A lot of us are pretty new to the fediverse and we've arrived just in time to grapple with what is easily the biggest federation/defederation controversy ever to hit it. I've put this thread together to hopefully help communicate some of the more complex ideas that we're trying to get our heads around.
What does federation do?
On a basic level, federation is offering an agreement and ability to share your content with other services. Being part of the fediverse means that the content from your instance (e.g.
kbin.social) can be requested by anybody else. It's a system of requests and responses, where you freely hand over your content to other services who ask for it. When there's a bunch of services doing the same thing, you can request the content from their servers, too.
For a weird interpersonal analogy, it's like your group of friends show up to a street party in-progress carrying a big thing of candy beans and you announce to the party, "We brought candy beans for everybody!" You place them down on the table with all the other snacks, and grab yourself a tasty assortment of the things everybody else brought. You don't eat everything; that sketchy dude over at the side brought a fondue pot and it looks kind of gross. In turn, some people come over and eat your candy beans and some people don't. Even more people will arrive to the party after you, and even though you technically didn't offer them your candy beans, they can have some too because they're for the party. Importantly, nobody is force-fed anybody else's snacks.
In this analogy, the party is the entire fediverse. The friend groups at the party are instances, and the snacks are all the posts, comments and other share-able interactions.
What does defederation do?
Defederating another server means your instance will stop requesting content from that server. For a real-world example, several instances have defederated
exploding-heads.com, meaning that they have stopped asking that instance to share its content with them. Those other instances still request content from most other parts of the "threadiverse" (which is, let's just say it, the Reddit-like segment of the fediverse), but they no longer ask for or receive
exploding-heads.com content, whether that's posts, comments, upvotes or anything else. That's defederation.
Let's go back to the party analogy. Remember that gross fondue pot? Your friend group gets in a huddle and you all agree: you don't want anything to do with that fondue. You all have a great night at the party, trying all kinds of tasty and interesting foods, some of which you've never had before but none of which are fondue. It doesn't take long before you forget the fondue is even there. Nobody even tries to offer you any. At worst, somebody asks what you think of the fondue and you tell them you're avoiding it because you don't like the way it's furtively bubbling away in the shadows.
The dude who brought the fondue is an instance that you've defederated from, and the fondue is his content which you find objectionable. Maybe it's racist, transphobic fondue. Your group of friends (instance) decided not to see, respond to, think about or otherwise deal with that content.
What doesn't defederation do?
Defederation is about what data comes in, not what goes out. Your instance is still part of the fediverse, so if somebody comes asking for your instance's content, it gets handed over as normal. This is true even if the request comes from a server your instance has defederated. Defederation doesn't make you invisible, it doesn't block anybody else from seeing you, it doesn't protect your content, it only means you never have to see their content.
Let's head back to the party. Here's the crazy part: that weird fondue guy is allowed to eat your candy beans even though you're not eating his fondue. This is just how parties work. When you bring something for the party, it's for everybody who showed up, whether they're you're friends, your friends' friends, total strangers, or some creepazoid who everybody seems to be avoiding. As soon as you start guarding the table going "Not you! You get the f— away from my f—ing candy beans!", it's not a party any more. Don't do that.
As an open protocol, the fediverse is a street party. Anybody might turn up (start an instance), including people who bring fondue (people or groups you find objectionable). You can choose not to eat the fondue (defederate them), but they will still be able to eat your candy beans (request your content). This is just how street parties and the fediverse operate. You get to decide what you eat, but not what anybody else eats.
How will Threads joining the Fediverse affect the threadiverse?
Up to this point, I've mostly been talking about the fediverse as a whole, but on Lemmy and, to a lesser extent, /kbin, our primary concern is with the threadiverse: the part of the fediverse which revolves around discrete communities made up of discussion threads. Microblogging (like Twitter, Mastodon and Threads) as a type of personalized short-form content is not the primary focus of /kbin, and not part of Lemmy at all.
