Some thoughts on Quote Boosts
I have read many intricate discussions about quote-boosting content on the fediverse, and like many others before me, I have concluded that this is a case where nearly everyone is right. However, these conversations and debates have convinced me that the fediverse, not Mastodon alone, provides the flexibility for the future of social media.
I want to start by acknowledging the diligent and thoughtful work that has gone into many of these conversations. I have learned a lot from @futurebird's case for a “Quote Boost” function, and I must admit she has nearly single-handedly swayed my mind. My largely negative experiences with quote tweets on Twitter were frequent, but her posts helped me understand how the benefits can outweigh the potential harms. I have become convinced of their value to marginalized communities in organizing by learning about their role in social movements on Twitter.
Mastodon should add support for this feature and allow server admins or users to decide if they want to see or participate in Quote Boosting. Attribution is critical and legitimate integration provides better support for safety and moderation tools to address the real problems the anti-quote boost community fears.
Attribution and moderation
We must conduct this conversation while acknowledging that Mastodon posts are already being quote boosted so we can fully understand the consequences of the choice to avoid direct integration with the platform. For now, we will take a step back from the broader fediverse applications that provide built-in quote boosting, such as Misskey, and focus on the workarounds within the Mastodon ecosystem.
The single most crucial missing feature from the current moderation interfaces is contextualization. For context, I am a moderator for the SFBA.social Mastodon instance. We have a reasonably sized but quite active user base. Our fortune has forced my fellow moderators and me to reflect critically on the tools we have available for moderation. When we receive reports of specific posts, we often have to spend many minutes navigating to the reported user's profile and attempting to uncover the context of the post in question. This process is extremely time-intensive and can make revealing incomplete or malicious reports laborious. I have now seen two types of faux-quote boost chains, which each wasted 20+ minutes of my life.
A tale of screenshots
The first is a tale where users “quote boosted” by searching the other's profile for the “reply” to their post, responding with a post containing a screenshot of the target post. The result was a series of vile posts, the same as anti-quote boosting arguments reference, connected only by screenshots.
Both users received corrective moderation action. However, it took me more than 20 minutes to track down all of the (~10) posts and create a timeline of links in a text file I created separately from the Mastodon service. The dispute appears to have been in flight for nearly a week before someone brought it before the moderators. I do not know if the software developers participate in moderation, but it is difficult to imagine they've used the moderation tools by their design. I cannot imagine the experience for the moderators of Mastodon.social. It must be a truly miserable experience.
Whatever concerns may be levied against quote boosts, they will leave a trail that can be quickly inspected and addressed by moderators. Their implementation also provides an additional signal for moderation action. If we see a user engaging in screenshot quote boosting today, we have to treat them as potentially good-faith actors who are missing a tool. If Mastodon added quote boost support, we start from an assumption of malice – since the user is trying to hide the connection.
A Tale of Links
The other “quote boost” format I have experienced is via link chains. This style of QB is achieved by copying/pasting a link to the original post into a new post. This is a significant improvement over the screenshot approach. I expect this to be the experience I would have had Mastodon implemented the QB feature. The problem with this style is that it is rarely used. Many 3rd party clients will render the other toot like a “quote tweet,” but not all will—most unfortunately, not the moderation interface.
If you want to engage in faux-quote boosting, do your mods a favor and take the time to embed a link instead of a screenshot. We may not reach out, but it is very appreciated. It would be extremely helpful if the Mastodon service made this pathway frictionless and provided an “unroll” option in the moderation interface. After all, the big benefit of quote boosting is rich links
We can be better with the same tools
There is an oft-repeated argument in these debates that the lack of a quote boost “makes us better” somehow than Twitter. This position has been comprehensively analyzed and critiqued by advocates of the quote boost feature. Instead, I'd like to propose that everyone here is correct. Yes, quote boosts make “gotchas” and dunks easier. It also lets people know they've been referenced and creates a trail for moderators to follow if those actions are against community standards.
It is not the presence, or lack of, a specific feature that makes Mastodon better than Twitter. It's our grass-roots, distributed nature. Small instances are more common than large ones, and small teams of moderators and active communities create an expectation of respect in a way I've never witnessed on Twitter. Let's take it a step further and show all the folks over there how helpful and fun quote boosts are when used responsibly and with admin teams that care about their users.