Bonfire feedback: rewarding users is good, actually (but not for their followers counts)
I’ve spent a delightful time on honk, until my partner’s come back with the keys I’d forgotten at home, so I could start doing something productive. I’ve also had an excellent time yesterday, teaching an autistic kid about life and earth sciences, and mathematics – while being in the closet –, and then I came back home, feeling sick and unable to connect with my partner, work, or move on.


In both cases, the following have happened:


  1. I’ve been rewarded for what I was doing, respectively by scrolling through interesting contents and by seeing him "get" it and become more confident;
  2. these rewards weren’t related to what my identity as a transgender woman was doing; in the first case, it was mere contents consumption, and in the second case, these rewards were meant for what someone I wasn’t was doing – a man I wasn’t was doing.


If you want to have a glimpse of what gender dysphoria means, although you should know this is about a 5th or a 10th of what I experience, go spend a few weeks using honk.


Social life is made of rewards, and they’re good, actually; what’s truly creepy is selectively rewarding your users for spending their time in front of their screens, and to this regard Bonfire can be perceived as the first truly post-surveillance capitalism social network. (Now looks like a good time to ask you to move the code repositories to SourceHut or git.coop? Pretty please?) Notifying people about them having a new follower as mere notifications, in the same stream, and with the same layout is pretty creepy too; so is showing someone’s number of followers or whether they follow you or not, enabling easy, routine, and innocent checkups. (This raises obvious security concerns on which I’ll try to shed some light later.)


First because someone’s profile comes pretty close of their face, as Goffman defines it. I haven’t read him by myself yet, but this does look like a vulnerable part of their presentation of self, which social media and especially biographies/profile pics are about, because they may be stained by contact with lay and in order for the stain to go, it would require reparation rites. It’s fairly easy to optimize for engagement with such a powerful, angular aspect of online profiles, and honestly I couldn’t see them with honk and if anything they’ve helped to curate interesting followings.


In more mundane terms, because as a user I need to be able to follow and unfollow people liberally, without having them notified, and because after this notification, unfollowing them would expose both of us to have our faces soiled, in a manner that’s arguably a stain in itself. (Please be nice with me, I’m translating “profaner”/“profanation” with Deepl.) Unfollowing a bunch of people was the best thing I’ve made within the constraints provided by honk, because Mastodon has a “family” aspect than Twitter hasn’t, which has led the witches.town users to project their family relationships within and out of the instance, and a few men that seem to be struggling, for various reasons, to project e.g. their family relationships on a French female philosopher and to mansplain her, which has led her to react in a fairly… weird manner, maybe for similar reasons. This user profiles, presentation of self, and following notifications dispositive of power would’ve probably prevented me from doing it.


Following the same rationale, showing followers counts on the users’ profiles, or tying that in any way, such as by using the same layout, to rewards has, among others, the following effects:


  1. forcing a mentality of vanity on your users,
  2. making your users look for influence with minute detail, baiting for influential followers (whatever that means),
  3. making your users chase for clout, which is responsible, by the way, for attention deficit,
  4. reinforcing the whole "presentation of self" dispositive of power, without improving the production or consumption of contents in any way (but rather in a way that degrades both).


But this obviously raises the concern that minorities of power need to keep a track of who’s following them and to block either submarines, fascists, and/or bots. I’m suggesting two ways to manage this:


  1. an opt-in way to let instance members with this specific role to inspect the instance members’ new followers, instead of leaving the reporting burden on the instance users, and
  2. a dedicated "security" tab, maybe next to the "notifications" one, maybe with a shield icon and a different color scheme (why not green), letting them inspect who’s followed them, or who’s sent them a follow request, all at once, without necessarily showing how many new follower there are. They could either opt-in for each follower or let everyone follow them, but either block, soft block, or assign them to boundaries by using shortcuts (they could default to "people I ghosted"),
  3. this isn’t specific to the current issue, but I could think about a fine-grained white list/black list system depending on the instance and maybe other filters like who’s following them or who they’re following (although this data could be unavailable and it would be resource intensive, if not illegal, to build a social graph for each).


To conclude, Bonfire is the first social media where I regret not putting my initial in uppercase, while having done so with honk feels senseless, or even degrading my own identity.


If anything, this message shows that the Bonfire development is heading full steam ahead in the right direction. Thanks for everything! And especially for taking care of vulnerable Fediverse members. I’ve never seen such a level of care online, and pretty rarely offline.


@BonfireBuilders #bonfire_feedback

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