Threads is entering a space in the fediverse which is dominated by Mastodon, so it's Mastodon and other fediverse microblogging services (including, to some extent, /kbin) which will most heavily feel the impact of Threads. It is currently possible for microblogging platforms like Mastodon to interact with the threadiverse, but it is not optimized for this type of content, with non-linear threads sorted by recency and user voting. Mastodon and other "microblogging-side" fediverse users have mostly just signed up for Lemmy/kbin accounts, because stuffing a link aggregator through a blog-shaped hole is a terrible experience. How many Mastodon users have you noticed in your time on the threadiverse?
Threads as it exists currently is even less optimized to interact with the threadiverse than Mastodon, with no support for accessing groups (which it would need to see Lemmy communities/kbin magazines) whatsoever. If Threads were to start federating today, without any way to navigate the threadiverse, the only way to interact with our threads would be to visit a Lemmy/kbin instance directly in order to find a thread they're interested in, then copy the address to that thread, paste it into Threads to load it up as if it was a Twitter/Mastodon/Threads timeline, and finally start interacting with it. Consider that this is too much effort for the average Mastodon user–will Threads users be even more dedicated to posting on Lemmy/kbin than Mastodon users are now? Probably not. It's possible Meta will implement groups support in Threads before they start federating, but that still places them where Mastodon is now: such a poor way to interact with the threadiverse that nobody bothers.
Party analogy: The threadiverse and the microblogging fediverse are two different parties, a couple of street apart. Occasionally, somebody from one party will wander over to see the other one, but everyone's speaking some foreign language they don't understand, so they get bored and wander off again.
Why are people worried about federating with Threads?
Many fediverse and threadiverse users are concerned that Meta's Threads joining the fediverse will be harmful to the rest of the fediverse, for a number of reasons. This will not be an exhaustive list, but some of the causes for concern people have stated include the following:
Meta wants to attract the fediverse's users to leave their respective instances and join Threads instead
The idea here is that Meta is specifically targeting the current fediverse userbase and desires to have them on their service
Meta wants to embrace, extend and extinguish (
en.wikipedia.org) competing social media so that they have all of the users in perpetuity
This is similar to the above, in that Threads will make proprietary improvements to their instance which make using alternatives an inferior experience so that people naturally prefer Threads, but with the end goal being that competitors die off so that future users have no choice but to join Threads
Meta wants to access all of our data in order to use it against us for marketing or other creepy data-hoarding purposes
This one's pretty self-explanatory.
The large userbase of Threads (currently at 104 million registered accounts, compared to 12 million fediverse accounts) will overwhelm the culture and moderation of the fediverse
Before anybody starts: yes, there's that many Threads accounts. Meta has reserved accounts for all one billion+ Instagram accounts but there is no indication that they are counting those as registered Threads accounts, which you can see for yourself by considering which number is bigger out of 104 million and 1 billion.
Some of these concerns have more merit than others, so let's address that next.
How will defederating from Threads protect us from the above?
Necessarily, some of the below are just my opinions since it's what I imagine Meta's motives are and how they relate to the goals of the threadiverse. While Meta may well be hostile to the fediverse, how it will impact the threadiverse is a different question.
Meta wants the fediverse's current users
Defederating prevents us from being exposed to the handful of Threads users who are dedicated enough to figure out how to post to the threadiverse via the Threads microblogging interface. They were unlikely to convince us to move to Threads in this manner, so defederation doesn't do much here. 100,000 threadiverse posters are not a high priority for Meta, who are currently gaining about 4 million Threads users per day.
Meta wants to EEE the fediverse so that it never becomes a threat in future
This is plausible, but again more of a concern for the microblogging side than the threadiverse. Threads could extinguish the entire microblogging community and we'd still be over here upvoting articles about how Meta just caused mastodons to go extinct for the second time in history.
Defederating doesn't really do anything here. Until Meta decides to launch a Reddit-like (which could happen), any extension and extinguishing they do will be of software that's in the same microblogging arena as they are. Nothing indicates that they are currently trying to compete with link aggregators.
Meta just wants our data
The fediverse (including Threads in future) doesn't really get our "data" via ActivityPub in the way people generally think about it. ActivityPub doesn't share our IP addresses, email addresses, click tracking, etc. Only the public interactions we make are shared (posts, comments, votes), and we already know we're sharing those because we're posting them on the Internet. More importantly, defederating changes literally nothing about how much of our content Threads can see. Remember the street party: defederating means we're not eating Meta's fondue. They're still eating our thing of candy beans.
