramatic. Wired and Polygon won’t write articles about how you are changing the scene. But you will get the people you actually like, and not the hordes of degenerates Scott worries about.

It’s not super hard. Yes, it requires some work, and putting yourself out there, and belief in the community you want to form. These things are even harder without ideological editorials supporting your migration. But it’s humanly possible. Small groups of people do it all the time.

And then you don’t hear from them again, because why would you? So the news stories you read are about Voat and other high-profile cases. But the lesson you should take away is you don’t need to be a high profile case to be happy.

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