Defederating does literally nothing to prevent Meta accessing your data.
Threads will overwhelm the fediverse with their inferior content and culture
Like the EEE fears, this one is legitimate but once again something that will primarily be felt by microblogging providers (/kbin included). Toxic users, advertisers, etc. can push garbage into feeds all day, but they will largely not be targeting the threadiverse because there's some 100 million sets of eyes to put that crap in front of on the microblogging side and it will be difficult-to-impossible for them to push that content into Lemmy/kbin threads from their interface that was never made to interact with the threadiverse.
Defederating will again have a minimal impact, because Threads content is not coming to the threadiverse in the first place.
In short, these fears, for the threadiverse specifically, are mostly misplaced and not addressed by defederation anyway. Some of these concerns are valid for the microblogging softwares like Mastodon and to a lesser extent, /kbin, since microblogging is where Threads will be interacting with the fediverse and have the most opportunity to cause damage. While it's different for microbloggers, threadiverse instances defederating Threads is more of an ideological choice than a practical one, which is fine. I am passing no judgment on anybody who makes that decision.
Is there any chance Meta has good intentions?
But it might have intentions that are both self-serving and fediverse-neutral.
The absolute best intention I can possibly ascribe to Meta is that joining the fediverse is a CYA (cover your ass) mechanism to head off regulations, especially in the EU, where the newly-applicable Digital Markets Act regulates "gatekeepers" of Core Platform Services like online social networks to prevent them from using their popularity to hinder other providers becoming or remaining available.
The EU has not released their list of who they identify as "gatekeepers" currently, but it is expected to include all of "Big Tech": Alphabet, Amazon, Meta, Apple, and Microsoft. By joining the existing fediverse community, Meta may hope that this allows them to claim they are not in control of the social network and so not subject to DMA regulations, or failing that, that it proves Meta are playing fair with other social media providers since Threads is graciously allowing services like Mastodon to exist. This becomes even more likely when considering that direct Threads competitor Tumblr is also planning to join the fediverse.
The fact that Threads doesn't support federation yet and is also not available in the EU yet is probably not a coincidence, since in their current state there's no indication that they're trying to accommodate other social media providers as they would likely be required to do. Some of the obligations under the DMA are that social media "gatekeepers" must support communication with other social media platforms and portability of user accounts across different providers.
Let's have a look at Meta's big introduction of Threads (I'll quote you the good bit so you don't have to actually visit Facebook):
Compatible with Interoperable Networks
Soon, we are planning to make Threads compatible with ActivityPub, the open social networking protocol established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the body responsible for the open standards that power the modern web. This would make Threads interoperable with other apps that also support the ActivityPub protocol, such as Mastodon and WordPress – allowing new types of connections that are simply not possible on most social apps today. Other platforms including Tumblr have shared plans to support the ActivityPub protocol in the future.
We’re committed to giving you more control over your audience on Threads – our plan is to work with ActivityPub to provide you the option to stop using Threads and transfer your content to another service. Our vision is that people using compatible apps will be able to follow and interact with people on Threads without having a Threads account, and vice versa, ushering in a new era of diverse and interconnected networks.
If you read past all the marketing jargon, this is almost word-for-word just checking off the terms of the Digital Markets Act one by one and very publicly drawing attention to that fact. "Hey, look at us, we're doing all the things. You don't even need to regulate us, look how good we're being!" This doesn't mean "You should trust Meta," but it does offer one possible explanation for why they want to join the fediverse which is not "to destroy the fediverse."
Defederation is about what an instance allows in, not what an instance allows out. Defederation stops you seeing the defederated instance's content, but it does not stop them seeing your instance's content.
Threads poses some danger to the fediverse, in particular the portion of it centered around microblogging (mostly Mastodon, but also Pleroma, parts of /kbin, etc.), but very little risk to the threadiverse.
The worst thing about the fediverse is all the fondue, but you don't have to eat it.
What's your problem with fondue?
Honestly nothing, I've never even had it. I just hate what the fondue represents.